The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The 232nd edition of the Merseyside Derby on Sunday sees Liverpool looking to extend their unbeaten run at Anfield over Everton to 21 matches in all competitions, and Marco Silva making his derby debut with another opportunity to alter the Toffees’ culture against Big Six clubs on the road.
POTENTIAL STARTING XIs
Liverpool (10-3-0) have been nearly invincible at home this term, conceding just one goal in six league matches and dropping points only to frontrunners Manchester City in a scoreless draw. They have not trailed any point in those contests, and 14 of their 36 shots on target have found the back of the net.
Their mastery – and the misery of the Toffees – at Anfield, though, has existed for nearly a generation. Everton supporters have retreated across Stanley Park as blue as the colour of their shirt every season since Kevin Campbell’s fourth-minute strike stood as the match winner on Sept. 27, 1999.
Last season was a double dose as Everton (6-4-3) salvaged a 1-1 draw on a soft Wayne Rooney penalty in league play and then lost 2-1 in an unusually foul-tempered match in the third round of the FA Cup in which Virgil Van Dijk scored a late winner in his Liverpool debut. The drought at Anfield is now 20 matches (0-10-10) and the overall winless run versus Liverpool is 17 contests (0-8-9) as Silva gets his fourth crack at ending the club’s winless run at Big Six venues.
“Fear is something that doesn’t come inside our dressing room,” Silva said at his Friday news conference. “Respect, yes, but we… won’t change our ambition or style of play. It’s important to enjoy the moment and be strong. We want to win and nothing more.
“We will respect our opponents like we did against Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea.”
Everton’s scoreless draw at Stamford Bridge on Nov. 11 extended their victory drought at the Big Six grounds – Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United – to 31 matches (0-10-21) since Bryan Oviedo struck in the 86th minute for a 1-0 victory at Old Trafford on Dec. 4, 2013.
Seamus Coleman played right back in Everton’s last win over Liverpool – a 2-0 triumph Oct. 17, 2010, on goals by Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta – and he knows the Toffees are long past due to claim three points from their eternal rivals.
“It (our last win) was a long time ago and we need to look forward and we need to give the new players a bit of a taste of what it’s like to win one of these games, and the fans as well,” Coleman told SkySports. “It’s easy to come in here and say all the right things in an interview, I’m sure we have done over the last five or 10 years and not turned up on the day.
“We need to turn up on Sunday and do our talking on the pitch. This is a massive game for our city and we’ve been on the receiving end too many times, and there’ll be a few tackles going in this weekend but we’re looking forward to playing our game.”
Everton have no injury concerns as they seek back-to-back wins while pushing their unbeaten streak to four matches. The Toffees are also 4-1-1 since Silva shifted Richarlison from the left wing to centre forward in his 4-2-3-1 formation.
Liverpool are in need of righting themselves in the friendly confines of Anfield after yet more struggles on the road in Champions League play. Last season’s runners-up failed to take any points in their three group matches on the continent after Wednesday’s 2-1 loss at Paris-St. Germain.
Jurgen Klopp’s decision to move Joe Gomez from centre back to right back over Trent Alexander-Arnold for a more solid back four as Van Dijk paired with Dejan Lovren backfired as both of PSG’s goals in the opening 37 minutes originated down his flank. James Milner gave Liverpool a lifeline with a penalty before halftime, but an equaliser was never found as that was their only shot on target.
The defeat took Liverpool’s destiny out of their hands for their group finale at home versus Napoli as they are third on six points. They must beat the Italian side by either a 1-0 scoreline or two goals to advance.
Klopp, though, has quickly moved onto the derby match and seemed agitated when asked if entering the derby coming off a loss was an ideal way to play it.
“Why we would need a defeat in Paris to make sure we would be fully motivated for the Everton game,” said Klopp, who is 4-2-0 versus Everton, at his Friday news conference. “There’s no need for that. It is the game we have – and it is a special game, I have to say.
“Since I am in, it’s always felt it, it always was different in the preparation. The only bad thing is that we have never had really enough time to really prepare for it. You have a great game and then three days later you play the next game.”
Klopp will be forced into one change for this match as midfielder Jordan Henderson will serve his one-match ban for his two bookings in last weekend’s victory at Watford. He did not specify a replacement for his talisman since some players are still recovering from knocks suffered against PSG, but he does not lack for options with a well-rested Fabinho and Naby Keita, who had a late runout mid-week.
Liverpool native Alexander-Arnold is hoping to be restored at right back. The 20-year-old scored his first goal of the season at Watford and would cherish starting against Everton after making three appearances against them as a sub.
“Every Liverpool lad grows up dreaming of playing in a Merseyside derby. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Alexander-Arnold told the Liverpool Echo. “This fixture always feel different to the rest. You can just feel it around the city. There’s a bit more tension and more excitement as you build towards the weekend.
“Everyone wants to do well. You know what it means to the supporters. It’s important for us to execute the game plan.”
