Everton vs Liverpool | Saturday 07 February | Goodison Park | 19:30
This weekend sees Everton and Liverpool go head-to-head in a contest which, regardless of league position, remains one of the biggest and most hotly anticipated matches on the English football calendar. The Reds are unbeaten against the Toffees in the last eight encounters with four victories and four draws. However, past matches will mean little to the Evertonians who will once again be desperate for the bragging rights.
To Win (90mins)
Second-season syndrome has well and truly set in for Roberto Martinez and his Everton side. To say Everton have some issues would be a bit of an understatement. From Martinez to his players, their self-belief looks completely shattered no matter what the relentlessly positive Spaniard may say. Last weekend they did very well to bring Crystal Palace and Alan Pardew down to earth (their second win in fourteen matches) but still, unconvincing. The swagger of last season, which saw Everton finish fifth with a record Premier League points tally, is long gone. We all know what they’re truly capable of but they certainly need reminding. Several senior members of Martinez’s squad have struggled for form this season. Tim Howard, Sylvain Distin, Phil Jagielka, Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku – the so-called spine of the side – have simply not performed and that has led to the recent downturn in results.
Things have not been helped by basic errors that have given away goals. The Toffees have not looked good at home with just three victories from eleven matches played, five draws and three defeats. It’s like Martinez is trying to turn Everton into Wigan. Aaron Lennon has joined the club on a season long loan and Martinez will be looking to drag the very best of what is left out of him. He could well prove to be a valuable addition as he will be eager to show his worth. His electric pace, creativity and experience could help Everton to turn around a largely dismal season. Everton have got some quality players but they're not close to an acceptable level at the moment and if they do happen to beat the Reds, they’ll have to be at their very best.
Liverpool have been a joy to watch in recent weeks. Well, I’m certainly enjoying watching them. They’ve finally reached a consistent level of fine form, with individual and collective performances improving significantly, and the Reds have climbed the Premier League table as a result. Their impressive form looks perpetual and with Daniel Sturridge back, they can call on the ghosts of last season and put together a run to see them qualify for the Champions League once more. Overcoming Everton on Saturday will take them a step closer to that. The Reds are only four points behind Southampton and Arsenal who are both level on 42 points and there’s hope amongst the Kop that the Reds can lift themselves.
Key to Liverpool’s revival has been a switch to a 3-4-2-1 formation which hides weaknesses as much as it emphasises strengths. Martin Skrtel, Simon Mignolet and Lucas Leiva have all revived their Liverpool careers after struggling with poor form in the first part of the season. The system has allowed Philippe Coutinho’s talent to blossom and he’s become one of the best players in the league. Coutinho has already shown his intelligence to find pockets of space in between defence and midfield and is one of few players blessed with the ability to create something out of nothing. Sturridge made the dream comeback from his injury nightmare against West Ham last weekend, taking just twelve minutes to find the net after coming on as a second-half substitute. The incredible impact of Sturridge’s introduction begs the question of where the club could have been this season if he had not endured five months out on the sidelines. If you take out Diego Costa from Chelsea and Sergio Aguero from Manchester City, they’d struggle too.
VERDICT: Liverpool 12/10
Liverpool are unbeaten in their last seven league matches, scoring a total of fourteen goals while conceding five times, with three successive clean sheets. Everton haven’t won at home since their 3-1 victory over QPR in December last year. The Reds are flying high and the return of Sturridge should see them extend their impressive record over the Toffees. Liverpool are good value at 12/10, I suggest you get on that.