David MoyesÃ¢ÂÂ Everton have started 2012/13 in fine form, and go in to this weekend's Merseyside derby eight places higher in the table than Liverpool Ã¢ÂÂ a win on Sunday at Goodison Park would leave Everton with twice as many points as Brendan RodgersÃ¢ÂÂ side.
By all accounts, EvertonÃ¢ÂÂs main strength this season has been their left flank, where leftback Leighton Baines has been excellent, leading EuropeÃ¢ÂÂs five major leagues in terms of chances created. His relationship with Steven Pienaar has been highly effective, meaning that Everton concentrate a higher proportion of their passing down the left than any other Premier League side. In EvertonÃ¢ÂÂs last home league match, the 3-1 win over Southampton, it was obvious how Baines advanced higher up the pitch than Seamus Coleman, EvertonÃ¢ÂÂs right-back.
Yet their apparent strength could become their most obvious weakness this weekend. PienaarÃ¢ÂÂs red card against Queens Park Rangers last Sunday means heÃ¢ÂÂs suspended for the derby, so Leon Osman is likely to start on the left of midfield. The 31-year-old is fine footballer, and one who makes similar movements to Pienaar, but the relationship isnÃ¢ÂÂt quite the same.
Of more concern is the threat in behind Baines. When these two sides met at Wembley for the FA Cup semi-final in April, Liverpool continually exploited the space in behind the leftback by moving Luis Suarez over to that side. When Baines advanced forward to cross the ball, Suarez would move towards that flank; dragging Sylvain Distin out of position before sprinting in behind him.
Distin had problems with Suarez all game. The FrenchmanÃ¢ÂÂs disastrous underhit backpass played Suarez in for LiverpoolÃ¢ÂÂs equaliser, but long before then, the problem was evident. Distin had fouled him on the edge of the box, heÃ¢ÂÂd also been booked for checking him higher up the pitch, and then resorted to playing a risky offside trap against a player who was significantly quicker than him.
Part of the problem, however, was that Baines wasnÃ¢ÂÂt in a position to help. As he attempted to stick tight to Jordan Henderson, who was playing on the right of a midfield four, Distin effectively had to cover the width of half the pitch against Suarez. The problem wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt have been so obvious if Liverpool had used an advanced right-winger pinning Baines back Ã¢ÂÂ this would have minimised the space in the channel.
Rodgers should watch a tape of that semi-final Ã¢ÂÂ overall it was an unspectacular game, but itÃ¢ÂÂs worth him replicating this clear area of strength.
The Liverpool managerÃ¢ÂÂs fondness for a trio of forwards spread across the pitch will make it difficult to deploy such a strategy, but getting Suarez up against Distin remains a favourable match-up for Liverpool.
In the RedsÃ¢ÂÂ last two league games, Suarez has played in two distinct roles. In the 1-0 home win over Reading last weekend, he spent his time prowling the channels, generally receiving the ball in wide zones. However, he attempted to beat opponents more regularly on the left than the right.
Against Stoke earlier this month, it was completely different Ã¢ÂÂ he picked up the ball in central positions between the lines, as Tony PulisÃ¢ÂÂ side defend so narrow, making it difficult for him to find space in the channels.
Throughout his Liverpool career, the Uruguayan has seemed more effective against open sides and high defensive lines. Everton naturally attempt to involve Baines in as much play as possible, but the higher up the pitch he advances, the more space he'll leave for Suarez to counter-attack.
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