Everton return to action after three months without a competitive game with the small matter of the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park on Sunday evening.
Liverpool cannot seal the league title by beating Everton after Manchester City’s win over Arsenal on Wednesday, but can re-establish their 25-point lead and move to within one more victory of becoming champions by triumphing at Goodison.
Jurgen Klopp’s side will obviously be strong favourites, not least given they have already beaten Everton twice this season, in the league and FA Cup, and that Liverpool have not lost to their near neighbours since 2010.
The game will be the first of Everton’s nine remaining 2019-20 fixtures to be played behind closed doors to try to limit the spread of coronavirus, but the Blues can at least host the match after initial fears this fixture was too ‘high-profile’ and needed moving to a neutral ground.
RBM: Firstly, what do you think of Project Restart and the way in which it’s been carried out?
Scott: Safety has to be put first at this time, and things have seemingly been done by only beginning preparations to start matches again once there were so few positive tests. There has been criticism from some, and that’s to be expected, nobody has ever done anything like this before.
Largely, though, I think the Premier League has been sensible about things, but the same can’t be said about the lower leagues, in my opinion. But in terms of the bigger picture, isn’t it nice just to have the football back again? These are unsettling times, so to be able to have football back to enjoy and as an escape from reality is just the tonic a lot of people will have needed.
RBM: How well do Liverpool’s preparations seem to have gone since returning to training last month?
Scott: It’s hard to say, really. All we’ve got to go by are snippets of friendlies and word of mouth from the training ground.
If these are anything to go by, however, things are looking good. The lads look sharp and the intensity and focus on winning this league only seems to have been strengthened after the pause in action.
Klopp and the team seem pleased, and have been singing the praises of Naby Keïta for example, so if they’re happy, I’m happy. We’ll know more when we see them in action on Sunday I guess.
RBM: Last season’s derby at Goodison saw a feverish Everton crowd help the Blues to hold Liverpool to a draw which changed the course of the title race. How much do you think the absence of fans will diminish home advantage?
Scott: Not having fans present is strange enough for us as fans watching from home, so I can only imagine how strange it feels to the players on the pitch, whether they admit to it or not.
You hear footballers talk all the time about how the crowd helped to give them that extra 10 per cent, so I think both teams will miss the influence of their fans at Goodison.
It’s always billed as the friendly derby, so both sets of supporters definitely have a big part to play, so don’t underestimate how much the Reds will miss the travelling Kop too.
RBM: What were your thoughts on the eventual decision to allow this game to be played at Goodison, after strong rumours of it being moved to a neutral venue?
Scott: I’m glad, and to be honest, it makes far more sense for it to be played on Merseyside.
Part of the magic of the derby has already been lost in the fact that supporters can’t be there, but you can accept that given the current global situation. But to move two squads to a neutral venue in a new city, when the grounds are so close together anyway, just felt daft.
I understand that moves are being made to ensure safety and that has to be done, but I wasn’t on my own in thinking that this was just counter intuitive.
RBM: Liverpool had a little wobble before the suspension, losing to Atletico Madrid in the Champions League and taking a 3-0 beating at lowly Watford.
Though form is probably irrelevant given the three-month break, where do they need to improve most on those performances?
Scott: I should firstly say that the performance against Atleti was largely very good. Had it not been for Adrian’s unfortunate error and Liverpool’s subsequent need to pour forward, I think we would’ve beaten them on the night and gone through. But such is the way of the world. It was a hard defeat to stomach for those reasons as we stifled Atleti and should’ve been home and dry before that unfortunate mistake.
The showing against Watford was a different story. We were poor; as poor as I’ve seen us in a long time. Full credit to Watford, of course, who did a job on us and thoroughly deserved the three points. We were sluggish, sloppy and second-best, and that certainly isn’t something we can duplicate in a game as ferocious and fast-paced as the derby.
I think that’s my biggest worry; that we don’t get out of the blocks properly, but it’s hard to know what to expect after such a long period of no competitive football.
RBM: Once the title is sealed, should Liverpool be setting themselves any other aims for the rest of the campaign?
Scott: Once it’s sealed - I love hearing the inevitability of that sentence still. Of course they should be gunning for everything that’s available and going for a record points title.
We don’t just want to win the league, we want to go down as one of the greatest ever teams to have won the league. After coming so close last season, we don’t want second best in any aspect this time around.
RBM: How do you expect Liverpool to set up on Sunday?
Scott: I think it will be largely as expected. The goalkeeper and the back four pick themselves, as do the front three.
The only real question comes in midfield. I think Jordan Henderson is a cert, but it is anyone’s guess as to who partners him. Klopp could opt for business as usual with Georginio Wijnaldum and Fabinho, he could go for the experience of James Milner, or he could throw a bit more caution to the wind and throw in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Keïta - whose praises he has been singing of late.
If it were me, I’d probably go for Henderson, Wijnaldum and Oxlade-Chamberlain. I think having Ox in there gives us real edge, and Wijnaldum does his job of shielding the defence and transitioning to attack so well, that he complements Ox and Henderson nicely.
RBM: Aside from the obvious front three, which of Liverpool’s players do you think could cause Everton the most problems?
Scott: Going from the above answer, I’d say someone like Oxlade-Chamberlain or Keïta. The players that have the ability to ghost in to dangerous positions while the front three do their thing, the ones that have the ability to drive from deep or play the killer passes in behind.
I think both would be extremely effective against any side and if I were Ancelotti I’d be making sure that Everton’s midfield is extremely switched on to this threat for fear of them being overrun and out-thought.
RBM: Finally, what’s your derby prediction?
Scott: It’s a tricky one as inevitably there will be some tired and rusty legs out there. Match fitness is a term that’s banded around a lot, but for me it still is very relevant. What we can be sure of is a game of passion and pride, with plenty of fight from both sides.
However, going off recent history and the way Klopp has got this Liverpool team playing, my money is on us to do the business. I’m going 2-1 Liverpool.
Our thanks to Scott for his time.