The longest running top-flight derby resumes in the early kick-off on Saturday, with Liverpool hoping that the 216th fixture will see them take the three points on offer.
Everton currently stand three points adrift of Liverpool with a game in hand, however it could be argued that they have had the slightly easier fixtures in the opening games of the season.
Head to Head: The Story So Far
The defensive stats show that Liverpool and Everton are fairly well matched. Everton just shade it on the chances conceded, only conceding an average of 12 chances to Liverpool’s 13. Liverpool fans could argue though that having played Arsenal, Tottenham and Stoke away, the fact that the Reds are conceding a similar number of chances per game is a positive reflection (especially when you consider what happened in the game against Tottenham).
Liverpool have also recorded twice as many defensive errors as their Merseyside counterparts. If these silly defensive errors had been eradicated, the chances conceded column would certainly have been lower. Some fans continue to hold the opinion that Carragher, a player responsible for some of the defensive errors, should no longer be a certain started in the team. In my opinion Carragher must start in the Derby, and should be a mainstay of the team. Yes he could improve his distribution, we all know that, and yes he must eradicate some of the errors he has made so far this season. Despite this however, he would be ranked in the top two best centre backs currently at the club. Nobody will convince me that Skrtel or Coates (at this present moment) should be ranked above Carragher. Dalglish and Comolli may yet live to regret not purchasing a top quality international centre back in the summer, and I am sure that they will be working in this area in the future. Until the do however Carragher deserves the support, and respect, of the fans.
The usual format for the Derby is a frenetic affair with plenty of physical contests all over the pitch. Liverpool are ahead in the percentage of possession duels won, whilst aerial duels won are virtually the same. In my opinion Liverpool need another big game from Lucas in the midfield area; his performances this season have been nothing short of superb and the Reds will hope for another outstanding performance again on Saturday.
I do remain concerned about Charlie Adam’s ability to compete in the midfield area. Against Tottenham the midfield failed to contend with Tottenham’s pressing of the ball high up the pitch, and then failed to deal with the Spurs midfield players’ movement. I fully expect Everton to crowd the central midfield area and pressurise Lucas and Adam (mainly Adam), as soon as they receive possession. If Adam cannot find time on the ball I worry about his ability to have an impact on the game. I’ve seen plenty of teams do this against Xabi Alonso (especially Chelsea); sometimes Alonso drifted out of the game, sometimes he had the quality to deal with the efforts of the opposition midfielders. In my opinion Liverpool must deal with the efforts of Everton to dominate the central midfield area and, negate the creative play of Adam.
The passing/possession stats for both teams highlight a few discussion points. Liverpool have clearly had more possession of the ball in their games so far this season, averaging 353 passes per game to Everton’s 288. When in possession of the ball, however, the breakdown of passing is very similar between the two teams. 56% of both teams’ passes where in a forward direction, however Liverpool have a slightly higher percentage for backwards passes. This perhaps signifies Liverpool’s more patient build-up play.
Both teams also have a significantly higher percentage of passes to the right than to the left. It is difficult to know if this is a conscious decision of both teams, or something that has occurred by chance. I also suspect that the statistic actually suggests that the majority of build-up play for both teams occurs down the left-hand side (the stronger side of both teams in my opinion). The ball is passed forwards towards the left-hand wing and is then passed inside from there, resulting in the larger proportion of passes to the right than to the left. I believe that both teams will feel as though their left wing is the key to creating chances in the game on Saturday. Downing and Enrique will be key players for Liverpool against Coleman and Hibbert, whilst Everton will feel that the combination of Neville and Baines could cause problems against Henderson and Kelly. Whilst Neville would not overly worry me as a wide player, I wonder if Everton may try to drift Osman out into the channel area.
