It is always one of the most highly anticipated clashes of the season and tomorrow is no different, as the 219th Merseyside Derby approaches.
Everton go into the game with a spring in their step after a brilliant start to the season, which has surprised many. Over the past few years we have become accustomed to an extremely slow start by The Toffees, before picking up form and putting together a rattling run post Christmas. This always begs the question ‘What would happen if Everton actually started a season well?’. Now we have the chance to find out.
Champions League qualification looks to be an audacious aim this year, but European qualification of some kind looks extremely realistic. This is partly down to their big Croatian finisher, Nikica Jelavic.
Jelavic has started this season the way he finished the last, and his incredible one touch finishing is causing defences in the Premier League all-sorts of problems. The link up play between himself, Steven Pienaar and Marouane Fellaini has been key in the amount of goals that the team have been scoring. As-well as helping them become the side that have hit the woodwork the most times in the league, having hit it on ten occasions.
Unfortunately for Everton, Pienaar misses the Derby after picking up two yellow cards against QPR last weekend. It was a decision that was highly contentious and Everton have the right to feel aggrieved However this week they have received a massive boost as Fellaini, who had initially looked set to miss the game after picking up an injury last month, has been ruled fit to play.
He will be responsible for holding up the ball, and breaking up the three man midfield that Liverpool adopt. He will be key in making sure Joe Allen doesn’t get his foot on the ball and begin to dictate the tempo. He is a fiery character and loves to through in a robust challenge. With the tempo the game is going to be played at, it would be no surprise to see the Belgian pick up a booking.
Everton start favourites for the game for the first time in a long while, and David Moyes said it is up to them to live up to the tag.
However it won’t be easy as these games never are. Liverpool have had a chequered start to the season, but seem to be coming into a bit of form. The Reds haven’t conceded in their last three games, with Brad Jones keeping two clean sheets in two starts. Pepe Reina looks set to be fit for the game, so it will be a tough choice for Brendan Rodgers as to who he selects to start in goal.
Elsewhere there are no new injury worries, but after an impressive performance on Thursday evening by a number of players who wouldn’t have really been challenging for a place on Sunday, Rodgers has numerous selection headaches.
Oussama Assaidi particularly impressed with his direct running and skill against Anzhi and with him potentially having Tony Hibbert to run at, Rodgers may seriously think about giving the Moroccan a start. He has pace and skill, and would be able to cause Hibbert numerous problems with sheer pace and trickery as opposed to the supreme technical ability of Suso who pose a different threat.
Suarez and Sterling look two definite starters and will cause the Everton defence the most problems. Sterling is fearless and Rodgers is confident that he won’t be bullied by Everton’s likely rough tactics on the 17 year old. He opened his Premier League account last weekend against Reading before coming on and changing the game on Thursday. Confidence is high and he will be looking to harness all the positive energy into a massive performance in a big game, which he is yet to really do.
Suarez has been having a hard time of things of late, due to his ‘diving’ claims. So referee’s are tending to not give the Uruguayan anything which has also been making the news. The Everton defence is rather static and lacks pace (with the exception of Leighton Baines) and Suarez will be looking to exploit this with his trickery. It is only a matter of time before he manages to win a penalty, and tomorrow could be the day.
Finally, the key man for Liverpool, has to be Mr Merseyside Derby, Steven Gerrard. Gerrard has been in poor form this year by his high standards, but saved his best 90 minutes for the game against United. He comes into his own in big games and will be relishing the chance to go up against his Merseyside rivals once more. He managed to get a hat-trick in the fixture at Anfield last year and will be looking to get on the score-sheet once more.
1 point: Steven Gerrard to score any-time – 11/4 (Various)
1 point: Nikica Jelavic to score first – 7/1 (Various)
1 point: Everton/Draw (HT/FT) – 16/1 (StanJames)
3 points: Fellaini to be booked – 11/8 (BlueSquare)
1 point: Jelavic FGS – 1-1 – 60/1 – (William Hill)