Merseyside derby: can Everton overcome hoodoo and will Coutinho shine?

Andy Hunter
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">Jürgen Klopp, manager of Liverpool, left, and Everton’s Ronald Koeman will go head-to-head for only the second time on Saturday in the 228th Mersyside derby.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Getty Images</span>
Jürgen Klopp, manager of Liverpool, left, and Everton’s Ronald Koeman will go head-to-head for only the second time on Saturday in the 228th Mersyside derby. Photograph: Getty Images

Liverpool need Philippe Coutinho back on song

Jürgen Klopp’s side triumphed without their influential No10 at Goodison Park in December but he remains pivotal to their prospects of breaking any defence and one of the few talents capable of elevating a derby with a touch of class. Since returning from an ankle ligament injury in January, Coutinho has recaptured his early-season form only sporadically and scored once in 13 outings for his club. However, his goal and performance for Brazil against Paraguay in midweek, when he helped his country to qualify for the World Cup in Russia before flying back to Merseyside on a private jet with Roberto Firmino, suggest his sharpness and confidence is returning.

Everton’s psychological state at Anfield

Eighteen years have passed since Everton last celebrated victory on the other side of Stanley Park. In that time Liverpool have endured varying stages of crisis, had key players sent off in the derby, finished the season below their rivals and been genuinely mediocre – and yet at no point have Everton looked likely winners at Anfield. In truth, they have rarely shown up since Kevin Campbell’s goal secured their last win, in 1999. Everton have won only one of the past 20 league derbies and their record plus their performances at Liverpool suggests a mental barrier as much as a quality issue.

How Jürgen Klopp strikes the right balance in midfield

With Jordan Henderson struggling to recover from the foot injury that has sidelined the Liverpool captain for more than a month, the absence of Adam Lallana is an untimely setback for Klopp. That is putting it mildly. Lallana had been in excellent form before suffering a thigh problem with England, the second injury he has sustained on international duty this season. Klopp has lost two thirds of his favoured midfield and must find a solution that can both handle the intensity of a derby while continuing to supply his three-man attack. Restoring James Milner to his preferred role with Alberto Moreno at left-back offers solidity whereas dropping Philippe Coutinho into midfield, with Divock Origi or Daniel Sturridge in attack, would help creatively. A delicate balancing act.

Romelu Lukaku’s pursuit of the Golden Boot

The Belgium striker recently surpassed Duncan Ferguson’s Premier League goals tally for Everton and became the club’s first player since Gary Lineker in 1985-86 to score more than 20 league goals in a season. He has raced to 21 goals and top of the Premier League goalscoring charts thanks to eight goals in four home matches, against Bournemouth, Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion and Hull City. But what Ronald Koeman requires – and Lukaku needs to show given his aspirations of playing in the Champions League – is a similar impact away to a top-four contender in what may be his final Merseyside derby.

The appointment of Anthony Taylor

The odds are above average on a referee influencing the outcome of a Merseyside derby. It is the fixture that has produced the most red cards in the Premier League era – 21 dismissals in 49 matches – and for good measure this match on Saturday will be officiated by the most card-happy referee in the Premier League this season. The Cheshire-born official has shown 132 yellow and four red cards in 32 top-flight matches this term but, in fairness, he handled the intensity of Manchester United’s visit to Anfield in October expertly after his appointment was unfairly questioned by José Mourinho.

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