There is plenty on the line besides local bragging rights when Liverpool take on Merseyside rivals Everton at Anfield this weekend (12.30pm Saturday on Sky Sports 1).
Liverpool played their part in one of the most entertaining Premier League games of the season so far immediately prior to the international break, holding Manchester City to a 1-1 draw in an open and frenzied affair at the Etihad Stadium. That result moved them four points clear of fifth place after Arsenal’s loss to West Bromwich Albion on the same weekend, with Manchester United now their closest challengers in the race for the Champions League qualification spots.
There have been signs in recent weeks that Jurgen Klopp’s charges have turned a corner after their poor start to 2017. The Reds are now unbeaten in four of their last five top-flight encounters, having failed to win any of their previous five games in all competitions. There is still plenty of work to be done as they attempt to secure a return to Europe’s foremost continental club competition.
Everton thrashed Hull City 4-0 in their last outing, with the Premier League’s top scorer Romelu Lukaku adding another two goals to his tally for the campaign. Ronald Koeman’s men have now lost only one of their last 12 matches in the Premier League, a 3-2 reverse against Tottenham Hotspur earlier this month, and are themselves only six points behind fourth spot heading into this weekend’s round of fixtures.
The Toffees are certainly moving in the right direction and, although Liverpool’s points advantage and Arsenal and Manchester United’s games in hand mean each member of the trio is more likely to finish in the top four than them, there is still a chance that Everton could make it into next year’s edition of the Champions League. Perhaps most impressively of all, Koeman’s side have kept four clean sheets in their last five top-tier fixtures, which is exactly the type of defensive solidity that their upcoming opponents have lacked for much of this season.
Klopp will have to make do without Daniel Sturridge (hip) and Danny Ings (knee), but Jordan Henderson should be available for selection once again following a spell on the sidelines with a bruised foot. Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho will continue as the home side’s front three, while Emre Can could keep his place ahead of Henderson at the base of midfield after his excellent display against Manchester City. At the back, Joel Matip will probably once again be partnered at centre-half by Ragnar Klavan, although Dejan Lovren is pushing for a start having now regained full fitness.
Everton, meanwhile, are still missing long-term absentees Seamus Coleman (leg) Mo Besic (knee) and Yannick Bolasie (knee), while Morgan Schneiderlin is a doubt with a calf strain. Koeman has not been afraid to chop and change between different systems in the last few weeks, but the former Southampton boss is most likely to line his team up in a 4-3-3 configuration on Saturday afternoon.
Ross Barkley will start wide on the right with the license to tuck infield and take up dangerous position between the lines, while Lukaku will lead the line as a lone centre-forward. Full-backs Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines may take on more conservative roles to ensure the visitors are not caught out in defence.
When betting on Saturday’s Merseyside derby, it could be worth following the form book and putting some money on an Everton win, which is offered at rather long odds given how well Koeman’s men have been playing in the last couple of months. An away victory therefore looks like the best betting tips option for our preview, while Lukaku is the obvious choice to find the back of the net for the 22nd time this term.