Liverpool head into Friday night’s FA Cup Merseyside Derby tie under the heavy cloud of speculation surrounding the future of Philippe Coutinho. The Reds’ number 10, who misses out with a thigh injury, has reportedly told the club that he will never play for them again, increasing the likelihood that he will join Barcelona this month, instead of in the summer.
When these two sides met at Anfield last month, the points were shared as Wayne Rooney’s controversial penalty cancelled out Mohamed Salah’s wonderful strike. The Egyptian misses out with a groin injury, whilst Sadio Mane should be available despite attending the CAF Awards Ceremony in Ghana on Thursday. With Liverpool’s next game being nine days after the Everton match, there should be less rotation than there was in that 1-1 draw.
Liverpool’s 16 match unbeaten run is the best we’ve seen under Jurgen Klopp, and the Reds are heavy favourites to extend it, with Sam Allardyce’s Blues in poor form, with them winless in four. There were little signs of encouragement in their 2-0 defeat to Manchester United on Tuesday, where Allardyce claimed having zero shots on target is “normal”. Whilst Everton may well be rank outsiders to win at a ground that no team has won at for nearly nine months, they will be buoyed by the fact that Liverpool have failed to win at Anfield against Everton in the FA Cup, and if that record were to be preserved, it could well be the kick up the backside they need to reignite their stuttering season.
Mohamed Salah (Groin), Philippe Coutinho (Thigh), Jordan Henderson (Hamstring), Daniel Sturridge (Muscle Injury) and Alberto Moreno (Ankle) all miss out with injury, joining Nathaniel Clyne on the absentee list. Jurgen Klopp confirmed in his press-conference that Loris Karius will start with Danny Ward on the bench, handing a rest to Simon Mignolet. Klopp also didn’t rule out a debut for Virgil van Dijk: “With Virgil it is different, he is healthy and now I have to make a decision for this game. It is not finally done, so we will see what we do with him. It is clear centre-half is a position that usually needs to be tuned to the rest of the team, the kind of defending and stuff like that, but of course I can imagine everyone is desperate to see him on the pitch. There is no rush.” Klopp also said that the team selection will have no bearing on the Manchester City game, so a full-strength as possible Liverpool side is expected.
Everton are without Michael Keane (Foot), Leighton Baines (Calf) and Ross Barkley (Hamstring) as they attempt to reach the Fourth Round. New signing Cenk Tosun could even make his debut as registration isn’t required until midday on Friday. Sam Allardyce has said that the pressure is off and his side will look to attack Liverpool: “We are in a position where we can go for it, it’s win or bust. It is a cup game, different from the Premier League. There is less pressure. It is a glory game. You go out and seek the glory and try to win it.” This would suggest we’ll see a different Everton side to the one that came to Anfield in the league, and that could well suit Liverpool as there may well be more space to play in.
Despite Sam Allardyce’s claim that Everton will give Liverpool a good go, I’m not expecting anything too gung-ho from the Blues. Whilst it is definitely win or bust, if Everton are too aggressive, it’ll almost certainly be bust as Liverpool pick them off. I’m expecting the Reds to control the game from the start and limit Everton to few chances. They’ve really struggled in recent weeks going forwards, and I don’t think the signing of Cenk Tosun will be enough just yet. I think we’ll see a more clinical Liverpool side as they look to avoid a repeat of the game in December, which is why I’m plucking for a 2-0 Liverpool win. I’m also expecting Sadio Mane to follow up on his goal-scoring display against Burnley with a sparkling performance, and with him out of Mohamed Salah’s shadow, we could well see a performance that we’ve come to expect from our number 19.