After an excellent comeback for Everton at West Brom to win 3-2 on Monday night, attention now turns to the biggest game of the season. The Merseyside Derby. It is a fixture where the result rarely goes down to form with anything possible. The derby is a fixture that hasn’t treated Everton kindly in recent seasons with Everton winning only 3 league games against the red half of the city since the turn of the century. The first of these was back in 2004, it was ‘The Carsley Derby’ when a superb goal from Lee Carsley meant that Everton triumphed 1-0. The next came 2 years later, a 3-0 win at Goodison Park thanks to a brace from Andy Johnson and a Tim Cahill goal. The last time Everton beat Liverpool was 5 years ago in a 2-0 win at Goodison, Cahill and Arteta on the scoresheet that day. It has been tough to separate the 2 sides over the last couple of years with 5 draws in the last 6 meetings. The most recent being back in February in a goalless draw at Goodison, a less than entertaining game that didn’t reflect a typical Merseyside Derby. In the reverse fixture last year a wonder strike from skipper Phil Jagielka in the 90th minute saw Everton salvage a 1-1 draw at Anfield. Despite Liverpool being somewhat of a ‘bogey team’ to Everton in recent seasons there is a lot of optimism in the air ahead of this Sunday’s 225th Merseyside Derby.
Since winning the opening 2 games of the season going, Liverpool have failed to perform and a poor start to the season leaves them with 11 points off 7 games but still only 1 point behind this weekend’s opponents. Liverpool picked up their first win for over a month last Saturday with a 3-2 win at home to Aston Villa. The reds got off to a quick start when stand in skipper James Milner opened the scoring after just 66 seconds with a strike from just outside the box. It wasn’t until early in the 2nd half that Liverpool’s lead was doubled when Daniel Sturridge marked his return from injury with a goal that put his side 2-0 up. Less than 10 minutes later, Rudy Gestede pulled one back for Aston Villa with a close range effort only for Sturridge to bag again a minute later to restore the 2 goal lead. Villa continued to fight and scored again less than 5 minutes later again through Rudy Gestede. That was the last of the goals though meaning that Liverpool picked up a much needed win ahead of the derby on Sunday. It was a different story in midweek though as Liverpool dropped points at home to FC Sion in their Europa League groups stage game on Thursday night. An early goal from Adam Lallana was not enough to see them beat the Swiss side. Everton sit in a healthy 5th place on 12 points despite having played 5 of last season’s top 7 in the opening 7 games. The toffees also head into this weekend having come off the back of a 3-2 win last weekend. A resilient performance saw Roberto Martinez’ side come from 2 goals down at West Brom. The baggies took the lead 5 minutes before half time when Saido Berahino’s close range shot beat the onrushing Tim Howard. Craig Dawson then doubled the lead with a close range header after Phil Jagielka left him unmarked from a corner. Everton hadn’t come from 2 goals down to win since that famous Wimbledon game in 1994 and against a defensive Tony Pulis side, the odds was stacked against the blues. However just a minute after West Brom made it 2-0, Lukaku pulled one back and Arouna Kone levelled it 2-2 in the 75th minute for his 2nd goal of the season. Lukaku then scored the winner in the 84th minute to ensure he picked up his 2nd brace of the season and sealed the important win for Everton.
After just missing out on fitness for the game on Monday night, Seamus Coleman and John Stones both look set to return from injury and boost the side for the derby on Sunday. Leighton Baines remains out as a long term absentee meaning Brendan Galloway will get his chance to play in his first Merseyside Derby. Muhamed Besic looks likely to miss out after not yet recovering from the injury he sustained against Chelsea. Kevin Mirallas will also miss out as he serves the last of his 3 game suspension. As for Liverpool, striker Christian Benteke faces a late assessment on his fitness, having missed the last three matches with a hamstring injury. Roberto Firmino, Jordan Henderson and Dejan Lovren all remain side-lined as long term absentees.
Tim Howard has been a Merseyside derby regular since his 2006 arrival at Goodison Park and will once again start in goal this Sunday. Coleman is likely to return at right back but should he fail his late fitness test, we can expect to see a 2nd Merseyside derby appearance for Ty Browning who made his senior debut at Anfield last season. Roberto Martinez is also hopeful of a return for John Stones but summer signing Funes Mori is ready to step in if Stones isn’t fully fit. Phil Jagielka was the last player to score a derby goal and he will skipper the side once again this weekend. With Leighton Baines still injured, Brendan Galloway, who has been a regular this season, will start at left back. Martinez will surely stick with his usual centre midfield pairing of McCarthy and Barry who have both been on form this season despite Gareth Barry struggling for large parts of the 2014/15 season. Local boy Ross Barkley knows just how important this game is for the fans and he is expected to start in the number 10 role. Arguably 2 consecutive man of the match performances for Gerard Deulofeu could’ve earned him a start on the wing for Sunday’s clash. A goal at Reading followed by 2 near identical assists at West Brom for the young Spaniard. The other wing will be occupied by either Lennon, Naismith or Kone. After coming off the bench to score on Monday night and a good all round season I expect that Kone may have earned himself a start for the big game. Lukaku scored a brace in this fixture 2 years ago in the entertaining 3-3 draw. He will once again lead the line.
With United and Arsenal up next, Everton will be looking for momentum going into them 2 games. But this is the Merseyside derby, it’s so much more than just getting the 3 points. It is a game that determines who has the bragging rights for the next few months. It’s a game of pride. It is a crucial for both sides and one that no one wants to lose. It’s one of the biggest games of the season for both teams and will surely be the main topic of conversation in the City over the next couple of days as the excitement and the nerves begin to set in. I expect an exciting and heated game that boasts a few goals.
Score prediction: 3-1 Everton
Predicted line up (4-2-3-1): Howard, Coleman, Stones, Jagielka, Galloway, McCarthy, Barry, Barkley, Deulofeu, Kone, Lukaku.