Goodison Park, Merseyside
Everton will be aiming to make amends for Wednesday’s horror-show at Hull City when they play host to an equally out-of-sorts Liverpool in the latest edition of the Merseyside derby this weekend.
The Toffees came out on the wrong end of a five-goal thriller at the KC Stadium, where they allowed their relegation-threatened hosts to go three goals clear within the first half-hour before fighting back in the second period to make it 3-2.
That result, hot on the heels of last Saturday’s 3-0 loss to Manchester United, leaves David Moyes’ men languishing in the bottom half of the table. But while news of their faltering relocation plans has taken the focus off Everton's on-field form, their struggling arch-rivals have had nowhere to hide.
The Reds’ stuttering campaign took a turn for the worse on Tuesday despite their win at Debrecen, as Fiorentina’s victory over Olympique Lyonnais saw the Anfield giants bundled out of the Champions League in the group phase.
It is the first time in Rafael Benitez’s reign that Liverpool have failed to reach the last 16 on Europe’s elite stage. They will now have to settle for a run in the Europa League, where they may find themselves from the off next term if their domestic form doesn’t pick up soon.
Last weekend’s draw with Manchester City made it three Premier League games on the bounce without a win, leaving them seventh in the standings – some 13 points behind leaders Chelsea, and five behind fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur.
And yet, from all outward appearances, morale remains high at Melwood, and Sunday’s short trip to Goodison Park provides an ideal opportunity to jump straight back on the horse – or at least get a foot in the stirrups.
Nov 25 Hull City 3-2 Everton
Nov 21 Manchester United 3-0 Everton
Nov 8 West Ham United 1-2 Liverpool
Nov 5 Everton 0-2 Benfica (Europa League)
Oct 31 Everton 1-1 Aston Villa
Nov 24 Debrecen 0-1 Liverpool (Champions League)
Nov 21 Liverpool 2-2 Manchester City
Nov 9 Liverpool 2-2 Birmingham City
Nov 4 Olympique Lyonnais 1-1 Liverpool (Champions League)
Oct 31 Fulham 3-1 Liverpool
The home side will be boosted by the return of both Marouane Fellaini and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov from suspension – a big relief for the manager, given how many of his stars currently reside in the treatment room.
Leon Osman, Phil Neville and Mikel Arteta all remain sidelined, as do Phil Jagielka and the forward duo of Victor Anichebe and James Vaughan.
Young gun Jack Rodwell is the latest concern, after the England Under-21 star hobbled off in the second half against Hull.
Last starting XI (vs. Hull City): Howard, Neill, Yobo, Distin, Baines, Cahill, Rodwell, Heitinga, Pienaar, Saha, Yakubu.
Star striker Fernando Torres missed the midweek trip to Hungary and faces a race against time to get up to speed by Sunday, meaning the ever-improving David Ngog remains on standby.
Yossi Benayoun may be available to start as he nears full fitness after a hamstring problem, while Albert Riera is still out of action.
Alberto Aquilani has an outside chance of making his first Premier League start, but boss Benitez’s cautious handling of the Italian thus far suggests that another cameo from the bench is the best that can be hoped for.
Last starting XI (vs. Debrecen): Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Insua, Mascherano, Lucas, Kuyt, Gerrard, Aurelio, Ngog.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Everton – Louis Saha
The Frenchman has put his fitness problems behind him and is reminding everyone why Manchester United spent nearly £13 million on him back in 2004. A tally of eight goals in 12 outings puts the 31-year-old among the Premier League’s form forwards, and he would surely love to knock in another against an old enemy.
Liverpool – Steven Gerrard
It is in games like these that the Kop look to their ‘Captain Fantastic’ to shine. The lifelong Red has yet to recapture his usual verve since returning from injury, but what better time to step up than now?
Everton 1-1 Liverpool
Mick Maguire, Goal.com UK