Also of note is whether the manager will field his all-out offensive lineup in a 4-2-3-1 set-up like he did against the Hornets in contrast to the 4-3-3 versus PSG. The difference is Xherdan Shaqiri, who enters on the right wing in the former set-up while Mohamed Salah moves to centre-forward in front of Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane is on the left.
Salah scored in each of the last two matches when the 4-2-3-1 was utilised, and all four attacking players factored in four of the five goals scored versus Fulham and Watford.
Liverpool have 92 wins in the all-time series that dates back to 1894, while Everton have claimed 66 victories. The teams have shared the points on 73 occasions, including seven of the last 11 matchups.
Per Bet365, Liverpool are convincing 2/5 favourites to claim all three points in this Merseyside derby, while Everton are 8/1 underdogs to pull off a shock scoreline and make a short, yet happy trip back across town. The odds of the teams splitting the points falls in the middle at 4/1.
There are 8/13 odds the contest will feature more than 2.5 goals compared to 13/10 for a scoreline that adds up to less than that threshold. There also are 10/11 odds in both selections for both teams scoring or someone posting a clean sheet.
Unsurprisingly, Liverpool occupy the top five slots for considering a first goal-scorer. Salah leads the line at 13/5, followed by Daniel Sturridge (3/1), Firmino (9/2), Mane (5/1) and Shaqiri (6/1). Richarlison is the top option for Everton at 10/1, while the designated penalty taker for each team — Milner and Sigurdsson — offer 10/1 and 16/1 odds, respectively.
To score over the course of 90 minutes, Salah and Sturridge are better than even money at 4/6 and 8/11. Firmino is slightly off that pace at 6/5 but still ahead of Mane (11/8) and Shaqiri (13/8). Richarlison and Milner are both 3/1 picks for an any-time goal, while Toffees’ striker Cenk Tosun and Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita are 10/3 selections. Sigurdsson is 5/1, slightly behind Walcott and Liverpool right back Trent Alexander-Arnold.
For the record, I am going to be very annoyed when Liverpool come out in a 4-2-3-1 formation for this match like my gut tells me they will as opposed to the 4-3-3 lineup graphic presented here.
Having said that, there is a lot of pressure on Liverpool to win this match. A lot. And it has little to do with the derby and the bragging rights that come with it. While asking Klopp about being “angry” coming into this match off a loss is a valid question, he was equally fair in shooting it down convincingly.
No, this is a rare moment when Klopp is coming off a defeat in which he got his personnel wrong with regards to Gomez, Lovren and Alexander-Arnold, and he needs to make it right. Ironically, the one who appears to have taken the loss the hardest is Van Dijk, but as others have noted, he has been so massive in the Premier League, that a slight dropoff in his level against an elite squad wound up being noticeable. The Dutch international will be fine.
Liverpool need a player who can spray balls through the middle of the field. Georginio Wijnaldum is not that player. Milner is not that player enough. Fabinho is not that player. Keita is not that player.
Of the 15 assists that have been recorded in league play on Liverpool’s 26 goals, the only player who is centrally located in the midfield is Milner. The three forwards themselves have six assists, and Robertson and Alexander-Arnold have combined for five while Shaqiri has two. There needs to be a variety of methods to score goals against bunkering and beyond set pieces and gegenpressing. That is why Shaqiri’s importance has been elevated — he carries the ball forward better than anyone Liverpool have in the midfield.
But the pressure on Liverpool in this match comes from having to at least equal how ever Manchester City thwack Bournemouth on Saturday. And each week Liverpool win but fall one goal short on the scoreline and miss out on that extra goal difference, it is another brick on their collective back. Eventually, the weight becomes too much to bear.
The good news for Liverpool, though, is that Everton do not have a midfield that will knock around their middle three. Oh yes, Gylfi Sigurdsson has a nasty competitive streak to him, but Andre Gomes does not cause a moment to pause. Idrissa Gueye does with 20 fouls and three yellow cards, but with the exception of Coleman — who would probably re-break his leg if it meant a derby win — there is no expectation of the game devolving into cynical tactics.
Everton have their own set of pressures to deal with in this match. To Silva’s credit, the Toffees have not looked out of their depth at Arsenal and at Chelsea this term, but a little iffy at Old Trafford. If anything, Everton gave as good as they got at Stamford Bridge, and that point from the scoreless draw was earned and not given.
Still, there are pressures. Not counting David Unsworth’s two caretaker spells, Silva is now the fourth different manager trying to get Everton’s first win versus Liverpool at any venue since David Moyes in 2010. And then you have to go back to Moyes’ predecessor Walter Smith for the last win at Anfield in 1999.
While Everton supporters are desperate for any victory over Liverpool, the actual pressure to deliver it here only rings internally. That 31-match albatross weighs more than trudging back across Stanley Park with another loss or another draw because then there are only two more chances to break it, and one of them is at the Etihad.
If Everton can stay true to themselves in the first half-hour, not lose their shape and keep their heads, they can get a result. It likely will not be a win, but a draw is definitely within reach. But this has the feel of a match with a painful lesson that the Toffees will draw on come spring when they are contending for a Europa League spot.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Liverpool 2, Everton 1.