On Monday evening, one of the Premier League’s greatest fixtures will take place. It’s one of those matches we all scour the fixture list for at the start of the campaign, the Merseyside derby. Liverpool and Everton both won in midweek, with the Toffees hoping to turn their form around after a dire run. Liverpool, too, notched up an important victory against Middlesbrough.
A late victory over Arsenal, might give Everton a springboard for this game. Goodison Park was rocking, as it will be again on Monday night, and Ronald Koeman looked a relieved man. After a dreadful start, the Toffees sprung into life around the 20 minute mark. From then on, there were signs will have concerned Jurgen Klopp if he was watching.
Harassing Arsenal in midfield, Everton’s midfield pairing of James McCarthy and Idrissa Gueye dominated the play centrally. On the flanks, Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines pushed up the field and forced Arsenal’s wide players to track their runners. Whilst Liverpool’s wide forwards will not be as willing to drop into a deeper position, this will be an area of the match that could swing the balance. Baines and Coleman were the key attacking outlets for Everton and they could cause an overload against Liverpool’s full-backs. In a similar manner, Liverpool’s full-backs – James Milner and Nathaniel Clyne – will be key to providing width for Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Centrally, however, Liverpool’s three man midfield – as opposed to Arsenal’s pairing – should be able to compete with Ross Barkley, McCarthy and Gueye. In Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana, Liverpool have the industry and technical ability to move the ball quickly and bypass Everton’s trio.
Lallana and Wijnaldum will challenge Everton’s midfield in a way that Granit Xhaka and Francis Coquelin did not. Aiming to run beyond Gueye and McCarthy, their runs must be tracked to avoid leaving Everton’s central defenders out-numbered. The interchanging of Liverpool’s front three will create space for their midfielders to attack, too. While we can expect the game to be played at a lightening pace, any player who can momentarily control the tempo will be key. Gueye’s role in cutting passing lanes, particularly when Henderson has possession, will be crucial.
With congestion in midfield likely, the role of the full-backs and supposed wingers will be ever more crucial. Liverpool’s wide forwards will seldom be on the touchline side of their full-backs, while Everton’s wingers – whoever Koeman opts to start – will be willing to challenge their markers towards the byline. A different task for the defenders, but this will also drag Liverpool’s central midfielders wider in order to cover. Ross Barkley, as a result, will have more space off Romelu Lukaku. Barkley, however, must turn his form around after an abysmal first half against Arsenal.
All the attacking talent on display in this game will be nullified without strong performances from the respective full-backs. With both sides relying on their widest defenders to provide width and create space for their attacking players, the team that can dominate the wide areas will likely be the side that comes out on top. The team Koeman selects will be revealing, but the Toffees are unlikely to survive a period as underwhelming as the opening of their game with Arsenal. Coleman and Baines have been the cornerstones for so much of Everton’s good form over the last few years and both proved their worth again on Tuesday.