PREVIEW | Everton vs Liverpool

The fixture that Evertonians across the globe have dread in recent weeks has finally come around. The Merseyside derby has quickly become the Toffees most important fixture of the season so far, not even halfway into the campaign. Rivals Liverpool visit Goodison Park on Wednesday evening, in what could be argued as a make-or-break game for under-fire boss Rafa Benitez.

The Blues were beaten again at the weekend, by a Brentford side who were certainly there for the taking. Ivan Toney’s twenty-fourth minute penalty was the difference between the two sides, which left Everton with just one win in their last ten games.

Rafa Benitez’s side had more possession than the Bees, but could not do anything productive with it, which has been the story of the season when Everton are allowed to have the ball. Travelling fans vented their frustration at the game with a banner, and shouts aimed at the players at full-time.

Liverpool on the other hand are in the best form possible coming into the Merseyside derby. Back-to-back 4-0 home victories against Arsenal and Southampton was a statement of intent from Jürgen Klopp’s side, and they are without doubt favourite for tomorrow’s clash. Liverpool have scored eight goals in their last two games, whilst the Blues have gone three games without a goal.

Rafa Benitez confirmed today that Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Yerry Mina and Tom Davies are still unavailable for tomorrow’s fixture, despite reports that Calvert-Lewin would be back fit. The boss did have some good news on the injury front however, as he confirmed that midfielder André Gomes has started training again.

Brazilian Richarlison is also available again, after serving his one match ban after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season in the defeat to Manchester City, although defender Mason Holgate is serving the last game of his three-match suspension after his red card against Tottenham.

Liverpool on the other hand have no new injury concerns heading into tomorrow. Joe Gomez and Naby Keïta are both nearing a return to the first team but will not be fit for tomorrow’s clash. Forward Roberto Firmino and midfielder Curtis Jones are both still out with hamstring and eye injuries respectively. Centre-back Joel Matip is likely to be restored to the side after being rested for Ibrahima Konaté at the weekend.

One to Watch – Everton

Richarlison makes a welcome return to the Everton squad, after missing the game against Brentford through suspension.

The 24-year-old has only featured a handful of times for the Toffees this season, but his three goal involvements (two goals, one assist) have been pivotal in Everton’s limited success.

Furthermore, the forward has history against Liverpool, getting sent off in the fixture at Goodison last year, and scoring the first goal in Everton’s victory at Anfield, their first for twenty-two years.

According to WhoScored, his strengths include his heading and his defensive contribution – something which will be vitally important tomorrow against a high-intensity Liverpool side.

However, he does have weaknesses, which include his offside awareness and his discipline, something which was showcased in the fixture last year.

One to Watch – Liverpool

As much as every Everton fan will hate to admit it, Mohamed Salah has been the stand-out player of the Premier League so far this season. The Egyptian forward has a ridiculous nineteen goal involvements in just thirteen league games so far this season (eleven goals and eight assists).

The 29-year-old is arguably in the form of his life and has an average rating of 8.09 on WhoScored. They note that his strengths include his finishing and his through balls, two aspects of his game that are very well reflected in his goal involvements this season.

But like every footballer, Salah does have his weaknesses – his main two being his defensive contribution – though with how well Liverpool press he does not have to worry about it, and his offside awareness – he has been caught offside eight times so far this season.

If Everton and Rafa Benitez are going to get anything from the Merseyside derby, then they need to find a way to limit how often Salah, and the rest of the front three, get a hold of the ball. The midfield trio are going to have to work tremendously hard tomorrow.

Last season, Everton were able to take four points off their neighbours – a draw at Goodison and a 0-2 win at Anfield, their first win there in twenty-two years, and their first victory against Liverpool for just over ten.

Yet the Blues go into tomorrow’s fixture in a very different place to last year. Granted it is a little later this year, but the Toffees were flying high sitting joint-top after winning their opening four games. This time round they sit fourteenth in the table, without a win in seven Premier League games.

However, if the Merseyside derby has taught us one thing over the years, it is that form does not matter. Liverpool may be in the best form they could be and Everton in the worst possible form they could be, but none of that matters come 20:15 tomorrow evening.

As well as this, Liverpool have not won at Goodison since December 2016, when a late Sadio Mané strike sealed all three points.

Everton are in desperate need of a win, Rafa Benitez is in desperate need of a win. Lose, and things will inevitably turn toxic, and it is hard to see how much longer he would last. Liverpool need a win to keep up with Chelsea and Manchester City at the top of the table.

With Everton still missing key first-team players, it is hard to see how they will get a result against a relentless Liverpool side. As long as the players fight for every ball and show a bit of passion, the fans will appreciate and respect that. UTFT!

Prediction: 2-1.

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