Sunday, October 17, 2010

Everton vs. Liverpool Preview: The 214th Merseyside Derby Is Strangest Ever

After the most traumatic week in Merseyside history, Liverpool (18th) take the small trip to Goodison Park to take on Everton (17th) in what could be a defining moment in both teams seasons. Neither side has started the season well and a defeat to the fierce rivals could see the losing team mired in the relegation battle for the rest of the year.

Everton (17th) vs. Liverpool (18th)
This has been the most tumultuous week in Liverpool's 118-year history. Court cases, temporary restraining orders, anti-suits, fans chanting for Broughton and Purslow after slaughtering them weeks previous, last minute bids, Tom Hicks and his game of Texas Hold 'em and not one mention of football tells you everything you need to know about what happened at the club.
On the Blue side of Liverpool, the team who many tipped to break into the top four this season have really struggled to win games. Their problems stem from a growing injury line and a lack of a cutting edge up front. If anything, both sides are showing similar symptoms and need to pull out of this death spiral quickly if this season is to be saved, starting today.
Martin Broughton has produced the goods off the pitch for Liverpool, so now it's up to Roy Hodgson to make sure his wards produce it on the pitch. No easy task when the match is the 214th Merseyside Derby.
Conventional wisdom for these matches says that the form book goes out the window. It will have to if we're to be treated to anything more than a slug fest between these two old and bedraggled fighters.
A quick check of the stats tells us:
  • Everton has only taken nine points from its last six home matches.
  • Their home defence is ranked 17th while Liverpool's away defence is ranked 14th.
  • Liverpool has only taken six points from its last six away games. However, Roy Hodgson has not won away from home in his last 21 matches as manager with Fulham or Liverpool.
  • Everton has not beaten Liverpool in their last seven attempts.
  • The last 11 Derbies has produced 10 red cards, and Howard Webb is the referee.
  • Liverpool has yet to score before the 60th minute away from home this season.
  • Everton is on top of the fair play league and have made fewer tackles than any other team.
Both squads have been robbed of important players this week. Jagielka and Felliani have dropped out for Moyes, while Kuyt and Agger will be missing for Liverpool.
However, Fernando Torres has returned to fitness much quicker than expected and his presence on the pitch will greatly bolster Hodgson and his ailing side.
Agger's loss should be tempered by the return to fitness of Paul Konchesky, though. His restoration to the Liverpool line up should see Jamie Carragher resume normal service in the centre of defence with Martin Skrtel.
Jagielka and Felliani's losses will hit Moyes much harder than Roy Hodgson with his late withdrawals. Jagielka was just returning to form after a long lay-off through injury when he pulled his hamstring on international duty with England.
His loss will mean a re-shuffle of sorts; it should see Sylvain Distin partner Johnny Heitinga at the back, as it is still far too early for Shane Duffy to return to full-team action just yet.
The centre half lacerated his liver while on international duty with Ireland in May and is not expected to make any impact in Everton this side of Christmas.
The loss of Jagielka will hit Everton very hard. They are already without Rodwell, Pienaar, Anichebe and Felliani in a severely depleted midfield. Up front, Louis Saha is still struggling for full fitness while Yakubu's fitness seems to have deserted him entirely.
It is little wonder that Tim Cahill is the Toffees' top scorer with just three goals.
Liverpool is not much better off. Gerrard is also their top scorer on just three goals. Torres has looked a forlorn picture when on the pitch and it is obvious to everyone that his mind is elsewhere.
At the back, they are full of holes. Agger and Skrtel's poor positional play, combined with Jamie Carragher's aging legs and Glen Johnson's proclivity for charging up the pitch and not marking his man, mean that Liverpool are extremely porous in defence.
Christian Poulsen is waging a one-man war to make Lucas look like the centre midfielder that Liverpool have been missing for the past five years, and the pairs one paced lack of ambition is a huge thorn in the Reds' side as they try to break teams down.
Kuyt's injury may actually work in Hodgson's favour.
With the Dutchman out, Liverpool best choice for their three attacking midfielders are Meireles, Cole and Gerrard.
This is presuming that Hodgson goes 4-2-3-1. The Portuguese is the most disciplined of this threesome and may just be the right player to fill in the gaps that Gerrard and Cole will undoubtedly leave.
This brings us to Torres...
Which Fernando turns up is anyone’s guess. But make no bones about it, he is the player who will make or break this game.
Everton's lack of fire-power up front combined with a midfield bereft of its main players leavesDavid Moyes with few options. They will look to frustrate Liverpool at every opportunity and will probably field an extremely defensive-looking side with maybe two full backs on one side of the pitch, one in front of the other.
Seamus Coleman has the energy and drive to get at either Johnson or Konchesky meaning that Leon Osman, Mikel Arteta and Tim Cahill will line up in central midfield while Bilyaletdinov will cover the other flank.
This leaves Moyes with the headache of picking a half-fit Saha, an unfit Yakubu, or Jermaine Beckford up front.
The two sides currently reside in 17th and 18th at the moment with Liverpool playing particularly poorly while Everton have been unlucky in certain games.
The Toffees are playing slightly better than their near neighbours at the moment, but the news that NESV has taken over the running of Liverpool is bound to have an effect on a couple of players.
As with any match, there are numerous factors at play but the overall riding theme of both sides is that they have struggled to break teams down this term.
That will probably fall into Everton's hands somewhat, as Liverpool's players and management will be under more pressure to prove that a corner has indeed been turned.
A draw would seem the obvious choice, but don't be surprised to see Everton win. They're the form team and on paper they have a far better team.