Premier League | Anfield | Tue 28 Jan | 8pm
Fancy a kickabout on Stanley Park lads?
Five games ago it all looked so rosy for Liverpool. The wind fluttered through Brendan Rodgers’ neatly cropped hair, Luis Suarez danced merrily through daisy-filled fields and the Anfield side topped the league without a care in the world.
- Bournemouth 0-2 Liverpool (FAC)
- Liverpool 2-2 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Stoke 3-5 Liverpool (Prem)
- Liverpool 2-0 Oldham (FAC)
- Liverpool 2-0 Hull (Prem)
- Stevenage 0-4 Everton (FAC)
- Everton 2-0 Norwich (Prem)
- Everton 4-0 QPR (FAC)
- Stoke 1-1 Everton (Prem)
- Everton 2-1 So'ton (Prem)
But then some football matches happened, and things went a bit wrong. An awkward home draw against Aston Villa denied them a third win on the spin, following back-to-back defeats against Chelsea and Manchester City.
Meanwhile, Manuel Pellegrini’s gung-ho goal-getters have won seven in a row, while Arsenal and Chelsea are on five – heck, even former crisis club Tottenham boast four on the trot and are now level on points with the Reds. Simply, the main contenders are leaving Rodgers’ men for dust.
Still, it leaves an intriguing battle for fourth with just over three months of the season left – starting with Tuesday night’s crucial visit of nice neighbours Everton.
They call this one ‘friendly’ – despite the fixture seeing more red cards (20) than any fixture in Premier League history (oh, and a mild kerfuffle over a casserole dish that was never returned) – but with just a point separating these two sides, you can bet it’ll be anything other than smiles and handshakes come kick-off.
Everton are enjoying an above-Everton-like season as they cling onto the coat-tails of fourth place, but they’ll need to show more of the quality that earned them wins over Manchester United and Chelsea earlier in the campaign. They may have lost the fewest games in the top flight this term (two), but only West Brom have notched more stalemates than their nine (who, incidentally, they drew 1-1 with in their last league outing).
In general, though, Roberto Martinez's side have performed well in the big games this season – alongside the aforementioned wins they were also a tad unfortunate not to beat Arsenal at the Emirates, and were only denied maximum points in this fixture by a late Daniel Sturridge equaliser in November's 3-3 draw.
The going’s tough for Rodgers’ men. Glen Johnson is out for an annoyingly “indefinite” period, joining Daniel Agger (calf), Jose Enrique and Sebastian Coates (both knee) in a busy treatment room. Mamadou Sakho and Jon Flanagan (both hamstring) have been missing for three and five-game stretches respectively but should return soon. Lucas knackering his knee against Villa has sidelined him until March.
Everton, meanwhile, are mourning poor Bryan Oviedo and his double leg fracture after the Costa Rican’s rotten luck at Stevenage. Ross Barkley (ankle) is also out for a significant stretch, with Seamus Coleman (hamstring) joining him on the sidelines for at least another game. Arouna Kone and Darron Gibson (both knee) are long-term casualties.
But Steven Pienaar should return after a fortnight’s absence, and Barcelona loanee Gerard Deulofeu (hamstring) isn’t too far behind him. There could also be a first sighting of beanpole striker Lacina Traore, who joined on loan from Monaco last week. He’s taller than Peter Crouch and everything.
Key players: Leighton Baines, Steven Pienaar
With the Premier League’s best left side set to be reunited once more (and the added bonus of Baines’ new four-year contract), Liverpool’s inexperienced right – certainly Flanagan but surely not Raheem Sterling too – could be in for a rough night.
Only Sunderland match the Toffees for their left-sided favour, with 40% of Toffees attacks focused on their favoured flank this season. When you’ve got the country’s finest full-back dovetailing a reliable winger like Pienaar, who can blame them?
In the pair’s last outing against Norwich, their exchanges were the game’s second and third-highest combinations (after the wholly insignificant Phil Jagielka-Baines combo), while Baines was the game’s best player with a game-high number of attacking-third passes, 3 chances created, 4/5 take-ons completed (another high), 4/4 tackles won and 4/5 aerial duels won.
Pienaar helps his brilliant team-mate tick, meanwhile. Against the Canaries he misplaced just one of his 47 passes and won 4 free-kicks in key areas for Martinez’s men. Between them they’re a nightmare.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Everton 3–3 L'pool (Prem, Nov 13)
- L'pool 0–0 Everton (Prem, May 13)
- Everton 2–2 L'pool (Prem, Oct 12)
- L'pool 2–1 Everton (FAC, Apr 12)
- L'pool 3–0 Everton (Prem, Mar 12)
Rodgers pipped Martinez to the Liverpool post back in 2012, but you won’t catch the affable Spaniard harbouring hard feelings – after all, he’s building something good of his own at Goodison Park.
He’ll be desperate to get a win over his opposite number in the dugout this time, though, having failed to do so in six attempts against Rodgers. Sturridge and his 89th-minute leveller at Goodison Park have a lot to answer for.
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- Liverpool have won 7 and lost just 1 of the last 14 derbies and have won 9 of their 11 matches at Anfield this season, with all 9 being W/W double results.
- Everton have failed to win on any of their last 13 trips to Anfield, with 7 draws and 6 defeats coming in that time.
- Everton have conceded first in 11 of their last 15 away matches against top-six teams.
- Everton have lost fewest games in the division (2), drawing 6 of their 11 away matches and going into the break level 8 times.
Best Bet: Half Time Draw/ Full Time Liverpool @ 5.25
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Liverpool just about have the reinforcements to keep their back-line respectable, while their life-without-Lucas lesson against Aston Villa should be the kick up the backside they need. 2-1.