It promises to be one of the most fascinating Merseyside Derby games in years this weekend, as top of the table Everton take on the wounded Champions who are seeking to get a humiliating 7-2 drubbing at Aston Villa out of their system.
On paper it looks like being the toughest Derby to predict in a long time as for once Everton will go into the game fancying their chances of pulling off an upset. Usually the Blues go into these games with a huge inferiority complex but confidence is as high at Goodison now as it has been at any time since the late eighties.
Everton are flying and have won four from four while scoring goals for fun. Liverpool were flying too, until they crashed spectacularly at Villa Park. Up until then, Jurgen Klopp’s men were seen as the runaway favourites to retain their title but conceding seven to Aston Villa has given the rest of the league some encouragement that maybe Liverpool aren’t going to run away with it as easily as they did last year.
A quick look at the odds on www.888sport.com shows that while Klopp’s side are fairly strong favourites, it’s certainly closer to call than it has been for some time. Ordinarily you’d just expect Liverpool to bounce back from such an awful loss, but this is one of the worst fixtures they could have as this is a fixture in which Liverpool have rarely performed well since Klopp took charge.
Whereas Anfield Derby games have seen the Reds turn on the style and score goals for fun, the return fixture at Goodison has always been a slog, with the last three ending goalless. Under Klopp Liverpool have not been impressive at Goodison and even the one game they won needed a late, dramatic (and hilarious) winner from Sadio Mané.
Often Everton will just sit in and play for a draw but with Carlo Ancelotti’s men having made such a good start to the campaign and are currently sitting above the Reds in the table, perhaps they’ll be more tempted to take the game to Liverpool this time?
Don’t bet on it though. Ancelotti has had a good deal of success against Klopp in recent seasons, mainly when he was in charge at Napoli, but he also nullified the Reds in the first game following lockdown when Everton probably should have won a dour affair that ended goalless.
The Blues have a 100% record going into this fixture and have been playing an expressive 4-3-3 system with James Rodriguez excelling on the right of a front three with licence to roam around.
It seems unlikely that Ancelotti will retain that set up against the Reds though. Rodriguez isn’t one for doing much tracking back and helping out his full back, while Liverpool are especially strong down that side of the pitch with Andy Robertson flying forward to support Sadio Mané. So expect Everton to revert to some variation of the 4-4-2 Ancelotti has used to good effect in stifling Liverpool over recent seasons.
What will be particularly interesting is how Klopp chooses to react to the loss at Villa. There is a strong case to be made for several regular starters to be dropped, but the German’s plans may be influenced more by external factors rather than just individual form.
The Reds have been more badly hit by Covid than most and Klopp’s plans for the derby will no doubt be impacted in some way. While he should be able to welcome back Sadio Mané and Thiago Alcantara after they were forced to self isolated following testing positive, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have now been forced into isolation after positive tests.
‘Ox’ wouldn’t have been in consideration for Saturday anyway as he is still sidelined with a knee problem, but Keita had started all four of the Reds Premier League fixtures so far this season. The likelihood is he would have made way for Thiago or Jordan Henderson this weekend anyway, however.
Another player who initially appeared to have been ruled out of the derby is Xherdan Shaqiri, who tested positive upon reporting for international duty with Switzerland. It then turned out to be a false positive and “Big Shaq” should be available this weekend.
With Alisson still ruled out the much maligned Adrian will have to continue in goal as Klopp has little choice but to persist with the Spaniard. Other out of form players may find themselves under pressure though, specifically Joe Gomez and Roberto Firmino.
With Henderson and Thiago returning to the fold that might see Fabinho move into defence alongside Virgil Van Dijk, while Diogo Jota and Takumi Minamino are both pushing hard for goal shy Firmino’s spot.
Klopp certainly has plenty to think about ahead of this game, but hopefully Everton being in such bullish mood will be beneficial to the Reds.