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Everton at Liverpool: The Opposition View

We spoke to Reds fan and writer Scott Groom prior to Wednesday’s Merseyside Derby

Liverpool FC v Everton FC - Premier League
Everton lost this fixture 1-0 last season
Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Marco Silva limps on as Everton manager as he takes his beleaguered Blues to Liverpool for the first Merseyside derby on Wednesday evening.

After the Blues’ heartbreaking, last-gasp defeat at Leicester City on Sunday, Silva needs a result now more than ever, but could hardly have a tougher next opponent in Jürgen Klopp’s runaway league leaders at Anfield, a ground Everton haven’t won at since 1999.

Liverpool have dropped only two points from their first 14 league games this term, and are eight clear at the top of the table after their 2-1 win home win over Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday.

Of course, it is almost a year to the day since Everton’s last visit to Anfield, where Liverpool haven’t lost a league game since April 2017, when Jordan Pickford’s error gifted Divock Origi a cruel 96th-minute winner for the Reds.

Ahead of Wednesday’s derby, we spoke to Scott Groom, Liverpool fan and writer at LFC Transfer Room and Anfield Index:

RBM: Firstly, Liverpool seem to have got even stronger than last season, which included a 97-point haul and a Champions League. Where in particular have they most improved this term?

Scott: Last season was an incredible journey for everyone associated with Liverpool. Klopp’s been steadily transforming the team and the club from the bottom up ever since his arrival and last year felt like the first year that all of those years of hard graft came together so harmoniously. It was fitting that we won a major trophy at the end of the season as well, and it could so easily have been two.

That Champions League win has really benefited the squad and giving them a taste of success that they quite clearly want to continue to bring to the club. It’s strengthened their resolve, togetherness and mental toughness - and you can see that with the late, scrappy wins we’ve carved out for ourselves so far this season. The will to find a way to win and that never-say-die attitude has been most impressive so far this term, with the term ‘mentality monsters’ doing the side justice.

But not only that, it’s the fact that nothing seems to phase the team any more. Going a goal down, having Alisson sent off, riding waves of opposition pressure - the team never looks panicked any more. Or if they do, they certainly don’t show it like at the start of Klopp’s reign.

Liverpool FC v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League
Virgil van Dijk’s double against Brighton took Liverpool to 40 points on Saturday
Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images

RBM: Seven of Liverpool’s last eight league wins have been by one-goal margins. Does this point to a greater mental resolve, or are you concerned that they’re not blowing teams away quite as often as they have previously?

Scott: It’s a good question really, as the lack of clean sheets this season is beginning to be picked up on by those associated with Liverpool and everyone outside of Anfield. It’s strange, because I don’t think we look more vulnerable than last season at all - but I read last week that the stats point to opposition attackers being more clinical with their chances against us this season which could be something.

The clean sheets will come, though; I don’t doubt that. We’ve had an unsettled start with injuries, and now suspensions, to key members of the defence such as Alisson and Joël Matip, so once we get a bit more settled, I think you’ll see a difference.

As for not scoring higher on a more consistent basis this year, I think that again is partly down to a slight change in tactics from Klopp and the opposing managers being a bit more streetwise. Klopp has made this Liverpool side difficult to play against, in every sense of the word. And that means that they only need one or two goals to go on to win games as they can shut teams down and suffocate them. That potentially brings with it a bit more lack of adventure going forward, but I’ll admit that Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah are yet to fire on all cylinders this season in terms of finding the back of the net.

Opponents are also trying to cut off their supply by targeting Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, which is proving somewhat effective at times - but the thing is, we still keep finding ways to score. That’s what’s making us such a tricky side to beat at present; we just keep finding solutions.

RBM: Given they are eight points clear of Leicester and eleven ahead of Manchester City, can there be any excuse for Liverpool if they don’t win the league this season?

Scott: Firstly, to think that the title race has been decided in the first week of December is naive of anyone, and I doubt you’ll find a Liverpool fan who really thinks we’ve got our hands on the trophy so soon.

We’ve given ourselves the basis of a real, tangible chance of winning that illusive league title, but it’s far from over. Look at 2013-14. It all looked wrapped up and then, out of nowhere, City won it. It would be majorly disappointing to squander what is a glorious opportunity from here, but so much can happen in such a short space of time in the Premier League.

If we’re still in a good way after Christmas and have a healthy points gap over the chasing pack, we might start getting a bit more excitable. But for now, I’m keeping my feet well and truly on terra firma.

Liverpool have already beaten City this season and have an 11-point lead over them
Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images

RBM: Do you expect Liverpool will miss the suspended Alisson Becker and the injured Fabinho much on Wednesday, or have they got enough strength in depth to cope?

Scott: Both of the Brazilian boys are vitally important players for us, so they will undoubtedly be a loss for us. However, I’ve got a lot of faith in Adrián coming in for Alisson as he’s already shown what he’s capable of at the start of the season during our number one’s lengthy lay-off. Alisson even said it himself recently that he felt he could really take his time in his rehab due to Adrián’s capabilities, so that’s not ideal, but manageable.

