A Big Weekend in the Merseyside

By Kevin Koczwara

It’s that time of year again, crosstown rivals Everton and Liverpool will face off at Anfield in another Merseyside derby. This derby will be another hard fought battle with goals being scarce and defense being tight. Both teams are coming in to the match in good form: Liverpool not tasting defeat in 6 matches, and Everton has not lost since October in the league (a 2-0 loss to Liverpool at Goodison Park was their last defeat).

Anfield should be hostile tomorrow, and Everton’s young squad will have to compose themselves if they hope to come out with the club’s first win at Liverpool’s fortress since 1999.

Liverpool’s Keys to Success: A great run of form has seen Liverpool pressure Tottenham for the fourth place in the EPL standings. Liverpool has had 5 clean sheets in the last 6 games and has shown great improvements from the defensive struggles that hampered Liverpool at the beginning of the year. “The Greek,” Sotiros Kyrgiakos, has been a major part of the recent defensive form. His stature, power and field awareness has helped Liverpool’s back-line. He has saved multiple goals in the past few games.

Moving Jamie Carragher to the wide-right position has allowed the Greek to fill-in and has made the Liverpool back-four a tough group to crack. Their weak link is the left-side with the adventurous Insua.

Insua moves forward with great pace and awareness but lacks on the defensive end. He struggles when tracking back and keeping up with pacey wingers. If he can help in the attack and supply a good effort defensively then Liverpool should be okay in the back because Pepe Reina has been amazing all year.

The major problem facing Liverpool is in the attacking third. Who will start in the midfield for the Reds? Will it be Aquilani or Lucas? I would start the Aquilani because Liverpool lack a play-maker in the attacking third who can make the killer pass to open space for a goal. With Kuyt starting in the middle with Gerrard behind him you have enough finishing skill (Kuyt can finish, no doubt about that, but he does drive me nuts) to get you a goal or two. But starting two holding midfielders diminishes space and movement, which kills the attack and can stifle the defense.

Out wide Liverpool will need to use Maxi Rodriguez and Albert Reira to put the pressure on Everton’s wide players. Reira is an automatic starter for me when healthy, he brings so much to the side with his left-foot.

Maxi Rodriguez should get a start on the right with his blistering pace forward, but don’t be surprised if Liverpool start N’gog as the striker and Kuyt on the right side to allow Rodriguez  to get his feet wet in the big derby from the substitute position.

If Liverpool can score the first goal, then they should be able to win this match because of Everton’s depleted attacking options.

Everton’s Keys To Success: Phill Neville is confident that Everton can get a positive result at Anfield. For the Blues to back-up their captain then they need their strikers, Louis Saha specifically, to be fit and ready to go. That is priority number 1 for the club.

Priority number 2 for Everton is in the midfield. Fellani needs to have another stellar game in the holding midfielder role. He can stifle any attack with his skill, size and power. He outworks most midfielders and he is an imposing figure in the middle of the field. Everton finally found a place to put the Belgian international after trying him out in all the attacking positions they could think of.

If Mikel Arteta is fit and ready to go for the match then he would be a huge boost for Everton. Having missed the whole season, Arteta most likely would not start, but he could be a huge addition off the bench in the last moments of the match. He has killer skill and instincts and if Everton need a goal then he will surely be subbed, if healthy, to help get them one. Everton has sourly missed his skill in the middle of the field.

Tim Cahill will have to keep up the good form and help Fellani control the middle of the pitch and move Everton forward. The Aussie scores big goals in big games, and this is his stage. If he can spend most of the game in Liverpool’s half of the field, then Cahill will have big contributions going forward. he may be right to say that Liverpool may feel threatened, but he will have to play well early on if Everton want to scare Liverpool in a shell.

For Everton to win, they will need to organized their defense and stay strong in the back and hold off Liverpool for the first 15 or so minutes. If they do that then the game will calm down, the crowd will quiet and Everton should be able to stay strong and be tough to break down.

Prediction: Whoever scores first will be int he driver’s seat here, and if either team gets up by 2 goals, then the game is over. Neither team has the firepower to get 2 goals back. The betting line is favoring a draw, but I have to go with my gut feeling and say Liverpool will win and will keep a clean sheet because their recent run of form is leading me to that result. I am saying a 1-0 win for Liverpool in a hard fought and entertaining clash at Anfield.

Live-Blogging: Follow us tomorrow morning on the blogger and twitter (@TheSoccerGuys) if you can’t find a TV or have something to say, we will be updating in real time.

Kevin Koczwara can be reached at kkoczwar@gmail.com

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