The Premier League is famed for its highly intense and physical games, often pushing the boundaries of what degree of carnality is acceptable. The Merseyside Derby is the game that epitomises this very feature of the Premier League. This is the kind of fixture which is penciled in by both sets of fans at the beginning of the season. Notoriously famous for having the most number of red cards awarded to either side, this is a game that causes a divide among friends and family alike. Bragging rights take the center stage when these two meet and form goes out the window. The league table becomes irrelevant, relegated to an afterthought to be discussed and reviewed after the dust of the Derby settles down.
Even amongst this furore, this 200th league meeting between the two Merseyside rivals kicks off with various narratives playing about, with Liverpool firmly in the title race, with only 10 games remaining in the season. Everton, on the other hand, have fallen drastically, having been only 3 points off the leaders then to be lagging by 33 now. The memory of that bizarre defeat will be fresh in the minds of the Everton players and fans alike. Since then, Everton have picked up only 14 points in the subsequent matches. Their form has shown an upturn in recent weeks and this should stand them in good stead for Sunday while playing in front of their home support.
Liverpool will have Roberto Firmino back from a minor ankle strain that saw him sit out the win against Watford. He will bring with him a fierce midfield battle with Gueye. He will look to give the Reds complete numerical and spatial advantage in midfield, as the Toffees have preferred to operate with 2 men in the center of the field, rather than 3. This will force the likes of Sigurdsson and Walcott to join in the sketchy battle. It would mean that they will have to drop deeper, thus mollifying their potency in attack.
Everton, on the other hand, will look to find Richarlison and Sigurdsson in the pockets of spaces up ahead of midfield from where they can find incisive passes into the Liverpool box. The fullbacks will have to deal with Mane and Salah, but the key for them would be to brave the situation and choose the right moments to spring forwards, serving as a viable option in attack. Coleman, with all his experience in the Premier League, should be able to circumnavigate this fixture up against Mane.
Set-pieces could play a significant role in the game as Liverpool have been clinical from them, to say the least. Everton have the worst record in the PL defending set-pieces and this remains Marcos Silva’s greatest flaw. Everton will look to avoid conceding cheap free kicks in and around the area, not having had a confident, consistent centre half partnership through the season.
There are quite a few significant battles on the pitch which will eventually go on to decide the game –
Alisson vs Pickford
Liverpool’s stat of having conceded fewer goals than the number of clean sheets is something straight out of a dream for most Liverpool fans. Such a stat, common for European defensive stalwarts like Juventus and Atletico Madrid, has been the most imperative part of Liverpool’s title challenge this season. And Alisson Becker has had a humongous role to play in this sweet number. The keeper has been stellar. Alert when called upon and agile, he has been switched on all the time. On the other hand, Jordan Pickford has had a quite the surge in the number of people doubting his temperament. His blunder in the last derby gifted the Reds the victory and the impetus to surge ahead in the title race. His ability is veritable and he would like nothing more than to prove his sceptics wrong.
Virgil van Dijk vs Sigurdsson
The Evertonian playmaker/goalscorer will be occupying spaces that will be patrolled by the Virgil van Dijk. The Icelandic attacker had been in red hot form, scoring a brace on his last outing. His ability to manipulate the ball and shoot in tight spaces is second to none in the premier league. He poses a certain goal threat, having been the focal point of this Everton attack whenever he has featured. He will come up against van Dijk, who will look to assert his physical dominance on the attacker and attempt to smother the attacker of time and space. Sigurdsson will look to evade the spaces occupied by van Dijk and try to position himself in the half space in between the other center half, Matip and the full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold. This will be a high-quality match up in a usually scrappy game.
Richarlison vs Trent Alexander-Arnold
The young full-back will have his task cut out in stopping the Brazilian from exploiting that left-hand side. Richarlison has proven to be a reliable attacking outlet, holding his own against a number of right backs in the league. Richarlison has a history of sleeping while tracking his full-back and for this reason, Marcos Silva may experience a slight headache of whom to prefer for the left forward role. Richarlison’s overall attacking attributes should give him the nod over Bernard. His last derby performance was one to forget and he will look to start afresh in the game on Sunday.
He possesses the ability to both cut inside and pick a pass and also to go outside the full-back, putting in crosses for Calvert-Lewin. Trent, on the other hand, will be looking to do what he does best – maraud up the field, into Evertonian territory and use his whip of a leg to put in dangerous balls into the penalty area. Coming off a hat trick of assists, Klopp’s advice to him will be to keep his cool and go about things as he usually would. The talent will take care of the rest.
Lucas Digne vs Mohamed Salah
Having progressed leaps and bounds in his first season in the Premier League, Lucas Digne has made himself a fan favourite at Goodison Park. His runs are fast and his crosses from corners are dangerous. His contributions to the Everton attack have been important but on Sunday, he will look to rein himself in and do a job on Mo Salah first. Salah has had a mysterious couple of games, having been involved in the build up a lot but not finishing his chances. This points to a completely opposite trend to the one he generally exhibits. He will look to make it his night and get to the elusive 50 goal mark for Liverpool come Sunday’s derby.
Liverpool: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, van Dijk, Robertson; Wijnaldum, Fabinho, Henderson; Salah, Mane, Firmino
Everton: Pickford; Coleman, Keane, Mina, Digne; Gomes, Gueye; Lookman, Sigurdsson, Bernard; Richarlison.
Origi Image via The Independent
van Dijk image via Evening Standard
Salah vs Digne Image via Getty Images