A local derby with worldwide interest kicks off the third round of the FA Cup when Liverpool host Everton at Anfield on Friday (19:55 GMT, live on BBC1).
It is at the third-round stage that all of the Premier League clubs enter the competition. The draw largely kept them separate, with just three all top-flight ties, but has provided a mouthwatering proposition in the form of the FA Cup’s first Merseyside derby since 2012.
Liverpool were the victors on that occasion, with a late winner from Andy Carroll seeing them come from behind to secure a 2-1 win and progress to the final at their local rivals’ expense. They also have the better overall record in the FA Cup, having won 10, to Everton’s seven, of the 24 previous meetings between the sides in the famous old cup.
It is a fixture whose importance in theory demands the full attention of both teams. However, it comes at the end of a busy festive period, and given that neither Jurgen Klopp nor Sam Allardyce have previously prioritised the competition, it is likely that neither will field their first-choice starting XI on Friday.
Klopp certainly hasn’t viewed progress in the FA Cup as a key target in either of his two previous attempts. Liverpool have been eliminated at the fourth round stage in each of the last two seasons, both times after requiring replays to eliminate fourth-tier teams in the third round. Regular starters have been rested in favour of youngsters and those on the periphery.
In light of an increasingly competitive battle to finish in the top four, it is highly probable that Klopp will take a similar approach against Everton. A few minor injuries required him to field some of his backup options in Liverpool’s tightly contested 2-1 win away to Burnley on New Year’s Day, and he is unlikely to risk bringing back the likes of Mohamed Salah and Philippe Coutinho given that his side’s next league opponents are leaders Manchester City.
Friday’s match will therefore provide an opportunity for some of those on the fringes to stake their claims for more regular inclusion. Adam Lallana made his first start since returning from a thigh injury in the win over Burnley, while summer signings Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Dominic Solanke are yet to really get going on Merseyside. It might also be a chance for the world’s most expensive defender, Virgil van Dijk, to make his debut.
Everton boss Allardyce cannot count on such a deep squad but may also view Friday’s match as an occasion to try out some new configurations as he looks to plan out his club’s spending during the January transfer window. He has already had sufficient time in training to get an idea of the strengths and weaknesses of his squad, but the chance to see a few players he is unsure of in a competitive environment is nevertheless one he may not wish to turn down.
The Toffees endured a difficult festive period, with two draws and two defeats deflating some of the optimism that had built around the three wins and a draw in Allardyce’s first four matches in charge. But they are still ninth in the table, comfortably clear of the relegation zone and with enough worse teams below them to think that their top-flight status is pretty safe.
In a way, the conditions are ideal for Everton to have a good go at the FA Cup, but that just hasn’t been Allardyce’s way in any of his previous jobs. It is necessary to go back to 2005, when his Bolton Wanderers side reached the quarter-finals, to find the last time any of his teams progressed beyond the last 16. They have fallen at the third round in four of his last seven attempts at the competition.
Friday’s match therefore doesn’t carry quite the same interest as it would if both sides planned to attack it with their best players, but it is still a Merseyside derby and there is no suggestion that those who do line up at Anfield will be any less committed in their pursuit of victory. Indeed, it could even result in a more open game than the recent league draw, particularly as neither side will be keen on a replay.
Liverpool’s better backup options are likely to give them the edge in what should be an entertaining encounter.