The same can be said about Fabinho, too. He’s been immense for us over the past year or so - one of the first names on the team sheet every single week. There are plenty of options for us in the middle; Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum can all play in that deep-lying pivot role that Fabinho occupies so well.

Then we’ve got the likes of Naby Keïta, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and even a fit-again Xherdan Shaqiri, who can make a difference in the more advanced role. It just depends how well whoever fills in for Fabinho does. Henderson did it very well against Brighton and has done so several times in the past, so I’m sure that he will be preferred in that role for the coming weeks. It’s not his best position, but he’ll do well there.

Like I said, not ideal but manageable.

RBM: Everton were pretty unambitious in the last Merseyside derby but managed to hold Liverpool to a 0-0 draw at Goodison Park in March. Will the same approach give them the best chance of a result on Wednesday?

Scott: Without a doubt. Everton have endured a torrid start to the season and don’t look anything like the side that many tipped to challenge for a European place this season. Their record at Anfield of late is abysmal, too, and they could well be haunted by the ghost of Christmas past after Origi’s bizarre winner last season. They simply aren’t playing well enough to come and have a go at Liverpool. If they do that, they could end up getting ripped apart and embarrassed.

However, it’s a derby game. Anything can happen - again, look at last year’s game. I think Silva will set Everton up to frustrate Liverpool and hope to come away with a point, and anything more will be viewed as a bonus.

Everton FC v Liverpool FC - Premier League
Klopp’s men were hold to a goalless draw at Goodison in March
Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

RBM: Where, if anywhere, are Liverpool currently most vulnerable?

Scott: You’d have to say in the areas we highlighted earlier; in defensive midfield and in goal. Missing key players like Alisson and Fabinho weakens any team, so Everton may well fancy taking advantage of the spaces in between the Liverpool midfield and defence if they can find them.

I’m certain that Silva will be urging his players to have plenty of shots on goal to keep Adrián busy as well. He’s more than capable of doing a stellar job for this match, but he does have the odd error in him. He nearly dropped a clanger against Brighton at the weekend, so I’m sure he’ll be put under plenty of pressure, especially from corners and free-kicks.

RBM: How do you expect Liverpool to line up on Wednesday? With nine games in December including the trip to Qatar for the Club World Cup, do you expect Klopp to rotate at all for this game?

Scott: There’s not too much wriggle room really, as I think Klopp will want to ensure that the current eight-point cushion to Leicester at least stays intact heading into a hectic Christmas period.

Adrián will obviously come in for Alisson, with Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk and Robertson certain to start in front of him. There could be a case for Joe Gomez to replace Dejan Lovren at the back to ensure Lovren stays fresh, but such has been the Croat’s form of late that Klopp will likely stick with him. He’s a bit Marmite, but you can’t deny that he’s been brilliant in the last few weeks.

I think we’ll see the same midfield on Wednesday as we did against Brighton: Henderson sitting behind Wijnaldum and Oxlade-Chamberlain. If any of those three is rested, it’ll be Ox and if he is, it’ll be interesting to see who Klopp brings in. Keïta is fit and available again, as is Shaqiri. There’s also Milner, who I would’ve thought will get the nod if any due to his experience and solidity.

The front three picks itself, but concerns remain over Salah’s ankle injury. He’s not quite been himself in recent weeks, but if he’s fit, he starts as he’s capable of those match-winning moments of magic.

Liverpool FC v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League
Adrian (right) will deputise in goal for the suspended Alisson
Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

RBM: Which of Liverpool’s deadly front three do you think could cause Everton the most problems?

Scott: The trio are all always a threat, and if you keep one or two of them quiet, the other one usually comes up with the goods. But at present, it’s hard to look past Sadio Mané. He’s been Liverpool’s main man in an attacking sense so far this season, and looks to have taken his game up another level.

His movement is sublime; he’s so strong and powerful when he runs at defenders, his finishing is better and he keeps popping up with vital late goals. He has also developed a knack of finding space in the box from set pieces and cross, particularly at the back post. He keeps sneaking in behind defenders, playing on their shoulders and never giving them a moment’s rest.

He, like Salah and Firmino, is relentless and is a defender’s worst nightmare. No Everton defender will want him running at them or in behind them during the 90 minutes on Wednesday as he’ll give them a real headache.

RBM: Finally, what’s your derby prediction?

Scott: It’ll be feisty as ever; probably a bit scrappy too. Everton will want to make it that way to limit Liverpool’s influence on the game. But as we’ve seen this season, Klopp’s team can find their way around most hurdles, so I think it’ll be a Liverpool win and a clean sheet. I just can’t see Everton providing that much of a threat.

I’m going for 2-0 Liverpool.

Our thanks to Scott for his time.