Stephen King brings you Rousing the Kop’s match preview for the 227th Merseyside Derby.
Both teams will square up tonight for the fierce Merseyside derby match having returned to winning ways in their respective midweek fixtures. Liverpool swept aside a Boro side pretty easily, although Everton had a much harder task at hand in besting Arsenal, even more so after such a poor first half performance that had Arsenal looking like striding towards yet another comfortable win.
The second half performance from Everton was a shock to the Arsenal system and the tempo and intensity shown was what dug out the win for Everton and this will have them in high spirits going into the Monday night encounter.
Everton are now six places behind their local rivals in the league table with a gap of eleven points to boot. Having started the season so well, the Everton side suddenly dipped in form drastically to such an extent that they have taken only five points from the last eighteen available whereas Liverpool, on the other hand, have taken eleven points from that same period.
Everton have not lost in their last eleven home games in the league and have drawn their last four derbies with Liverpool at home in all competitions. What looks like a good record at first glance is somewhat tainted by the fact that Liverpool, for their part, have not lost to Everton in their last twelve meetings in all competitions either.
Indeed, going into Monday night’s encounter, Liverpool have a goal difference of 20, while Everton have a miserable goal difference of just 1. This points towards the difference between both teams right now.
What won’t help the home team either is the absence of team captain and defensive organiser at the back Phil Jagielka due to being sent off late on in the Arsenal game and is now being suspended for this clash. He will be replaced by Funes Mori and the major headache for Ronald Koeman going into this game is who he picks in midfield. Gareth Barry is due back into the fold and is expected to get the nod over either James McCarthy or Ross Barkley. Both players will feel hard done by after putting in good performances second half in midweek.
In the game itself, Koeman is expected to fill midfield and try beat the Liverpool press by asking his players to play the ball long over the top to where he feels they might have an advantage in Romelu Lukaku. The general consensus is that he can be a major thorn in the side of a Liverpool defence that at times looks weak and nervy.
This is good in theory but for me, the chink in the armour of that theory is that Lukaku simply isn’t good enough at holding the ball up at his feet to bring runners into the game behind him.
That was seen clearly midweek against Arsenal who time and time again had to deal with such tactics only for Lukaku to give the ball away or fail to control it long enough to have any great effect. He did cause more trouble when he got turned with the ball at his feet to run at the defenders but this was rare enough and he looks like he only wants to do the hard work now and again.
Saying that, I’m sure he will be well up for a derby match and if not. the home faithful will remind him about it too.
Liverpool, on the other hand, have a well-drilled machine working now with the leading roles of Lallana, Mane, Firmino and recently added to the mix the form of Divock Origi. They look slick powerful and their lack of pinned down roles with the manager giving them the freedom to move and interchange when they see fit being the main reason why defenders week in and week out now find it very difficult to watch their man let alone mark him effectively.
Set pieces and long balls it seems will be the order of the day for Everton to concentrate their efforts on scoring while going forward with the movement and pace Liverpool have at their disposal will surely make a normally electric game even more intense.
I won’t be surprised to see a lot of yellow cards and maybe even a red or two with tempers boiling over in this white-hot atmosphere that will be Goodison Park on Mersey Monday.
I predict a Liverpool win but I also think they will have to fight tooth and nail for it and probably by a slender enough margin too.