As in previous posts, I would once again argue that Kuyt should start ahead of Henderson. Whilst I have been quick to defend Henderson after some excessive criticism, I think his performances in the previous two, or three, games have lacked creation and incision. Against Spurs he was virtually non-existent at times (when he did receive the ball, he usually passed backwards), and against Wolves I felt that he once again looked composed but did little to cause and threat to the Wolves defence. Kuyt will be more than capable of dealing with the threat posed by Baines, and I also believe that he is a player who has a big game mentality (his record of goals in major games is up there with the best).
One stat that has been proven to distinguish the top teams in the league from the rest is the amount of successful passes in the attacking third (This was a key reason behind Man City’s purchase of David Silva). Liverpool are averaging 10 more successful passes in the final third per game when compared to Everton. Liverpool will need to continue this trend on Saturday if they are to take the three points; it will come as no surprise to readers of my previous posts, that I believe Suarez will be the key here. Liverpool must ensure that Suarez is able to receive possession of the ball in advanced areas, from where he can cause huge problems for the Everton back four. As usual I would expect to see him pull out to the left wing frequently; this will potentially put him into direct opposition with Hibbert.
It is conceivable that Everton will repeat a tactic employed against Man City in their last game. In that game they utilised Rodwell and Neville as man-markers on Silva, with some success early on. It is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility that they will implement this tactic again; although once thing in Liverpool’s favour is that Suarez would usually start higher up the pitch than Silva. If Everton decide to use the man-marking tactic I believe that Liverpool should push Suarez as high up the pitch as possible, and even consider switching him frequently with Downing who could move to the right allowing Kuyt to play in-behind Carroll. Ensuring Suarez plays higher up the pitch will free up more space in the midfield area (as Rodwell or Neville will have been shifted out of that area) for the likes of Adam, Downing, Lucas and Kuyt (or Henderson), thus potentially allowing them to dominate the midfield area. I also believe that Suarez’s movement off the shoulder of players, and into channels, would also reduce the chance of him being man-marked. His movement is completely different to that movement of David Silva, who likes to drift into deeper positions to pick up the ball, or stay fairly central in the attacking third.
The attacking stats, as with many of the others, are similar for both teams. Both trams are averaging 15 shots per game, although Liverpool seem to be able to create more shooting opportunities inside the penalty area. The argument from Liverpool supporters again here, may be that Everton have played more teams where it is potentially easier to create shooting opportunities against. QPR, Wigan, Blackburn and Aston Villa versus Wolves, Stoke, Sunderland, Bolton and Tottenham (leaving one top four side out for each side Arsenal and Man City).
I was impressed with Andy Carroll’s performance against Wolves last weekend, and I believe that he will have done enough to secure a starting place on Saturday. Carroll linked play better than in previous games, and he also looked more threatening as the service into the box was better than in previous games. I expect Liverpool to try to use Suarez to shift one of Everton’s centre backs out of the centre of the box, resulting in Everton’s full back (on the opposite side of where play is) having to cover centrally. In my view Carroll will try to match himself up against the full back (either Baines or Hibbert) whom he would have a huge size difference against. If Liverpool can deliver some quality crosses in the box, I believe that Carroll will most certainly end up on the scoresheet.
As with the vast majority of derby games, I believe that Saturday’s game will be closely fought with a low scoreline. In my opinion if Liverpool deal with what I expect to be a high tempo start from Everton, they will go on to win the game by one, maybe two goals.
The movement of Liverpool’s attacking four must be good, if they are going t be able to move the ball quickly when in possession. If they can do this, it will make it very difficult for Everton to press the midfield area and stifle Liverpool’s creative players.
I haven’t mentioned Gerrard in this article so far which may have surprised some readers. I simply do not think that Dalglish will start him on Saturday, I think it has potentially just come a bit too soon for Gerrard. I certainly think that we will see him at some point during the game, and it would come as no surprise to me if it was Gerrard who provided a little bit of magic that won the game for Liverpool. Leaving many of us repeating that famous Andy Gray shout…”You Beauty”!!