Liverpool have faint hopes of a top-four finish to keep alive when they take on Merseyside Derby rivals Everton (8pm Wednesday, Sky Sports 1).
Jurgen Klopp’s focus in the remaining weeks of the campaign is clearly on the Europa League, with the Reds boss making multiple changes to his starting XI for Sunday’s trip to Bournemouth, a match in which a heavily-rotated Liverpool team impressively picked up all three points with a 2-1 victory.
Winning the continent’s secondary club competition would guarantee entry into the Champions League, but maximum points from their remaining six domestic matches could see Liverpool make certain of their place in the 2016/17 edition of the tournament by finishing in the top four in the Premier League. That still looks extremely unlikely, but the fact that Klopp’s men have one or two games in hand on the sides above them means the nine-point gap currently separating them from fourth-placed Arsenal may not yet be insurmountable.
Everton let another lead slip at the weekend, with Southampton coming from behind to draw 1-1 at Goodison Park. Roberto Martinez’s men have underachieved in the league this year and will be keen to secure a top-half finish in the coming weeks to end the season on a high. Currently three points behind Chelsea in 11th place, that objective looks obtainable, but the Toffees will need to improve on recent performances if they are to overhaul the champions or ninth-placed Stoke City.
Liverpool will be without Kolo Toure (muscular), Emre Can (ankle), Jordan Henderson (knee), Christian Benteke (knee), Jordan Rossiter (hamstring), Danny Ings (knee), Joe Gomez (knee) for this week’s Merseyside Derby, with Divock Origi also doubtful with a back problem. Klopp is likely to restore a number of his more experienced players to the starting line-up given the identity of the opposition, with Simon Mignolet, Dejan Lovren, Mamadou Sakho, Nathaniel Clyne, Alberto Moreno, James Milner, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana among those who should return to the XI after missing out against Bournemouth.
Everton, meanwhile, will be unable to call upon the services of Seamus Coleman (hamstring), Phil Jagielka (hamstring), Tom Cleverley (knock), Tony Hibbert (knee), Tyias Browning (knee), while Aaron Lennon (hamstring) and Leighton Baines’ (groin) chances of featuring are rated as doubtful. Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley should be involved from the first whistle after the two attackers began the draw with Southampton on the bench, while Gareth Barry has completed his two-match suspension and should go straight back into the heart of the Toffees midfield.
Everton’s away form has been excellent this term – Martinez’s men have lost only twice on the road in the Premier League in 2015/16, narrow defeats to Arsenal and Manchester United – but they have now gone five games without a victory and are likely to have more than half an eye on Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final with Louis van Gaal’s charges. Liverpool, conversely, have lost only one of their last 14 outings in all competitions and are undefeated at Anfield since the middle of January, and will therefore go into this clash with their local rivals full of confidence.
Our Preview’s Merseyside Derby Betting Tips
Both teams are stronger going forward than at the back – 16th-placed Crystal Palace have conceded fewer goals than Everton and the same amount as Liverpool – so a high-scoring encounter could be on the cards on Wednesday evening.
It is probably worth backing the hosts (Liverpool best at 8/11 with Bet365 or Betfred) to come out on top. Everton have struggled in recent weeks and may look to protect some of their players ahead of their trip to Wembley at the weekend. The long odds on a 3-2 Liverpool triumph make that particular wager extremely tempting, while Daniel Sturridge (pictured) is a good bet to open the scoring.