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Everton and Liverpool prepare for a Merseyside derby nobody wants to play

We all just want the season to be over, but the neighbours have popped round for a chat

I think it’s fair to say the 231st Merseyside derby is an inconvenience for both teams for vastly different reasons.

For Liverpool, the fixture is sandwiched between two huge Champions League games against Manchester City.

For Everton, or their fans at least, the season is already a write-off and they want the remaining few fixtures out of the way as quickly and painlessly as possible.

Our only source of optimism is that Sam Allardyce goes at the end of the season, which is thankfully now only a matter of weeks away.

However, the visit of our nearest rivals to Goodison Park means we cannot just zone-out like we have done in recent weeks. This has been and always will be one of our biggest matches of the season.

Yet the build-up to this match has been different. Derby week is usually one of the most exciting times of the season but the lead-up to this latest encounter has been one of sheer apathy.

Evertonians are struggling to care for unloved team and an unloved manager.

Everton under Allardyce is like a bad dream we have yet to wake up from. But given by his astonishing pre-match press conference, the former England boss appears blissfully unaware of the growing resentment towards him from the fanbase.

He is too long in the tooth to ever change, so we shouldn’t be surprised that he is taking the same approach he took at the likes of Crystal Palace and Sunderland.

Last weekend’s submission against Man City was case in point.

Ok, there’s no shame in losing to Pep Guardiola’s side, plenty have (except us at the Etihad!). But the team barely lay a glove on the opposition, who only went easy on us in the second half because of their impending trip to Anfield.

It was embarrassingly one-sided but what we come to expect from a manager who has no interest in even attempting to beat teams in the upper reaches of the table.

Allardyce knows a similar approach won’t be accepted on Saturday, but that doesn’t mean he will set the team out to attack. Expect more of the same.

The only real reason for optimism is the proximity of Liverpool’s Champions League second leg at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday.

The timing is awkward to say the least. But while Jurgen Klopp will not want to lose the derby game, he knows the fans will care little if he can secure a place in the Champions League semi-finals three days later.

For Everton, a first derby win in eight years and the chance to tire a few Liverpool players out ahead of Tuesday’s second leg is all we can grasp hold off after the most miserable of seasons.

But given what we have witnessed for much of the campaign, even the most optimistic of Evertonians doubt that will happen.

The opposition

I won’t dwell on our loveable neighbours too long but it is fair to say they were fantastic against Man City the other night, totally blowing them away in the first half.

But what was arguably more impressive was their defending after the break. So often their Achilles heel, Klopp’s side successfully repelled City’s dazzling attacking line-up to preserve a priceless clean sheet and edge them closer to the semi-finals.

Will we see a similar team on the pitch at Goodison on Saturday? It’s unlikely. Klopp will surely make changes given their league position is relatively safe and Tuesday is clearly their biggest match of the season.

But given Everton’s pathetic recent record in this fixture, Klopp must be confident of getting a result regardless of his team selection.

Team news

Allardyce has confirmed Idrissa Gueye will return to the squad after he missed the Manchester City defeat with a knee injury. He is likely to replace Morgan Schneiderlin whose return to the first-team last weekend was as disastrous as expected.

Ashley Williams is available again after completing his three-match suspension, but is unlikely to return (we hope, anyway.)

Liverpool’s main doubt is top scorer Mohamed Salah, who was forced off against Man City on Wednesday with a groin strain.

Jurgen Klopp says he won’t take any risks with the 38-goal Egyptian, even though this is a derby game.

Klopp also hinted that Danny Ings could start as he seeks to keep his first-teamers as fresh as possible ahead of Tuesday’s trip to the Etihad.

Final word

Fourteen matches and counting, it’s been a long time since Everton tasted victory in this fixture and there would be a certain irony if they finally secured victory under one of their most unpopular managers.

Three points would do little to appease the Allardyce doubters, but it would at least give us something to celebrate after such a dire season.

With Liverpool distracted by their European travails this is as good a chance as any to finally put one over the Reds.

But, we’ve been here before and failed to grasp that opportunity. And I’ve seen little evidence this season to suggest tomorrow will be any different.