Fresh from their first win in nine matches last week, Everton will now aim to end a nine-match winless run in Merseyside derbies when they host Liverpool at Goodison Park on Saturday. After a fine first season under Roberto Martínez, Everton have struggled desperately this campaign, finding themselves, despite last week’s 1-0 win over Crystal Palace, significantly closer to the relegation zone than breaking into the top four. Still, Martínez is targeting a first win over their local rivals in more than four years to kick start an important stretch of matches over the next 23 days that includes a Europa League dual with Young Boys, and road contests against Chelsea and Arsenal.
“We, as a football club, have been in a period when we haven’t been enjoying the results that we wanted, so we will look forward to the Merseyside Derby being our Merseyside derby, playing at Goodison Park, he said.
“[Liverpool] are really enjoying a way of playing and are enjoying a good run, and we feel in a similar situation in terms of the confidence from the win that we had at the weekend [against Crystal Palace].”
Everton will be boosted, too, by having James McCarthy back available for selection, although the Irish midfielder is unlikely to be risked from the start after injury. The squad was also reinforced by activity on transfer deadline day. Martínez continued his extensive use of the loan market by bringing in Aaron Lennon from Tottenham, with the winger’s ability to slot in straight away clearly a big factor in the deal.
“When you sign a player in January, it’s very difficult to find someone who is up to speed with the league, who is up to speed with his match fitness,” Martínez said. “Obviously Aaron is an incredible performer at this level. He’s got incredible international experience, he’s fully fit, he’s ready to make an impact and he’s ready to be in the squad at the weekend.”
Liverpool chose not to act during the transfer window, but they have been blessed by something as good as a new signing in the past week. After five months on the sidelines, in which his presence was painfully missed, Daniel Sturridge returned off the substitute’s bench and within 12 minutes got on the score sheet in a 2-0 win over West Ham. The striker also made a cameo appearance as Liverpool staged a dramatic late fight back to beat Bolton Wanderers 2-1 in their FA Cup fourth round replay on Wednesday. But manager Brendan Rodgers, who also has doubts about the fitness of Lucas Leiva, Lazar Markovic and Dejan Lovren, is still cautious about Sturridge’s ability to play from the start.
“It is about liaising with Daniel and the medical team in terms of the risk, but he is not far away from starting now, he is really champing at the bit,” he said, reports Liverpool’s official website. “We will analyze things over the coming days. We want to make sure he is going to be available now for the rest of the season. If the timing is not quite right it can damage us and hurt us, but his appetite to play is there, which is great.”
Wednesday’s win means Liverpool have now lost just once in their last 13 outings in all competitions, moving to within four points of the final Champions League qualifying place in the process.
Prediction: The midfield battle could be key in this duel and thus so could the fitness of Lucas Leiva. Liverpool have looked immeasurably more solid since the Brazilian became a regular, while he has allowed Steven Gerrard, who will be playing in his final Merseyside derby, to be more effective further forward. On the opposite side, the partnership of McCarthy and Gareth Barry has not been nearly as dependable this season as last, due to injury to the former and poor form of the latter. But Muhamed Besic has been impressive and he will be crucial in trying to halt Liverpool’s rediscovered attacking verve. Both defenses have been at times incredibly porous this season, but been significantly improved of late. And, especially with Liverpool having exerted themselves in midweek, they could ultimately cancel each other out.
Everton 1-1 Liverpool
Kickoff time: 12:30 p.m. EST
TV channel: NBC
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra