Liverpool vs Everton

, 28 January, 0comments  |  Jump to most recent
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Goal threat: Romelu Lukaku has scored four times in four games against Liverpool

Everton and Liverpool go head to head at Anfield on Tuesday night with a mere point separating the two sides who look set to battle it out with Manchester United and Tottenham for the fourth Champions League slot this season.

There may be 16 games still to go but the six-point gap that has opened up between fourth place and the Premier League's top three has an ominous look about it, particularly given Manchester City's inability to stop scoring, Arsenal's refusal to suffer a lapse in form and Chelsea's strength and depth allowing them to retain their lofty position despite the odd stumble.

The Blue and Red halves of Liverpool have gone into this game in close proximity in the table before in recent seasons but not since the 2004-05 season has an all-Mersey clash in the League had so much riding on it. Nine years ago, the Blues had a healthy lead over the old enemy coming into the Anfield derby and ended up finishing fourth despite losing 2-1.

This time, the talk is all about momentum — how much could Roberto Martinez's side gain from a first Everton win on this ground since 1999, particularly if they can manage it despite a catalogue of injuries that will severely test the Spaniard's squad.

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It's quite infuriating, actually, given how impressively the Blues were doing before long-term injuries to Arouna Kone and Darron Gibson were compounded by a hamstring tear for Gerard Deulofeu, Ross Barkley's fractured metatarsal, a series of niggling soft tissue complaints afflicting Seamus Coleman, Antolin Alcaraz, Steven Pienaar, Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka, and Bryan Oviedo's double leg break on Saturday.

It's possible that Martinez will be missing almost an entire team's worth of talent for one of the most important matches of the season, although it is being suggested that Barkley could provide a boost by being passed fit enough to be risked less than four weeks after picking up his injury in the FA Cup win over QPR.

The 20-year-old's presence was sorely missed in a lacklustre second half at West Brom eight days ago and his manager admits it would be a calculated risk to bring him back ahead of schedule with Gerard Deulofeu due to return for the Tottenham trip next weekend.

Brendan Rogers has been bleating about his own injury problems but they pale in comparison to Martinez's who could be down the bare bones in defence where Seamus Coleman is ruled out, Jagielka, Distin and Antolin Alcaraz are doubts and the Blues may be forced to field John Stones and John Heitinga as an emergency partnership in the centre, with Tony Hibbert continuing at right back.

Jagielka was withdrawn at half-time against Stevenage on Saturday and at the time Martinez indicated it was a precaution so there is hope that the captain will be fit. Distin, it would appear, is more doubtful and though Alcaraz was expected to miss a fortnight with muscle fatigue and that period has passed, there seems to be yet more mystery surrounding the Paraguayan's condition.

In midfield, Pienaar could make it after missing two games with a groin niggle and he too would be a welcome sight. His inclusion would likely make it a straight choice on the other flank between Aiden McGeady and Steven Naismith given the fact that Romelu Lukaku is expected to return to lead the line ahead of the in-form Kevin Mirallas.

New loan signing Lacina Traor will be assessed late to see if he is fit enough to play any part but it will almost certainly be from the substitute's bench.

Martinez has once again emphasised the need to go to Anfield with a positive attitude and with the expectation that Everton can beat anyone on their day. You would have to feel that his team's chances would be compromised somewhat, though, if he was forced to field a makeshift defensive unit, particularly against the free-scoring duo of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge. In that instance, the Blues' gameplan might shift more towards containment than would otherwise be the case.

Of course, the adrenaline-fuelled atmosphere of the derby can help any team rise to the occasion and Everton are going to need some big performances from their marquee players in order to arrest this barren 14-year run at Anfield. Victory really would provide a big shot in arm after two middling League performances away from home and it would also see the Blues leap back above Liverpool and enhance the prospects of finishing fourth.

Betting: Here are the odds on Liverpool vs Everton
Kick off: 8:00pm
Referee: Martin Atkinson

Quotes or other material sourced from ToffeeWeb Match Reports

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