Everton v Liverpool – Roberto Martinez must start Ross Barkley on Saturday

Julian Finney

With those pesky internationals out of the way the build-up to this weekend’s Merseyside derby can begin in earnest, with the boss facing one major selection decision.

Roberto Martinez revealed on Wednesday that all of his players on international duty had returned unscathed, a huge boost if you consider what happened to Darron Gibson during the last international break in October.

He also revealed that Antolin Alcaraz and Tony Hibbert were back to full fitness. Saturday’s game is too soon for them but they should be available in the coming weeks, another big plus given the amount of games the team will play between now and the end of next month.

That means Gibson and Arouna Kone are the only long-term absentees; significant at this stage of the season if you consider the small pool of players at Martinez’s disposal.

The relative clean bill of health means Martinez is unlikely to change his starting XI significantly, even if the team were desperately below-par in the draw with Crystal Palace last time out.

The main decision will probably be between the experience of Leon Osman and the precocious teenage talent of Ross Barkley.

Barkley has been taken out of the firing line in recent weeks after starting Everton’s first nine league games of the season, with Osman’s match-winning display at Aston Villa last month justifying his inclusion.

Both, as local players, will be desperate to start against the old enemy but I think Martinez should go with Barkley.

He already has Gareth Barry to provide experience and know-how in midfield and in Barkley he has a player who could produce that moment of magic to win the game.

Derbies are often tight and tense affairs, meaning a stroke of genius could be the difference. Could you imagine any player, other than Barkley, smashing one in from the edge of the box?

Maybe Kevin Mirallas, but the Belgian has been so out of touch so far this season he cannot be relied upon to turn it around on Saturday.

We often criticised David Moyes for being too cautious when it came to the big games and Osman would certainly be a 'safe' pick. Martinez, in contrast, is seen as a manager prepared to be bold and attack sides no matter how illustrious they are.

Saturday lunchtime at Goodison Park is the perfect time and place for him to prove it.

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