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Everton v Liverpool Merseyside derby match preview - football is back, but not as we know it

It’s certain to be a derby with a difference at Goodison Park

Liverpool FC v Everton FC - Premier League Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Now, where were we?

Nearly 100 days after the original fixture was postponed, Everton and Liverpool will belatedly lock horns in the 236th Merseyside derby at what is sure to be an eerily quiet Goodison Park on Sunday evening.

Football rightly took a back seat as the world attempted to get to grips with the coronavirus crisis, and while the situation is slowly beginning to improve in the UK there remains a sense of unease about its return.

It’s certainly fair to say it is football but not as we know it, the cavernous empty stadiums the obvious signal that things aren’t quite back to normal.

Physios in PPE, substitutes scattered well apart in the lower tiers of the stands, drinks breaks, disinfected footballs; the Premier League has pulled out all the stops to try and get the game back and avoid paying a hefty rebate to the TV companies. But it just isn’t the same.

Everton Training Match Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

For once I am grateful Everton have little to play for. (For those who have forgotten, the Toffees are 12th in the table after a 4-0 thrashing at Chelsea last time out, six points behind seventh-placed Wolves). Home advantage has been severely neutered due to the lack of fans (there is a reason behind closed doors games are used as a punishment) so you cannot realistically claim that this is the same competition than before the shutdown. It’s likely Sunday’s clash will not have anywhere near the same intensity without the boisterous supporters cheering them on.

We can at least be grateful for Manchester City, who swept past Arsenal on Wednesday to rule out the prospect of Liverpool sealing the title at Goodison. Even without fans that would have been a tough pill to swallow for Toffees supporters, particularly as we are all stuck at home, unable to recreate the vociferous atmosphere we saw in L4 last March.

Manchester City v Arsenal FC - Premier League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Instead I sense most supporters approach the game with a combination of excitement, curiosity and indifference.

The chance to talk (and moan) about something as frivolous as football after a traumatic few months is welcome, even if it comes with a lingering sense of unease about whether we are doing so too soon.

The opposition

Though they can’t seal the title at Goodison, Liverpool are all but certain to end their 30-year wait in the coming weeks.

They are 22 points clear of nearest rivals Manchester City with nine games to play, and take on the champions at the Etihad at start of next month.

Jurgen Klopp’s side had actually started to show signs of fragility in the weeks immediately prior to the coronavirus shutdown, losing 3-0 at Watford in the Premier League, 2-0 at Chelsea in the FA Cup and 4-2 on aggregate to Atletico Madrid in the Champions League.

Liverpool FC v Atletico Madrid - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images

The three-month break has afforded them time to get that blip out of their system and get key players, including goalkeeper Alisson, fit again.

They head across Stanley Park boating an impressive recent record in the fixture, having not lost at Goodison since 2010. They have tended to be tight affairs in recent years though, with the last five fixtures yielding just three goals.

Team news

Everton have a number of injury issues to contend with, despite the three-month long break from competition action.

Jean-Phillipe Gbamin suffered an Achilles injury on his first day back at full training and is out for at least six months. Theo Walcott is also out for three weeks after minor abdominal surgery. Cenk Tosun remains sidelined for several more months with a knee injury.

Yerry Mina and Fabian Delph are also out with muscle injuries, but Andre Gomes should be fit to start.

Everton Training Session Photo by Everton FC via Getty Images

Recent (ish) form

Everton

Chelsea (A) Lost 4-0

Man Utd (H) Drew 1-1

Arsenal (A) Lost 3-2

Crystal Palace (H) Won 3-1

Watford (A) Won 3-2

Liverpool

Atletico Madrid (H - Champs Lge) Lost 3-1 AET

Bournemouth (H) Won 2-1

Chelsea (A - FA Cup) Lost 2-0

Watford (A) Lost 3-0

West Ham (H) Won 3-2

Final word

As we have already seen, football without fans is this post Covid-world is vastly inferior to what went before and will remain so until we are allowed through the turnstiles again. And with Everton in mid-table these final few games feel like more of a box-ticking exercise before we can go again properly next season. That said, the chance to secure a long-awaited derby victory is not to be sniffed at, and would certainly be typical of Everton if they did so when we were unable to see it in person.