Everton have lost the early head of steam they had built up after a fantastic start to the season. Disappointing performances in two consecutive away draws at Wigan and QPR have prevented them pulling away further from the pack at the top of the Premier League table. The Blues currently stand in fourth place, with fifteen points from their eight fixtures. Liverpool meanwhile have struggled to make an impression this term, getting just their second win of the season last week to push them up to twelfth, with nine points from their eight games.
David Moyes has a miserable record in the derby fixture, with just four wins in twenty three games against the Reds. In fact, all of those wins have come at Goodison, with the other six draws and thirteen losses distributed between Goodison, Anfield and Wembley. As we have seen over the years, this has often been a result of Everton conceding the possession battle to Liverpool in the middle of the park and also some ultra-conservative tactics in the few times the Blues have scored first. There are some different signs this year though - in the games that Everton dominated for periods (Manchester United, Swansea, Southampton), they were absolutely supreme with their accuracy and swiftness in passing the ball around, the off-the-ball movement was sublime and their vision brilliant. If Moyes can get the boys replicating some of that for even one half, we should be in for a corker of a game.
Much has been made of the appointment of Andre Marriner as referee for this fixture, even though he is yet to hand out a red card this season. Both coaches, Brendan Rodgers and Moyes, have made some interesting statements in the lead-up to the game, with Rodgers hoping that his side finally catches some breaks from the officials while Moyes went on record stating the importance of having a referee who can see through the Oscar-worthy playacting and Olympic-level diving to identify what are the right challenges and the wrong ones.
Team News -
Talismanic midfielder Marouane Fellaini should be ready to play come Sunday, though it remains to be seen if he can last the full ninety minutes. Right back Tony Hibbert came through a full ninety minutes with the reserves and could be restored to the starting lineup. Midfielder Darron Gibson has relapsed again and will be out again, in what is turning into a long-term thigh injury now. In the biggest loss for Everton, left winger Steven Pienaar will miss the game after his unfortunate (and controversial) sending off last weekend.
Rodgers is finally starting to get some players back from the physio's table. Goalie Pepe Reina could miss the game with his hamstring still an issue. Martin Kelly, Lucas Leiva and Fabio Borini are all long-term casualties and will miss this game.
Keys To The Game -
Everton can and should beat Liverpool. We have heard that often, but it has never held truer than now. Everton have amassed 23 more points than their Merseyside rivals in the calendar year 2012, and are playing the better football. There is only one key to this game for the Blues - David Moyes. It begins and ends with him, for as long as he is willing to name an attacking lineup that will run hard at the Reds, and makes the right changes to keep the pressure on them, Everton will prevail.
Out of necessity he will have to start the infamous 'Osville' pairing (Leon Osman and club captain Phil Neville) in the middle, and Kevin Mirallas to switch over to the left to give Leighton Baines an outlet. Why not put speedy Seamus Coleman out on right wing to keep Glen Johnson busy? In fact, put Victor Anichebe in there to start with the strict instructions to run his rear end off, because 'Big Vic' can certainly pose a menace Rodgers will not be ready for. What we do not want to see is Moyes going with the vanilla Steven Naismith out on the right.
Liverpool will have the three-pronged attack of Nuri Sahin, Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling. Joe Allen should be orchestrating play in the middle with Jonjo Shelvey, and Steven Gerrard scavenging in to pick up scraps behind the forwards. To his credit, he cleans up pretty good, but vultures have always had that reputation anyways. If Rodgers chooses to not go with a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1, he does run the risk of negating his wingers Sterling and Suso, who might be tied up chasing the shadows of Mirallas, Coleman and Baines.
Suarez's drama credentials aside, he is an excellent striker of the ball from anywhere around the box and also excels in laying it up for his teammates when his angles are narrowed down. Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka will have their hands full with him, but it will be a team defensive responsibility to watch the area right behind him where Gerrard often pops up, right outside the box.
Match Facts -
- This is the 219th edition of the derby, with Everton winning 66 and 65 being drawn.
- 8 of the last 10 red cards handed out in this fixture have gone to Everton players.
- Six of the last seven players sent off at Goodison during the derby have been from.. yes, Everton.
- Everton lead the league in hitting the woodwork (ten times), and Liverpool are second (six).
- The Toffees have one loss in their last seventeen Premier League games, back in September at West Brom.
- This is the tenth year in a row the first Merseyside Derby of the season will be at Goodison Park.