Liverpool host Everton in a Merseyside Derby on Sunday afternoon as the Reds look to repeat the success they had earlier in December in a 5-2 win. However, since that defeat for the Toffees, they have seen a change in manager to Italian Carlo Ancelotti, and there have been much more promising signs for Everton, as they look to shock the Premier League run away leaders, who are seeing the injuries mount as the busy Christmas period comes to an end.
Naby Keita was the most recent to join the injury list, and if Jurgen Klopp is to rotate his side, Ancelotti may sense an opportunity to shock the European Champions, although Liverpool’s relentless energy and fitness was on show once again against Sheffield United as they eased to a 2-0 win.
It promises to be an interesting game from a tactical point of view, especially when factoring in the meeting between the two sides under a month ago, and how Ancelotti will try to stop the rampant Reds awaits to be seen.
In the 5-2 defeat, Marco Silva originally set his side up in a 5-3-2, and it is that formation that Ancelotti has favoured since moving to Merseyside, all be it with flexibility shown in game to switch to a back four, as he utilises the combination of Seamus Coleman and Djibril Sidibe down the right flank, and whether he opts for a four or five is an interesting dilemma.
In the defeat to Liverpool, Silva had his side play a high line, and the lack of pace, coupled with a torrid first half for Sidibe at wing back, saw the French defender substituted before half time, as they struggled with the movement of Sadio Mane and Divock Origi. This often came from the long balls over the top, and it was this passage of play which once again brought Liverpool’s opener against Sheffield United, all be it in fortunate circumstances due to a slip from George Baldock.
How much can be read into the 5-2 defeat can be argued, especially with Silva’s sacking following the game, and against Manchester City, it was a tighter defensive spell for periods from Everton, as they sat deep to try and frustrated City, with the deep backline and hardworking midfield frustrating City in the first half. However, City’s opening goal did still highlight a defensive line adapting to playing with one another, and Gabriel Jesus’ movement drew Mason Holgate into a 1v1 situation which allowed him the space to score, and with the Liverpool front line equally as adept at moving the ball quickly and creating these similar scenarios, the backline will need to be on their toes once again to warn against this movement.
The shape to the game should take a similar angle to that of the Manchester City win over Everton on New Years Day, and particularly looking at the opening 60 minutes where Everton played with a back five before Theo Walcott replaced Seamus Coleman, it saw City dominate possession, racking up 456 completed passes, as they showed a patient approach in breaking down the Toffees. Although Everton were able to come out and test City with the switch to a back four, as they pressed them higher up the pitch and looked to test the City backline, Everton’s goal came from a mistake from Claudio Bravo, and creating clear-cut openings were few and far between for Ancelotti’s side.
If they are to employ a similar tactical approach on Sunday as a result, it will see the impetus placed on Liverpool to break down the Everton defence, and there currently looks like there is no stopping Klopp’s side. Dominant in possession on Thursday night once again, five players completed over 110 passes, as Jordan Henderson excelled, dictating the tempo and rhythm of the game, not allowing Sheffield United any control in the game.
Everton’s midfield will have their work cut out dealing with the Liverpool control of the ball, and the balance between pressing or dropping off is risky, as Liverpool showcased their ability to pick a side off in both ways against Sheffield United. The opener came from a high line which allowed Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah in behind, whilst the second goal came from an excellent one-two in front of a packed defence, all be it also on the break. Everton will have to find the balance between the two, but they look well suited to sitting deep and counter attacking, and the roles of Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin will be key.
To what extent Klopp is able to rotate awaits to be seen, and with Trent Alexander-Arnold featuring heavily over the Christmas period, it could see a chance arise at full back for a youngster, although it may prove to be too high a risk game for this to happen. The full back areas do highlight one area where a side could try and get in behind Liverpool’s defence, and with Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin both showing a willingness to run the channels, and the wing backs both happy to press on the counter, creating overloads, particularly with the attackers often not tracking back, does open up one avenue of attack for Everton. However, they must be careful not to over-commit men forward and risk being picked off on the counter, similar to the first meeting between the two sides, and the balancing act for Ancelotti against such an imperious side makes it an interesting tactical challenge for the Italian.
With Liverpool not able to rotate to the extent they’d like to, and given it is a Merseyside Derby, the pressure will be on Klopp to pick a strong eleven. With their fitness levels on show against Sheffield United, and a relatively comfortable win to help, they should be raring to go on Sunday with a strong side, and as discussed above, subsequently have enough to break down the Everton side. Although the first meeting was a goal fest, both sides often show much stronger defences, and Everton will be looking to keep it tight for long periods against the Reds. As a result, available at 11/5 (PaddyPower), Liverpool to win and Under 3.5 goals stands out.
With Everton needing to keep it tight and avoid Liverpool counter attacking, the Everton card market does appeal. Accumulating four in similar circumstances against Manchester City on Sunday, a similar shape to the game does open up a number of options in the Everton midfield, especially when adding in the derby context. Although referees can show a higher level of leniency in these derby games, the need for Everton to keep Liverpool in check means I still think they should see their fair share. Everton are available to have the most cards at 8/11 (William Hill), and this subsequently stands out.