FIVE key battles that will decide the Merseyside derby

It looks set to be an incredible weekend of Premier League football, with no less than two local derbies on Saturday afternoon.

The action starts as Everton take on Liverpool in a blockbuster Merseyside clash at lunch-time, and finishes with Tottenham’s visit to Arsenal.

Last season produced two fantastic matches between both Mersey clubs – the Goodison tie ended 3-3, while Liverpool trounced the Toffees 4-0 at Anfield.

The quality of the Premier League is so high these days however that most matches are settled by individual performances.

With that in mind, here’s a list of FIVE key individual battles that could settle Everton’s visit to Liverpool.

[ffc-gallery]CLICK ON MARIO BALOTELLI TO REVEAL ALL

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It could be worse Nando, you could be one of these guys…

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DEJAN LOVREN VS ROMELU LUKAKU

Romelu Lukaku
Romelu Lukaku ran riot against Liverpool in last season’s first Merseyside derby, which finished 3-3 at Goodison Park.

And after struggling for fitness at the start of the current campaign, the beastly Belgian striker is back to goal-scoring ways, finding the net in two of his last three Premier League outings, including this strike against Crystal Palace:

Measuring in at 6 foot 3, quick, powerful and composed in front of goal, the 21 year-old, who already boasts 34 Premier League goals, can hurt the Reds in a lot of ways. Liverpool will fancy their chances  of stopping him however, having seriously strengthened their backline this summer in the form of £20million signing Dejan Lovren. It’s not been completely smooth sailing for the towering Croatian at Anfield – he’s thus far recorded just one clean sheet in Liverpool colours. His defensive stats this season however, as shown below, are relatively impressive: lovren And as much as his physicality, Lovren will need to utilise his footballing wits to keep Lukaku quiet. Here’s a look at the Everton star’s highlights from last season:

MARIO BALOTELLI VS SYLVAIN DISTIN

Mario Balotelli Daniel Sturridge looks unlikely to start against Everton as he continues to recover from an injury sustained on international duty.

Thus, it appears Liverpool’s goal-scoring hopes will rest firmly on summer signing Mario Balotelli. The enigmatic Italian is yet to get off the mark since returning to the Premier League but he did find the net in the Champions League against Ludogorets, in some style too:

And his ability to conjure up moments of individual magic is well known. Take this wonder-goal during his Serie A days for example:

Balotelli drifts in and out of games but Everton will have to keep their eye on him for the full ninety minutes. Individually, that responsibility will likely go to Sylvain Distin. The Frenchman may be 36 years of age but he’s still quick for a centre-half, offering height and strength too.

That athleticism will be important against Balotelli, a powerful presence at 6 foot 2. But as we all know, stopping the Italy international in his tracks is best achieved by frustrating him and isolating him from the game, which tends to result in rather stroppy tantrums.

STEVEN NAISMITH VS STEVEN GERRARD

Gerrard1
Scotland international Steven Naismith has made himself an intrinsic feature of Everton’s attack since the turn of 2014, and shown fantastic form to lead the Toffees’ scoring charts this season, as detailed below:

everton scorers

This strike against Leicester City on the opening day of the season particularly stood out:

Indeed, he’s been prolific going forward but against Liverpool, the 28 year-old’s defensive qualities will be arguably more important. He’ll line up directly against Steven Gerrard in the No.10 role and many of the Reds’ recent opposition have effectively shackled the former England captain, as this Reds fan highlighted on Twitter:

Brendan Rodgers even had to publicly defend Gerrard’s form last week:

Gerrard’s unquestionably Liverpool’s lynchpin as their deepest-lying midfielder. As you can see, he’s made the most key passes of any Reds player this season: gerrard passes If Naismith can keep the 34 year-old quiet, whilst also contributing going forward, Liverpool will be in for a tough afternoon. If Gerrard is allowed too much room on the ball however, he’ll unquestionably punish the visitors. Here’s a look at his highlights from last season:

KEVIN MIRALLAS VS ALBERTO MORENO

mirallas At the heart of the battle between Kevin Mirallas and Alberto Moreno will be balancing out attack and defence. The Belgium international is another real threat in the Everton front line and after netting eight times last season, has already hit the ground running with two goals in just three Premier League starts. He also bagged this cool finish against Wolfsburg last week:

Mirallas works hard and offers blistering pace, but with right-back Seamus Coleman also bombing forward, he’ll have to make sure Alberto Moreno doesn’t creep into the space behind him or catch him in possession.

A few weeks ago, the Spain international did exactly that against Tottenham, leading to an incredible 117-yard solo goal:

He’s strong defensively too however and will fancy his chances of keeping Mirallas quiet. Take this exceptional last-ditch tackle for example:

Here’s a look at the 22 year-old’s stats this term: moreno That fouling rate will have to come down somewhat – Leighton Baines’ quality from deadball situations verges upon world class.

RAHEEM STERLING VS GARETH BARRY

Raheem Sterling It remains to be seen where Raheem Sterling will line up in Liverpool’s attack on Saturday. He’s been utilised sporadically out wide by Brendan Rodgers this season but his best performances since the turn of 2014 have undoubtedly come at No.10. It’s likely he’ll be given the central berth against the Toffees too, particularly due to him being in an incredible vein of form, as detailed below: sterling form This goal against West Ham last weekend particularly stood out:

He’ll certainly fancy his chances against Everton’s deepest-lying midfielder, Gareth Barry; the former England international performs a vital service in the Toffees’ midfield but may find himself unable to cope with the pace, agility and trickery of the Liverpool youngster.

The 33 year-old keeps Everton ticking over the middle of the park – as viewable below, he’s averaged an incredible amount of passes already this season:

barry passing

As well as providing potency and creativity going forward, if Sterling can apply pressure on Barry in possession, there will be fantastic opportunities for the Reds to hit the visitors on the break. Here’s a look at the Anfield star in action: