In the Premier League, whenever the top half gets crowded, like it is this season, every game between the top teams gains added significance. When a game involves the defending champions who are on a slide down the table, all their games become must-win for their fans. And when the game in question is a Merseyside derby, the stakes are bound to be sky-high. The latest version of this high-stakes fixture will play out at Anfield when Liverpool host Everton on Saturday night.
The past few weeks have ended many happy streaks for Liverpool. Unbeaten at home for 68 games, unbeaten by Manchester City in the league at home since 2003, generally successful against past managers – all these favourable streaks have ended for the Reds in the recent past. Alisson, whose reliable goalkeeping was the cornerstone of the successes of the past two seasons has committed multiple errors leading to goals. As a result the Reds come into this fixture having lost their last three league games. In the seven game weeks since GW17, they have slid from the top of the table to sixth and added just 7 points to the 33 they had at the time. Till the last weekend, when Liverpool lost to Leicester City after leading well into the second-half, it seemed that there was no hope for Jurgen Klopp’s side. However, the way Klopp’s side bounced back against RB Leipzig in the Champions League Round of 16 fixture on Tuesday night does give some hope to the Reds’ fans. They beat the German side 0-2 in Budapest. Not only did Alisson manage an error-free game and a clean sheet, new signing Ozan Kabak also seemed assured in central defence. Klopp will hope that his side can use this win as an opportunity to turnaround their domestic form.
Everton also have had a poor run in the league in the last few games. In last five Premier League games, the Toffees have won only one (D1 L3). As a result, Ancelotti’s side find themselves 7th – three points behind Liverpool. The latest of those three losses came on Wednesday night when Everton played Manchester City at home. Richarlison managed to equalise Foden’s early goal in the 37th minute. But the Manchester side took the game away from the hosts reach with two goals in the second half. Everton’s recent away record is much better than their home record. They have not lost an away Premier League game since their loss to Newcastle in November (P7 W5 D2). At home, they have not won in 2021 (P5 D1 L4). Given their hosts’ home form Ancelotti and his side will fancy themselves to end one more happy streak for Liverpool.
- That happy streak is that the Reds are unbeaten in their last 23 meetings with Everton in all competitions (W11 D12), their longest unbeaten run against an opponent in their history. In fact, Everton are winless in their last 20 Premier League games against Liverpool (D12 L8), their longest winless run against an opponent in the competition.
- Although Anfield might not feel like the fortress it seemed just a few weeks back, Everton have not won there since September 1999. And Liverpool, who have lost their last three home league games, have not lost four consecutive home league games since Christmas day in 1923.
- Liverpool are staring at their fourth successive league defeat as well. They have not lost four consecutive games in the league since December 2002 under the late Gerard Houllier.
- Liverpool vs Everton is the most drawn fixture in Premier League history with 24 of the meetings between the sides ending level. It is also the most acrimonious of fixtures. The Merseyside derby has also seen the most red cards in the competition (22).
Salah has been trying to inspire his teammates and fans through his Instagram posts where he has vowed to not let Liverpool’s season to be defined by the recent results. However, the inspiration he provides on the pitch is likely to be of far more importance for the Reds. Salah leads the race for the Golden Boot with 17 league goals (and 3 assists) under his belt so far this season. In all competitions, he has scored 24 and assisted 4. He comes into this game having scored one goal in each of the last three games, including the opener against RB Leipzig. However, he has ended up losing two of those games. However, he cannot be held accountable for those losses. With an xG90 of 0.59 and xA90 of 0.18, he has more than 75% chance of contributing a goal, should he play all 90 minutes. Klopp will hope that the Egyptian can add to his tally of two goals and one win against the neighbours.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin did not feature in his side’s losses against Fulham and Manchester City, last appearing and scoring in the 3-3 draw at home against Manchester United. However, Ancelotti will hope to have his spearhead back for the derby. The striker has scored 13 (no assists) so far this season and has contributed to more than a third of his side’s goals. His xG90 of 0.64 is quite exceptional, although his single-minded focus on scoring himself shows through in his xA90 of just 0.04. Everton will hope that he can add to his tally of just one goal in 8 appearances against the neighbours and win his first game against them.
For Liverpool, Klopp will be relieved that Kabak put a nightmare debut against Leicester behind him and gave an assured display of defending against Leipzig. If Fabinho fails to recover, then Kabak will again partner with Henderson in defence. James Milner picked up a hamstring injury in the game against Leicester and joins the long-list of injured players for the Reds. Klopp does not have much room to manoeuvre his squad as a result. The expected line up: Alisson; Trent Alexander Arnold, Henderson, Kabak, Robertson: Curtis Jones, Thiago, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mane.
For Everton, Ancelotti will hope to have both Dominic Calvert-Lewin and James Rodriguez back in the side, which will force him to make changes in attack from the side that faced City on Wednesday night. Jordan Pickford also returned to the side against City. Yerry Mina however, picked up a calf injury in the first-half, possibly making way for Ben Godfrey. The expected line up: Pickford; Holgate, Godfrey, Keane, Digne; Doucoure, Davies; Rodriguez, Sigurdsson, Richarlison; Calvert-Lewin.
Liverpool do not need too many additional reasons to be at their best and to win on Saturday. A win will end their streak of home losses. It will put some distance between them and Everton and put them again in contention for the top-four race. On top of all that, it is a Merseyside derby. For Everton too, the stakes are high. A win at Anfield is rare for them and a win that brings them level with the Reds (on points) will be that much sweeter. However, like it has many times in the past, the passion on both sides will likely cancel each other out and we might see one more draw in the Merseyside derby.
Liverpool 2 – 2 Everton