Merseyside Derby: Can Everton End Their Liverpool Hoodoo?
The Merseyside Derby, which takes place on Saturday morning at 7:30 a.m. ET, is one of the most storied rivalries in England. In recent years the matchup has become decidedly one sided, as Liverpool (-118) have climbed back into the upper echelons of the Premier League and Everton (+320) have remained mired in the middle of the table. The teams are no longer really competing with each other in the standings. Liverpool are now a perennial top four challenger while Everton consistently compete for the Europa League spots in a good season. That said, Everton will be welcoming their crosstown rivals to Goodison this weekend at an awkward time for Liverpool. Sandwiched between the Champions League quarterfinals, Everton can at least hope that Liverpool’s focus will be divided, giving them a chance to sneak out a result.
Jurgen Klopp faces a difficult challenge when it comes to team selection. Everton have largely been an uninspiring midtable team at best this season. Coming off an emotional and draining 3-0 victory in the Champions League quarterfinals against Manchester City on Wednesday, and with a second leg looming on Tuesday, this would usually be an opportune time to heavily rotate the team. Liverpool shouldn’t need their best lineup to beat Everton, and even if they were to drop points, they’d remain safely in a top-four spot. They currently sit in third, 10 points ahead of fifth-place Chelsea, although Chelsea do have a game in hand.
Against any other midtable side, rotating players, resting legs, and keeping both eyes firmly locked on the Champions League ball would be a no-brainer. But, Everton are not any other midtable side. A heavily rotated side dropping points against hated crosstown rivals has the potential to sour the mood in Liverpool right when the team is flying as high as they’ve been at any point in at least the last four years. Liverpool players and fans alike could shrug off an underwhelming loss against Burnley or Leicester City, it’s a lot harder to do if it’s Everton delivering the blow.
It’s moments like this that Liverpool’s new found depth this season pays dividends. Emre Can, Georgio Wijnaldum, Joe Gomez, and Alberto Moreno are all important parts of the Liverpool setup, and none of them started against Manchester City. It’s easy to see how Klopp could trot out a set of fresh and fired up midfielders and fullbacks that are good enough to handle Everton, not going to be flat after playing in midweek, and will also not feel like a bunch of afterthoughts.
The challenge is harder up front. Liverpool’s heart and soul is located in their front three of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and, most importantly, Mohammed Salah. The Egyptian goal scoring machine left Wednesday’s match early for what was likely precautionary reasons. Salah has played 31 out of Liverpool’s 32 Premier League games this season. He’s been an ever-present force for them and he leads the Premier League with 29 goals. And in a perfect world this would be the perfect time to rest him. Except, again, it’s Everton.
The best possible outcome for Klopp is that he rests Salah and Liverpool win, and everybody goes into the second leg of the quarterfinals happy, rested, and ready to finish off Pep Guardiola’s side. Klopp has to decide which possible downsides he’s more comfortable living with, which risk he’s happier to take. Is playing Salah, and risking injury, or exhaustion by the middle of next week the bigger risk, or is it resting him and flirting with a possible poor result stopping Liverpool in their tracks?
Whatever Klopp decides, Liverpool should be able to handle an Everton side trapped in the middle of a disappointing season. But, the fact that this rivalry match comes sandwiched in the middle of the Champions League quarterfinals has made what would normally be a simple match to prioritize, something considerably more tricky.
All odds current as of Thursday evening.