Liverpool and Everton may have huge semifinals upcoming, but managers Jurgen Klopp and Roberto Martinez have insisted that Wednesday’s Merseyside derby will have their full focus. With both clubs having surrendered hope of making the top four in the Premier League, it is cup competitions that offer their seasons a last chance for real success.
A sensational comeback against Borussia Dortmund last week sealed Liverpool’s place in the Europa League semifinals and kept alive their chances of winning the trophy and garnering a spot in next season’s Champions League. In the match following their heroics against Dortmund, Klopp made 10 changes to his lineup for a 2-1 win over Bournemouth on Sunday. Yet he insists that his only thought is on selecting the lineup that gives his team the best chance on the day, and that minds have not turned to next week’s semifinal first leg against Villarreal.
“Nobody will be rested because of [Saturday’s match with] Newcastle or Villarreal, but we have to find a lineup which gives us the biggest possibility to win,” he said ahead of his first Merseyside derby. “Hopefully there are nine games to play, minimum eight, it makes no sense to push 11 players through these eight games.
“Nobody in the dressing room thinks about the Europa League, it’s only what we can reach in this Premier League season, what's our position at the end. Liverpool is a very big club. It's a big difference whether you're seventh, sixth, fifth, fourth, which is not really likely but we can be fifth at the end. That's a better place than seventh, eighth. We need to try everything to get the best possible position at the end of the season.”
Klopp took the reins at Anfield in the days following the last Merseyside derby, a 1-1 draw at Goodison Park last October. At that point, it was the blue half of Merseyside which were in brighter spirits after an encouraging start to the season. But that mood has very much switched ahead of the return meeting at Anfield.
Everton currently sit 11th in the Premier League table, and are guaranteed to finish with their worst home record in top-flight history, leading Martinez to come under growing pressure and be subjected to increasingly visible protests from supporters. With the Merseyside derby being followed by an FA Cup semifinal against Manchester United at Wembley on Saturday, Martinez has accepted that it is a huge few days for both him and the club.
“It’s a defining week, but with big excitement,” he said. “To be in a semifinal of the FA Cup is an incredible opportunity and we’re all very excited, but that’s something we will address after Wednesday. It’s a defining week, but with big excitement. To be in a semifinal of the FA Cup is an incredible opportunity and we’re all very excited, but that’s something we will address after Wednesday.
“Football is about results, it is a results business and I will never be stupid enough to look away from that aspect.”
Martinez will be unable to call upon Phil Jagielka and Seamus Coleman for Wednesday’s clash, while Tom Cleverley, Leighton Baines and Aaron Lennon face late fitness tests. For Liverpool, striker Divock Origi is expected to be passed fit after suffering with a back complaint.
Kickoff time: 3 p.m. EDT
TV channel: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra