Everton face Liverpool at Anfield in the FA Cup third round for the second time in three seasons on Sunday.
It will be Carlo Ancelotti’s first taste of a Merseyside derby since he replaced Marco Silva, who was sacked after the 5-2 league defeat at Liverpool a month ago.
The odds, as ever in this fixture, will be firmly stacked against Everton, though; they have not won at Anfield since 1999 while only Napoli, then managed by Ancelotti, have avoided defeat at the Reds this term.
Jürgen Klopp’s side moved 13 points clear at the top of the table with a 2-0 home win over Sheffield United on Thursday, which also completed an unbeaten year of Premier League football for the club.
Ahead of Sunday’s derby, we spoke to Scott Groom, Liverpool fan and writer at LFC Transfer Room and Anfield Index:
RBM: Firstly, do you think Jürgen Klopp can afford to take the FA Cup more seriously this year than he perhaps has previously, given the size of Liverpool’s lead at the top of the league?
Scott: This is all Liverpool fans are talking about; it’s a tough one really. Yes, we’ve put ourselves in a great position in the league at present, but we have amassed so many injuries in the last month or so that we’re really needing to be careful now. We’ve got Joël Matip, Dejan Lovren, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Naby Keïta and Fabinho all out - so the senior members of the squad are thin on the ground. The Christmas and early January period is always hectic, and the last thing we want is more injuries to first team players.
The fact the game is against Everton is making it a more difficult decision, but I think you’ll see quite a lot of rotation. That doesn’t mean Klopp isn’t taking it seriously, he’s just working with what he’s got.
RBM: How important this season is the FA Cup to you as a Liverpool fan?
Scott: It’s always important; I love the FA Cup. I remember growing up and seeing Liverpool win it in 2001 and 2006, and it’s a great competition that shouldn’t ever be underestimated. The timing of this game this season, though, given our injury list and focus on the league, is far from ideal.
I think we’ll see a lot of changes for Liverpool, as we would if we’d drawn anyone else, and if we go through we take it from there.
RBM: Ancelotti frustrated Liverpool during his time at Napoli, beating them twice and drawing at Anfield in November. Is his recent record against the Reds any cause for concern for Sunday?
Scott: I wouldn’t say it’s a concern, but it certainly adds an interesting element to the mix. The team he had at Napoli was better than the squad he’s inherited at Goodison.
Still, Ancelotti is a wonderful manager and will have his side well-drilled and will no doubt try to do the same again this weekend at Anfield.
RBM: Do you think last month’s derby will have any bearing on this game? Does it give Liverpool a mental advantage even before a ball is kicked?
Scott: There’s been a mental block for Everton for years coming to Anfield; their record is that bad there. Regardless of the team Klopp chooses, I think Liverpool will be favourites due to our current run of form and record at home in the derby.
But Everton will no doubt be extra fired up to try to be the only team to win at Anfield since September 2018.
RBM: Liverpool played nine games in December and won all but one of them (the 5-0 loss to Aston Villa where they fielded a team of youngsters). Has there been any sign of fatigue at all?
Scott: Once or twice you’ve seen a hint of it, but in all honesty, there’s not been much of it. I think it’s around now we’ll start to see it the tiredness creeping in, if at all, which is why I think you’ll see rotation from Klopp.
He needs to keep players fresh and fit, and if he has to chop and change to do that, he will.
RBM: What would give Everton the best chance of hurting Liverpool in this game?
Scott: I think that depends on what team we put out. There’s talk of young Neco Williams coming in at right-back, and you’d think, if that’s the case then Ancelotti will put someone like Richarlison on him to really test him.
The midfield will also likely be varied, with the likes of Adam Lallana coming in. While he’s performed quite well when called upon this season, again, Ancelotti will want to give him a hard time and see what he’s made of.
RBM: How do you expect Liverpool to set up on Sunday? Do you expect Klopp to pick a full-strength side?
Scott: No, in short. Adrián, Lallana, Divock Origi, Curtis Jones, Nathaniel Philipps, Williams and most likely Takumi Minamino will come in for some of the bigger names like Mohamed Salah, Trent Alexander-Arnold and a few others.
It is purely bad timing in terms of our injuries and the volume of football these lads have played in the last few weeks that’s dictating this. Imagine if Klopp went full strength and we lost van Dijk and Mané to injury then went on a terrible run of form and allowed Leicester City and Manchester City to close in on us in the league - it would be a nightmare.
I like how well our squad and young players have been performing, though, so even if that’s the way Klopp chooses to go, I still think they can do the job.
RBM: Aside from the obvious front three, which of Liverpool’s players do you think could cause Everton the most problems?
Scott: I don’t think you’ll see all of the front three in action together, and if Klopp can help it, he’ll rest all three entirely.
Aside from that, Origi will cause problems as he always does against Everton. He looks good whenever he’s called upon at present - he’s fast, strong, tricky and has a goal in him. Jones, if he plays will also be a handful. A young, local lad playing against Everton for Liverpool needs little more motivation, but again, he’s someone who’s proving himself to be a serious contender for the future in Liverpool’s youth teams.
Then there’s our new number 18, Minamino. We watched him cause us serious problems when we played against Red Bull Salzburg in the Champions League, so we know how dangerous he is. He’s such a hard worker, a real pest, but is also fast and industrious on the ball and a real threat in front of goal. Teams in England don’t know too much about him yet, either, so there will be an element of surprise with him, too.
Harvey Elliott is another one who is a bit of an unknown and, despite his age, looks a real talent. He too could cause your defence problems.
RBM: Finally, what’s your derby prediction?
Scott: It’s very difficult to say, really. Our record in the derby is so good, but there’s always a chance of what I’d class an upset if Everton were to progress against a weakened Liverpool side.
However, I’ve every faith in Klopp and the players he’ll send out there, so I’m going for a close, scrappy 2-1 win for Liverpool.
Our thanks to Scott for his time.