As Week 23 of English Premier League play draws near, we take a look at what promises to be a heated, spirited and highly skilled Merseyside Derby.
Liverpool (4th place, 43 points) and Everton (6th place, 42 points) are in a tussle to finish in the top four and qualify for the UEFA Champions Leauge play, and Wednesday’s contest at Anfield is a massive six-pointer.
Combining tradition and high stakes, this is SOCCER.COM’s English Premier League Game of the Week. Who holds the edge?
The history: First played way back in 1894, the Merseyside derby is the oldest in England and has been contested in the top-flight league for 40 years running. The contest divides the city of Liverpool, but also neighborhoods, friends and even families.
In fact, Anfield, the Reds’ home at which Wednesday’s match will be played, once belonged to Everton before the Toffees built Goodison Park in 1892 across town. John Houlding, an Everton board member who owned the stadium, in turn, founded Liverpool to play at Anfield.
The rivalry is bitter, and the game has produced more red cards than any other fixture in the Premier League, 20 in total since the EPL was formed in 1992. The two teams have taken the field together on 221 occasions with Liverpool gaining the edge having collected 88 wins. Everton has triumphed 66 times, while the two sides have drawn 67 matches.
The last time out: Liverpool and Everton played to a breathtaking 3-3 draw at Goodison Park on Nov. 23. The contest got off to a thrilling start as Philippe Coutinho fired Liverpool to a 5th minute lead and Kevin Mirallas cancelled out the advantage just three minutes later.
Liverpool went into the break up 2-1 thanks to Luis Suarez, but were pegged back by a second half double from Romelu Lukaku in a 10-minute stretch. Daniel Sturridge came on as a substitute to strike for Liverpool in the 89th minute, securing an enthralling draw.
The bosses: The teams are guided by two of the hottest managers in England. In his second season at the helm, Brendan Rogers has Liverpool playing the free-flowing, quick-passing attacking brand of soccer he implemented at Swansea. He continues to find good value in the transfer market—Coutinho, Sturridge, Simon Mignolet—while bringing along younger players such as Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling.
Roberto Martinez, meanwhile, took control at Goodison after winning the FA Cup with Wigan last season. Replacing Manchester United-bound David Moyes, an institution at the club who established the Toffees as among the English elites despite having fewer resources. Martinez has continued to build on that success, perhaps even surpassing his predecessor. He has Everton playing stout defense, conceding only 20 goals thus far, second best in the league. Their two losses are the fewest in the EPL, too.
The players who could make the difference: As in the previous meeting, Everton and Liverpool will be driven forward by dangerous targetmen. Romelu Lukaku has been a revelation since joining in August on loan from Chelsea. The big Belgian can hold the ball up well and bring teammates into the attack. He’s also dangerous in the box, where he can boom in shots with either foot or his head.
For all their prowess going forward, Everton is built on a solid back four. Right back Seamus Coleman, a doubt for this game with a hamstring injury, provides a threat from the wing, when available. So, too, does Three Lions left back Leighton Baines, who is a free kick specialist, as well. International teammate Phil Jagielka is as steady as they come in the center of defense.
On the Liverpool side of things, club living legend Steven Gerrard, who plays as a deep-lying midfielder these days, provides the experience needed to flourish in such a huge contest.
Liverpool’s strike partnership of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge is arguably the finest in the English game. Suarez leads the league in scoring with 22 goals, despite only playing in 17 games. Sturridge has netted 11 times in 14 games, including goals in two straight since coming back from an ankle injury he picked up in the last Merseyside Derby.
The prediction: Liverpool 2 Everton 1. Think we’re wrong? Give us your prediction below. Check back after the game to see how you fared.
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