The transfer window now being shut, Everton will have to navigate the next dozen league matches as they are before they will have a chance to make any further changes to their squad. New signings James Garner and returning old favourite Idrissa Gana Gueye are eligible for Saturday’s early kickoff against neighbours Liverpool, in addition to the now fully-registered Neal Maupay.
Frank Lampard’s side has a healthier look to it, in terms of depth and quality in the defence and midfield and a Premier League calibre striker in Maupay, even if there’s a worry that they are perhaps an attacker short overall. Still, the Blues boss will be feeling he has a selection headache and options from the bench for probably the first time this season and this flexibility has arrived at just the right time, considering the challenge that Liverpool will present.
The Toffees have started the campaign slowly, gaining only three points from their opening five fixtures, though they are on an unbeaten run of four in all competitions. Can the home side gain all three points at the weekend? Let’s take a look at the opposition in more detail.
The Reds played every match possible last term as they progressed to the finals of both domestic cup competitions (defeating Chelsea in both via penalty shootout), as well as the Champions League, where they succumbed to Real Madrid. That defeat, in the Paris final was only their fourth of the campaign and second of the calendar year. Former Blues boss Carlo Ancelotti’s team displayed remarkable resilience, being out-shot six-to-one yet claiming a victory against the pre-match favourites. There was further disappointment as the Merseysiders fell agonisingly short in their Premier League title challenge to Manchester City, losing out by a single point, just as they had back in the 2018-19 season.
After a campaign that saw the side lift two trophies yet miss out on the two biggest prizes in club football, Jurgen Klopp’s men have started the new season in less-convincing form than they’d have hoped. Back-to-back draws against newly-promoted Fulham and Crystal Palace - in which marquee signing Darwin Nunez saw straight red for a foolish headbutt - they were unexpectedly defeated by a Manchester United side they’d beaten by a combined nine goal margin during the previous season. Liverpool have responded since, destroying new boys Bournemouth by a colossal 9-0 and squeaking past Newcastle United in the 98th minute at Anfield in midweek.
Style of Play
Klopp has been a fixture in the Premier League now for some time and his style of play familiar to all. Probably the most famous exponent of the Gegenpressing tactical approach, the German’s patented “Heavy Metal Football” has brought the team great success and made them one of the best sides in European football. The former Borussia Dortmund boss has Liverpool play with a tempo and intensity that is almost impossible to match, or deal with. The Reds defence holds a very high line, relying on a well-drilled offside trap to catch opponents out. Intense counter-pressing pins the opposition back and hopes to force them into costly mistakes. Lethal finishing from attackers such as Mohamed Salah and the now-departed Sadio Mane ensure goals aplenty are scored.
The team’s midfield, which has traditionally consisted of hard-working box-to-box types like captain Jordan Henderson and James Milner has slowly evolved with the introduction of the highly technical Thiago Alcantara. Width is provided by aggressive overlapping fullbacks Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson, though the former has almost a free role within Liverpool’s 4-3-3 system. For opposing teams, getting hold of and retaining the ball is difficult to accomplish: despite their relatively poor start to the season, Klopp’s outfit has still posted possession share percentages of between 67 and 72.
This term, the Reds have been hit by a series of injuries to their midfield, exposing a slight depth vulnerability which forced them to sign Arthur Melo on loan from Juventus on Transfer Deadline Day; the Brazilian will be unavailable for the clash with Everton, however. A rotating line-up of central defensive partners for Virgil van Dijk has left the visitor’s backline looking vulnerable for the first time in quite a while.
Salah hit more than 20 league goals again last term and is still one of the foremost wide forwards in world football. He failed to net last time out and also, amazingly during the Bournemouth massacre, but the Egyptian remains a constant danger for as long as he’s on the pitch.
Former Everton transfer target Luis Diaz has as at least partially replaced the threat of Mane on the left flank, even if he hasn’t quite reached that level of production just yet. The Colombian is an agile, fast livewire and it is pretty painful for Blues to watch him take to the Premier League so quickly, and doing so in a Red shirt.
Roberto Firmino looked like yesterday’s man following his least-productive season since arriving on Merseyside seven years ago and the arrival of Nunez for a £67.5m fee this summer, but he’s responded well to the challenge presented by the Uruguayan. In Nunez’s enforced absence, the Brazilian has looked more like his old self, with six goal contributions in the last two matches. Whether this will be enough to see him retain his place in the starting line-up remains to be seen.
Alexander-Arnold is an oddity at fullback. The Liverpudlian has more than 500 touches in five league games and is key to the way his side go about constructing attacks, often drifting inside as an extra midfielder. Defensively, however he can be gotten at, particularly if isolated in space.
It goes without saying that Liverpool present a formidable challenge, home or away. The Blues do have the advantage of a fired-up Goodison Park, although the early kickoff time does not help the home side here. Still, the fans are going to be right behind their team and manager, Lampard being a popular figure with the vast majority.
It’s highly unlikely that the Blues will go on the offensive against such a strong opponent, so it figures Frank will set up to play a predominantly counterattacking game. Going forward, it is apparent the Toffees boss wants the side to play more on the front foot and out from the back, but this would seem suicidal against a team that presses with high intensity. More likely he will seek to keep things compact, almost certainly in the 4-3-3 shape the team used at Leeds; injuries to central defenders and a newfound strength in the middle of the park favours this formation.
I foresee Everton looking to target Alexander-Arnold with Anthony Gordon; the youngster terrorized the defender at Anfield last season and to use Demarai Gray’s pace to run onto balls over the top of the Liverpool high line. Klopp’s outfit, whilst not playing with their normal ruthless consistency and missing a few important players are still a talented, dangerous side and Everton will have to make as few mistakes as possible, whilst playing with controlled aggression and looking to exploit the vulnerabilities to pace that the visitors have shown this season.