On paper at least, a Merseyside Derby at Anfield is about as juicy as the Third Round of the FA Cup can get. The entry of top flight sides into domestic football’s most prestigious cup competition is one of the great traditions of the English sporting calendar, while Liverpool and Everton represent either side of one of English football’s most historic rivalries.
But will Friday’s encounter live up to that theoretical billing, or will the practicalities of a relentlessly intense Premier League take precedent over the magic of the FA Cup? Our Everton expert, ReadEverton’s Alex Hives, shares his thoughts ahead of tomorrow’s 7.55pm kickoff…
Needless to say, Everton are in a much safer position than they were a few months ago. Far from scrapping it out near the foot of the Premier League table, the Toffees have risen to ninth place and if the old 40-point adage is to be believed, they only need four more wins and one draw from the next 16 games to ensure survival for next season. But they’re still only seven points above the relegation zone, haven’t won in four games and face a difficult Wembley clash with Tottenham when the Premier League returns.
Can Everton afford to prioritise the FA Cup, or should their focus still be the top flight?
“To be honest, everyone knows the season is already over. We are a very poor side with a manager who has simply been brought in to guarantee stability in the Premier League. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be going all out for the FA Cup. We went out of the competition far too early last year and the League Cup as well, and for a team that’s not won a trophy while I’ve been alive, that’s not a good look.
“We’ll stay up in the league, and an opportunity to not only win our first derby at Anfield in however long but also push on further in the cup is the only straw I can clutch at for some hope this season.”
Due to the incredible rise of the Premier League, the emphasis of the Third Round has changed drastically over the last 25 years. While it was once arguably the most prestigious footballing event of the season, it’s now largely seen by Premier League managers as an opportunity to rotate the senior squad by giving chances to young players.
Are there any academy products you’d like to see make their first appearances or starts for Everton this Friday?
“It’s a funny one with our young players, because normally a club would have a core of young players ready to come and fill in positions in the squad, but all of ours are regular starters! Jonjoe Kenny, Jordan Pickford, Mason Holgate, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Tom Davies all are first team mainstays while Ademola Lookman, Nikola Vlasic and Beni Baningime are all waiting in the wings.
“In actuality it’s the more senior, out-of-favour players I’d like to see given a run out. Davy Klaassen more so than anyone, as you don’t just sign a Dutch international and Ajax captain and turn him into a poor player overnight. James McCarthy also needs some game-time as well as Yannick Bolasie.”
Klopp says Salah and Coutinho aren't fit for selection. #LFC
— James Pearce (@JamesPearceEcho) January 4, 2018
The good news for Everton is that they won’t face the full force of Liverpool’s Fab Four at Anfield. Jurgen Klopp has already confirmed Mohamed Salah and Philippe Coutinho won’t be available for Friday’s game, while Sadio Mane faces a race to make it back in time from the African Footballer of the Year awards.
With three key talents likely absent, which Liverpool player is capable of causing Everton the most damage?
“I really don’t think Salah and Coutinho being out is going to make much of a real difference. They’re better than us in every regard and they have the luxury where if a star like Coutinho is leaving, they can easily just bring in Mané or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to fill a spot.
“They’ve got danger all over the pitch and on the bench which is certainly what we lack. I suppose Firmino will always be a threat, but with Liverpool, it’s more the team is a massive threat rather than any individual player, which must be an incredible feeling for the fans to know that their team is such a cohesive unit going forward.”
And finally Alex, let’s hear your score prediction…
“My heart says 4-0 Liverpool, and my head says 8-0 Liverpool. And my eyes will want to look away.”