Covid-19 has changed a lot of things in the whole world. The way people work, meet and greet. The way footballers celebrate goals and the way virtual audiences cheer through pre-recorded stadium chants. However, there are some things that too entrenched to be changed by such pandemics – the fervor of Liverpool side and their fans to win the Premier League title and also the determination of their rivals to at least not allow it to happen on their turf. As the Premier League returns from hiatus enforced by Covid-19, Everton await their neighbors Liverpool at Goodison Park on Sunday evening. Time and again, Carlo Ancelotti has made it tough for Klopp’s Liverpool in European competitions. This time he gets an opportunity to irk the German in the Premier League and he will want to take it.
Everton have prepared for their most awaited game of the season by playing an intra-squad friendly last Saturday. Despite the three-month break, injury concerns abound for Ancelotti he will want to ensure complete defensive solidity against Liverpool. He is likely to deploy a three-man defense and instruct his squad to sit deep at least initially. That is his best bet against the Reds’ brilliant front-three, who however, could be rusty following the break.
Liverpool have prepared with an intra-squad game of their own at Anfield. But Klopp has managed to squeeze in a friendly with Blackburn also. This could mean that the Reds are sharper on Sunday. While with 9 games still to be played, one can say that Liverpool have lot of time to capture the 6 points they need to win the title. However, a win on Sunday, followed by a win against Crystal Palace next week could mean that Manchester City would have to give the Reds a guard of honor when Liverpool visit them next weekend. It might seem a petty target, but Klopp’s team have proven time and again that no target is too big (or too small) for them.
- While Everton will be playing at home, that advantage has counted for little in the last decade. They are winless in 18 Premier League meetings with Liverpool (D10 L8) since a 2-0 win back in October 2010 at Goodison Park. In fact, the Toffees have failed to score in their last three home league games against the Reds, managing just 19 shots across those games.
- On the other end, Liverpool’s dominance has been threatened in their last few fixtures. Their defeat at Watford in their most recent Premier League away fixture ended a run of eight successive victories on the road. A loss on Sunday will cause them to lose four successive away matches in all competitions, to match a poor run under Sir Kenny Dalglish in 2012.
- While Liverpool’s six conceded goals in last three league fixtures indicate a weakness, that form was several months ago and on Sunday, Klopp would remind his side that their record of 27 wins, one draw and one defeat is the best by any club after 29 games in the history of the top five European leagues.
- Everton are winless in three Premier League games (D1 L2), though they are also unbeaten in seven at Goodison Park (W4 D3) since losing 0-2 to Norwich in November. Their tally of 18 points under Carlo Ancelotti has only been bettered by Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United during the same period.
Having contributed 13 goals (10 scored and 3 assists), Richarlison leads the attacking stats for Everton. With 2.70 shots per 90 minutes and 1.22 key passes per 90 minutes, he has every reason to be confident of a good display. His xG90 of 0.33 and xA90 of 0.24 indicate that he has more than an even chance of contributing a goal if he plays for 90 minutes. However, it seems that these stats have gone to his mind a bit as he dared his key opponent Virgil van Dijk in a recent interview. He said, “People talk a lot about him [Van Dijk]. Yes, he is a great defender, but I’ve already dribbled past him…for me, there are better defenders.” We would not know whether van Dijk takes a bigger offence to the dribble jibe or to the fact that the Brazilian thinks Sergio Ramos is a better defender. But irrespective of that, Richarlison will have to put in his best if he and Everton want a favorable outcome on Sunday.
There are no such claims from the equanimous Sadio Mane. The Senegalese opened the scoring for Liverpool in a friendly with Blackburn Rovers last week behind closed doors at Anfield. As has been the case for last two seasons, he is keeping pace with Liverpool’s lead scorer Mohammed Salah in goal contribution. He has scored 14 and assisted 7 (total 21) to Salah’s 16 scored and 6 assists (22 total). A xG90 of 0.54 and xA90 of 0.21 mean he has a very high chance of contributing a goal or two on Sunday. As Salah might be unavailable on Sunday, Klopp will want Mane to ensure that his team leave with three points from Goodison Park.
A three-month break should have helped with injuries. However, for Everton several players are sidelined, including midfielders Morgan Schneiderlin, Jean-Philippe Gbamin and Fabian Delph. Theo Walcott too is unavailable, as is Yerry Mina. Andre Gomes is however, available for selection. The likely lineup for Everton – Pickford; Digne, Holgate, Keane, Coleman; Sigurdsson, Davies, Gomes, Iwobi; Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison.
For Klopp, there is a problem of plenty, as almost the entire squad is fit. However, Mohammed Salah’s absence in recent training sessions could mean that he may not play on Sunday. But, in Origi and Oxlade-Chamberlain, Klopp has more than adequate cover. The likely lineup for Liverpool could be – Alisson; Trent, Gomez, van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho Wijnaldum, Henderson; Mane, Firmino, Origi.
The unscheduled, Covid-enforced break will cause both sides to be a bit rusty. Liverpool’s attacks might not be as fluent, and Ancelotti will ensure that Everton defend deep. However, this Liverpool side have been marching confidently towards their first Premier League title and one can expect that on Sunday, they will cut the points requirement (to win the title) to three from the current six points.
Everton 0 – 2 Liverpool