Vital Preview: Liverpool vs. Everton
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Liverpool and Everton meet in the 222nd Merseyside Derby on Tuesday night and it's been a while since a league meeting between the two has carried more significance.
The clubs hold the same Champions League qualification goal this season and are currently separated by just a single point with the Reds in the all important fourth place and the Blues in sixth.
Both sides came through potentially tricky fourth round FA Cup ties at the weekend; Liverpool winning 2-0 at Bournemouth and Everton overcoming Stevenage 4-0.
The previous meeting at Goodison Park in November was a classic. The 3-3 draw was also Toffees boss Roberto Martinez's first experience of the Derby and this encounter will therefore represent his first taste of the fixture at Anfield.
Both Martinez and opposite number Brendan Rodgers share many similarities; both are young in managerial terms, enjoyed spells honing their skills at Swansea City and like to employ an aesthetically pleasing brand of possession-based, short passing football.
The neutral will be hoping for another encounter like the previous one but both sets of fans will gladly take a scrappy 1-0 victory.
Rogers: "It is a very important game as a victory puts us four points clear. Our home form over the course of the season has been brilliant.
"Looking at our team when we have everyone available we are a very strong outfit. I have great confidence in the team of players and for us the key is Champions League qualification.
"When I came in here Everton had finished above Liverpool and last season finished above us also.
"Everton's basis is a good defensive record, still stable from what they have been over a few years - we are a team who have upped the ante in terms of our offensiveness."
Martinez: "The way we performed at the Emirates and the way we got the three points at Old Trafford shows that the team is ready to go anywhere and impose themselves.
"Those are the games that if you want to achieve big things, you need to enjoy them and embrace them. If you are not going to enjoy those games, you are not going to be at your best.
"But you need to remember that Liverpool are a really good side and they have an attacking threat, so that will make for an open game. From that point of view, it's about making sure we are as good as we can be on the day and go there with nothing to fear."
Liverpool Team News:
After selecting a strong team in the cup, Rodgers will be relieved to have come through the encounter with no further injuries. The club were hit with a double injury blow in the run up to the match after Lucas Leiva was ruled out for two months with a knee injury and Glen Johnson succumbed to a number of minor injuries and knocks. The pair join a lengthy casualty list already featuring defenders Daniel Agger (calf), Mamadou Sakho (hamstring), Jose Enrique and Sebastian Coates (both knee). Midfielder Joe Allen is also doubtful after missing the victory over Bournemouth with an unspecified injury sustained in training. In a rare spot of good news, full-back Jon Flanagan played the final 17 minutes on Saturday after missing the previous six games with a hamstring strain. Despite scoring in the 2-0 victory, on-loan winger Victor Moses is likely to be replaced against Everton by Raheem Sterling.
Mignolet, Flanagan, Skrtel, Toure, Cissokho, Gerrard, Henderson, Coutinho, Sterling, Suarez, Sturridge
Player to watch: Jordan Henderson
The midfield battle is often crucial in the big clashes and Liverpool will need to improve dramatically in this area on their performance in the 2-2 draw with Aston Villa. The Reds will miss the reassuring presence of Lucas and the onus will full directly on Henderson, especially if Allen is also absent, to provide energy and retain possession within the middle of the park. Liverpool have arguable the best strike force in the country, in the shape of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, but even they will struggle without the ball.
Everton Team News:
Bryan Oviedo's season is sadly over after the Costa Rican suffered a horrific double leg break against Stevenage. He joins Arouna Kone and Darren Gibson (both knee) on the long-term casualty list. There are fitness doubts over Steven Pienaar (groin), Seamus Coleman and Gerard Deulofeu (both hamstring) for this fixture. Out of the trio, Pienaar is the most likely to be available although in recent signing Aiden McGeady the Toffees have a direct replacement if the South African is unavailable. Either experienced one-club man Tony Hibbert or youngster John Stones will replace Coleman. England international Ross Barkley (broken toe) is another possible absentee but could play with a pain killing injection while on-loan Monaco hitman Lacina Traore (hamstring) may need to wait for a debut after joining last week. Dutchman John Heitinga is unlikely to feature ahead of a proposed move away from Goodison Park.
Howard, Hibbert, Jagielka, Distin, Baines, Barry, McCarthy, Osman, McGeady, Mirallas, Lukaku
Player to watch: Romelu Lukaku
The on-loan Belgium international is busy repeating the impressive temporary spell he had at West Bromwich Albion last season. Few players in the league lead the line as well as the £18million Chelsea striker who has nine goals in 18 league games this season. Defensively Liverpool have been woeful at times in recent months and, shone of some of their best defenders through injury, Lukaku will be expected to enjoy plenty of success. The 20-year-old is brilliant at bringing others into play so the men in red will need to be wary of any knock-downs and flick-ons as well as the former Anderlecht man's eye for goal.
Match Facts & Stats
• Liverpool and Everton have met 221 times in their respective histories and the Reds hold the upper hand overall with 88 wins to 66 and 67 draws. Liverpool have scored a total of 308 goals compared to a tally of 255 for the Toffees.
• Everton have not won any of the past 7 encounters and their last victory at Anfield was way back in September 1999.
• Liverpool have won nine of their 11 home games this season amassing 28 points from a possible 33 (W9 D1 L1). In those games the Reds have scored an impressive 29 goals; second only to Manchester City in terms of league goals scored at home (42).
• Everton have only lost once on the road this season (W4 D6 L1), which is less than any other Premier League club, conceding just 11 times in the 11 games.
• So far the two managers have locked horns on six occasions during their respective careers and Rodgers is yet to lose with four wins and two draws.
Martin Atkinson is the official appointed to oversee this contest. The West Yorkshire based whistle blower has taken charge of 21 games so far this season, showing 63 yellow cards and three red. Atkinson has taken charge of two previous fixtures involving Liverpool this term; the 1-0 opening day win over Stoke City and November's 2-0 defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates. The 42-year-old has been a member of the Select Group of Referees who oversee Premier League fixtures since 2005 and made FIFA's list for European and International games a year later. This will be the third time he has overseen the Merseyside Derby with Liverpool winning both the other two (2-0 at Goodison in October 2011 and 1-0 at Anfield in February 2010).
All three of Rodgers' previous Merseyside Derbies have ended in a draw and that will be the favoured result by most observers again this time around. Both sides are evenly matched although Everton's main strength is defensive while Liverpool's is going forward. The first match this season was a classic and a repeat of that open, exciting, enthralling encounter is probably too much to hope for. Regardless of Everton's strong rearguard, Suarez and Sturridge are expected to score against everyone and therefore a lot could depend on our ability to keep out Lukaku and co. Despite failing to score, Bournemouth caused the Reds plenty of issues at the weekend and after the previous performances against Villa and Stoke, the likelihood of keeping a clean sheet on Tuesday night is extremely low. Both sides have a number of injuries to key men and it could therefore be decided by how the squad players selected perform under the intense pressure of such a fixture. I hate sitting on the fence but just cannot separate the two right now.
Vital Liverpool predicts a 2-2 win
Liverpool - Premier League vs. West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns on Sunday 2nd February 2014, kick off 1.30pm GMT.
Everton - Premier League vs. Aston Villa at Goodison Park on Saturday 1st February 2014, kick off 3.00pm GMT.
So that's what we think, how about you? Let us know your thoughts and predictions for the game below or vote in our poll to the right...
Click here to read former Red Mark Lawrenson's prediction
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