Everton in Premier League pole – but Liverpool can use Merseyside Derby to prove they are top dog

JAMES NOBLE considers the importance of this Merseyside Derby – played in entirely alien circumstances, but still holding the same importance.

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The 237th Merseyside derby looks as enticingly set up as any of the meetings in recent years.

What, then, are the key elements to look out for before Jürgen Klopp’s side make the short trip across Stanley Park on Saturday?

Context

This is what adds so much to this particular meeting, despite the obvious detractions provided by Covid-19.

It won’t, of course, be the same without two sets of supporters roaring their respective sides on within the steep confines of Goodison Park. But there is still an awful lot to work with, at least.

After a widely-praised summer of business in the transfer market, Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton have started the season with four league wins out of four and currently sit top.


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Allan, Abdoulaye Doucouré and, perhaps most notably, James Rodríguez have each hit the ground running and given last season’s 12th-placed side considerably more balance.

Despite having seen off Tottenham Hotspur, West Bromwich Albion, Crystal Palace and Brighton and Hove Albion so far, there is little doubt that Liverpool are their biggest test on paper to date.

The champions’ own 100pc record disappeared with the painful 7-2 defeat at Aston Villa on October 4, which left them in fifth place and three points behind their neighbours going into the international break.

With Everton full of confidence and the Reds no doubt keen to respond positively, these details feel like they should only offer further motivation to both teams ahead of Saturday lunchtime’s clash.

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Liverpool will be looking to build on their positive derby record in recent years. Saturday is the tenth anniversary of their last defeat in the fixture — a 2-0 Goodison reversal while under the brief stewardship of Roy Hodgson.

They will, though, want to notch their first win and goal at the ground since December 2016, when Sadio Mané’s stoppage time strike earned a climactic 1-0 league success.

Team news

Both teams have had players away on international duty over the last fortnight but few look to have encountered fitness issues.

Ancelotti confirmed in his Friday press conference that the likes of Lucas Digne, Yerry Mina, James and Richarlison are all available after featuring for their respective national sides. Even with the relatively short turnaround induced by the amount of travel required and the lunchtime kick-off.

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Séamus Coleman, Allan and André Gomes have also each been in training this week after recovering from knocks and are expected to be ready for the game.

Klopp relayed similarly positive news. Naby Keïta is the only fresh absentee courtesy of a positive coronavirus test while on international duty, but Fabinho and Roberto Firmino both appear to have returned in good health after their efforts for Brazil in South America.

Both Thiago Alcântara and Sadio Mané should also be available after they returned to training over the international break following their respective positive tests and periods of self-isolation.

Another who has taken to the field again at Melwood is Joël Matip. That bolsters Klopp’s centre-back options in time for a busy spell, which could see the Reds play four Premier League and three Champions League games in the space of 22 days.

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Alisson Becker looks set to remain on the sidelines courtesy of the shoulder injury which kept him out of the Villa defeat, although Klopp was highly positive about the Brazilian goalkeeper’s progress when talking to the media on Friday.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is another who remains unavailable due to the knee injury sustained in pre-season.

Likely lineups

Everton (4-3-3)

1. Jordan Pickford; 23. Séamus Coleman (C), 13. Yerry Mina, 5. Michael Keane, 12. Lucas Digne; 16. Abdoulaye Doucouré, 6. Allan, 21. André Gomes; 19. James Rodríguez, 9. Dominic Calvert-Lewin, 7. Richarlison

Ancelotti should be able to make the two changes required to field what looks his strongest lineup on paper.

Tom Davies and Gylfi Sigurðsson did well in the absence of Allan and Gomes in the 4-2 win over Brighton two weeks ago, but the Italian boss will likely want to regain the balance that the Brazilian and Portuguese appear to offer in the central third alongside the tireless and often underappreciated Doucouré.

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Top scorer Calvert-Lewin will be aiming to continue his record of scoring in every Premier League game so far this season.

He and Richarlison may well look to double-up on the right side of Liverpool’s defence, which is often the section of the backline targeted by opponents both in the air and on the deck.

James, meanwhile, can be expected to drift inside from the right and look to find space and create openings between the midfield and defensive lines.

Liverpool (4-3-3)

13. Adrián; 66. Trent Alexander-Arnold, 12. Joe Gomez, 4. Virgil van Dijk, 26. Andrew Robertson; 14. Jordan Henderson (C), 6. Thiago Alcântara, 5. Georginio Wijnaldum; 11. Mohamed Salah, 9. Roberto Firmino, 10. Sadio Mané

Klopp, meanwhile, should also have some additional options thanks to the aforementioned returns.

Adrián looks set to maintain his spot between the sticks while the back-four could well remain the same, too. The most likely alteration in this area would see one of Matip or Fabinho come in for Gomez at centre-back, following the 23-year-old’s chastening evening at Villa Park last time out.

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The midfield is an intriguing prospect. There look to be several options here. It has been rumoured that Thiago will make his full debut and, if that proves to be the case, he could conceivably fill any three of the midfield spots.

It feels unlikely, but could the Reds even slightly alter their shape to more of a 4-2-3-1? It’s certainly an area to keep an eye on.

The best bet, perhaps, is a three – from right to left – of Jordan Henderson, who should have benefitted from minutes with England following his thigh injury, Thiago – in the holding role he took up impressively in the second half at Stamford Bridge – and Georginio Wijnaldum.

As with many others, the Dutchman may have put on far from a vintage showing in Birmingham a fortnight ago, but his defensive workrate and awareness could be crucial in and around the channel where James most often operates for Everton.

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Fabinho could very easily also be a starter in midfield, but Klopp may prefer to use him from the bench given his recent return from South America.

With Mané available again, the regular front-three will likely be reunited, despite Diogo Jota’s excellent contributions for club and country in recent weeks. If the Portuguese was to get the nod, though, it could be in place of Roberto Firmino – potentially more due to him being away with Brazil, like Fabinho, than his below par showing at Villa.

Either way, this looks set to be another intriguing tactical battle between two bosses who have again voiced their immense admiration for each other this week and had four superb contests in Liverpool and Napoli’s Champions League meetings across 2018/19 and 2019/20.


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