Liverpool v Everton, Premier League, February 6, 2010
Merseyside will be abuzz early on Saturday morning as the blue half of the city make the short trip to their bitter red rivals as the next installment in the battle of Liverpool plays out. And we could be in for a cracker as both sides have seen a splattering of green shoots of recovery pop up over the last few months.
Perched just outside the coveted top four positions, a point adrift of Tottenham in the final Champions League spots, are Liverpool. (Liverpool are 12/5 to finish in the top four.) After a truly awful first half of the season, typified by their exit from the Champions League, the Reds have found a little more stability and consistency of late as they have gone six games unbeaten in the league.
That stat though is far from water-tight. It ignores the embarrassing home FA Cup defeat at the hands of Championship side Reading back in January, as well as papering over the disappointing goalless draw away to Wolves and an unconvincing defeat of Bolton last time out.
Yet, there have been some definite signs of encouragement for Rafa Benitez’s men in recent weeks. Despite having to manage his squad devoid of long term absentees Glen Johnson, Fernando Torres and Yossi Benayoun, the Reds’ second string have battled-on manfully, gleaning three clean sheets in their last three matches (Liverpool are 6/4 to keep a clean sheet, 7/4 against) and while several individuals appear to have embarked on personal crusades to wrong their doubts.
In particular, Dirk Kuyt has stood out in the Reds attack. In the absence of Il Nino, the Dutchman has relished the challenge of being the spearhead in attack scoring three goals in his last three matches. Elsewhere, much maligned Greek centre-back Sotirios Kyrgiakos has experienced some much-needed highs to boost his confidence, with his crucial goal against Stoke and his goal-line clearance against Bolton the highlights of the ponytailed defender’s time since touching down at Anfield.
Across midfield Liverpool also have reasons to be optimistic. Maxi Rodriguez arrival from Atletico in the transfer window and Ryan Babel’s decision to stay at the club, alongside the likes of Albert Riera, mean that Liverpool have a wealth of options in the wide areas of midfielder. And with regards to talisman Stevie G, Rafa quipped last week “if Gerrard is fitter then I am sure he would play better and this will make a massive difference for us in attack.” (Liverpool are 15/8 to score in both halves & 7/2 to win both halves.)
Liverpool’s upturn, though, is mirrored by Everton too.
The Toffees were unfortunate to lose the reverse fixture 2-nil at the end of November and have been hard to fault since. David Moyes’ team have strung together a nine-match unbeaten sequence in the league. And itâ€™s not been an easy run of games either, with highlights during this period being their clashes with Chelsea (drew 3-3 away), Arsenal (drew 2-2 away after leading until late on) and Manchester City (won 2-0 at home).
Also like Liverpool, Everton have recorded clean sheets with some regularity in recent weeks (three in their last four) (Everton are 4/1 to keep a clean sheet, 2/9 against) and the squad looks in their best shape of the season to-date with Goodison Park having welcomed some vital new signings in the winter transfer window.
Although he has only been in England for under a month, United States forward Landon Donovan looks a fantastic piece of business for Everton after settling in brilliantly to the Premier League. The capture of Phillippe Senderos from Arsenal also looks like a shrewd signing from David Moyes, with the Swiss centre-half able to help plug the gap left by the departures of Lucas Neill and Joleon Lescott in recent months.
With the feel-good factor spreading around Goodison, several other Evertonians have upped their games. Steven Pienaar, Louis Saha and Tim Cahill have been putting in solid performances week in, week out, while Marouane Fellaini is beginning to recapture his form from last season. (Everton are 4/1 to score in both halves.) And there is even more good news, as Mikel Arteta (groin strain) and Phil Jagielka (knee) are close to returning to the first team, which the duo outside candidates to sit on the bench this weekend.
The past four clashes between the Merseyside neighbours at Anfield have featured only five goals and three of those fixtures (including the past two) have ended with honours being shared. Taking recent form into account too, Liverpool and Everton are likely to be hard to split this weekend, and a low scoring score-draw could well be the final result. (5/6 to be under 2.5 goals, 6/5 to be over.)
The other top tip to consider is the likelihood of a sending off in the local derby. (9/4 to be a red card in the match.) Remarkably, in the last 26 Merseyside derbies an incredible 17 players have been dismissed. To put that into context, the Manchester derby has seen just five red cards in 35 games, whilst the North London version has registered just seven. The Merseyside derby remains far and away the most ill-disciplined fixture in the Premier League, and of those likely to take the field on Saturday, Gerrard, Neville, Cahill, Hibbert, Arteta and Lucas Leiva have all seen red in this fixture.
101gg predicts: Liverpool 1 – Everton 1 (13/2)
Full match odds here.