With the final international break of the season complete, Jurgen Klopp will be looking forward to guiding Liverpool towards the end of the season without interruption.
However, the final international fixtures couldn’t drift by without causing the club problems ahead of the huge Merseyside Derby with Everton. Adam Lallana, who has been an influential player for Liverpool in recent weeks will miss the game thanks to an injury picked up while on duty for England. Jordan Henderson was expected to make a return to the team for this game but he will also be missing, having failed to recover from a foot injury.
Klopp must decide whether to play Lucas Leiva in midfield alongside Emre Can and Giorgino Wijnaldum or drop Philippe Coutinho back into midfield and play Divock Origi up-front.
Both Roberto Firmino and Coutinho played for Brazil on Thursday evening but both players trained without any problems upon their return, making them almost certain starters on Saturday afternoon. Instead of worrying about how tired the Brazilian pair must have felt having made the long trip back from South America, it should be a time to look back on their excellent displays for their country.
Both players were heavily involved in Brazil’s two matches over the international break and delivered good performances. In winning both their games, Brazil are the first country to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and this will leave Firmino and Coutinho in a buoyant mood ahead of the match. Nothing makes a long journey feel better than success and that’s exactly what the Brazilian duo are feeling right now.
Although Klopp has lost one key player to injury following the international fixtures, Everton come into the game missing at least two key players. Ronald Koeman will be devastated with the loss of both Seamus Coleman and Ramiro Funes Mori. Both players have played a huge part in Everton’s recent run of good form and will miss the remainder of the season. This leaves Everton with defensive problems and an area which Liverpool can exploit.
James McCarthy and Morgan Schneiderlin will be assessed ahead of the match and if either or both fail to make the game, Everton will be without a great deal of experience in midfield and defence. Therefore, although Liverpool are missing Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson, Everton have selection problems of their own to deal with, which more than evens out the situation.
This is the first time since the turn of the year that we can say Liverpool are in good form. The Reds have lost just one of their last five Premier League games, recording wins over Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Burnley. Prior to the international break, Liverpool picked up a well-deserved point at the Etihad Stadium against Manchester City and could easily have won the match.
Liverpool’s home form has been excellent this season. There was one slip-up against Swansea City in January but aside from that, Anfield has become a fortress and a place teams do not want to visit. Liverpool have won their last three matches at home and are unbeaten in nineteen of their last twenty home Premier League games, which is a great record. Having struggled at the start of 2017, results have started to improve and although it is a shame it has come too late for the title, all that matters now is qualifying for the Champions League.
Looking at this weekend’s opponents, the Toffees have been in good form themselves, losing just one of their last twelve Premier League games. During that run, Koeman’s team have defeated Manchester City 4-0 and most recently brushed aside West Bromwich Albion 3-0 and Hull City 4-0.
Everton are a team playing with confidence but one look at their record against Liverpool will bring them back down to earth with a bang. You must go back to October 2010 to find the last time Everton defeated Liverpool in the Premier League and that was at Goodison Park. The last time Everton beat Liverpool at Anfield in the Premier League was way back in 1999 and this highlights a real problem for Koeman and his players.
In addition to this poor record comes the memory of the reverse fixture this season, which Liverpool won 1-0 at Goodison, thanks to an injury time winner from Sadio Mane. It was a huge win for the club and manager and pushed another dagger into the heart of Everton. Liverpool have the clear psychological advantage going into this match.
One would of caution for Liverpool ahead of the game is Everton’s Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian striker is in great form and has all the attributes to trouble the Liverpool defence. His ability in the air will be of major concern to a back four who do not defend well against high balls. The key will be cutting off the supply and Klopp’s pressing tactics should keep Everton back and away from the final third. Crossing in balls from close to the byline is one thing, sending them from deep is another and if Liverpool can keep Everton pressed back for much of the game, they should be able to keep Lukaku quiet.
The Merseyside Derby is one of the biggest games of the season and Liverpool have a habit of performing well on the big occasion. Liverpool have remained undefeated against the top six teams in the Premier League this season, having played them all twice and sit top of the ‘top six’ table with 20 points, 7 clear of second place Chelsea.
This shows a team who thrive on playing in the big games and they don’t come any bigger than Everton at Anfield. Everton have a threat going forward and may find the back of the net but as previous big match evidence suggests, Liverpool will be at their best in this game. Liverpool’s best has proven to be too much for the top teams in the Premier League this season and Everton should prove no different.
Watch Jurgen Klopp Pre-Match Press Conference – Liverpool vs. Everton below.