Having such an important match on the tail end of the international break was an especially cruel way to spend the last two weeks, made even longer by the impressive fashion in which Liverpool dispatched a lackluster Fulham in in their last Premier League match. Concerns about the fitness of a few key squad members made the last week particularly unpleasant, but we're finally on the cusp of what's been a successful and enjoyable Merseyside Derby fixture for Liverpool in the recent past.
Liverpool have scored two goals in five of their last six visits to Goodison, earning wins on four of those occasions, with last season's draw due only to some historical levels of buffoonery from the linesman that flagged...something as Luis Suarez poked past Tim Howard in the dying moments. It's always nervy, of course, but this is a match that Liverpool have become used to doing well in.
Things have changed significantly since David Moyes' departure, however, with Roberto Martinez ushering in both a more stylish brand of football and impressive home form. A second half lapse against Newcastle saw them concede twice in a match they still won, but other than that they've been terrific, keeping three cleans sheets and dropping points only in scoreless draws with West Brom to start the season and Spurs in the first weekend of November.
Goals have been the only hangup thus far, as evidenced by the aforementioned scoreless draws and hiccup at Crystal Palace before the break, but in Romelu Lukaku and Gerard Deulofeu, Martinez has young, exciting options up top to go with the support of three from Kevin Mirallas, Leon Osman, Ross Barkley, and Steven Pienaar. Lukaku's the likely starter, with Deulofeu struggling to make an impact, which will be cause for concern given his history against Liverpool and the quality he possesses. The supporting trio are buttressed by the form of Gareth Barry and James McCarthy in deeper roles, and it's a familiar sight at the back, with Tim Howard in goal and Seamus Coleman, Phil Jagielka, Sylvain Distin, and Leighton Baines in defense.
Johnson Skrtel Agger Flanagan
The loss of Jose Enrique is a significant one, and he'll be ruled out along with Iago Aspas. Brendan Rodgers was optimistic about Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard's fitness, and there weren't any other apparent injury worries coming back from the international break. Sebastian Coates remains the only long-term absentee as he continues recovery from a torn cruciate ligament.
With Enrique out and a shift in formation prior to the break, it'll be interesting to see how Rodgers sets up his defense. Simon Mignolet and Glen Johnson appear to be the only nailed-on starters, with four to pick from in central defense, and a handful of others possible in fullback or wingback roles. For now I'll take the easy way out and guess that Jon Flanagan comes in on the strength of his manger's praise, Glen Johnson stays on the right with Aly Cissokho dropping out, and Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger remain as the central defensive pairing. Odds of that happening might be slim--Johnson right with shake-up in the middle and Cissokho left is entirely possible, as is a change to three at the back.
What seems obvious further forward is that Lucas, Steven Gerrard, and Jordan Henderson will start in the midfield, and that Philippe Coutinho will be along for the ride as the more advanced playmaker drifting left and centrally. If it's four at the back again, I'd imagine we get something similar to the Fulham win, in which both Henderson and Coutinho spent time cutting inward from wider roles.
Sturridge's fitness is the only question mark left, and it's one that would likely impact both personnel and setup. If he's out--which still seems a big "if"--it would make sense for Victor Moses to come in on the left, Coutinho to move into the middle, and Henderson to remain on the right in what would become some version of a 4-2-3-1. Ideally that doesn't have to happen, but in these dark Hodgsonian times, nothing is certain.
Kickoff is early tomorrow, with the start time set for 12:45PM GMT/7:45AM EST.
Sky Sports 1 BT Sport will air the match live in the UK, and NBC Sports Network/NBC Sports Live Extra will carry coverage in the US. As always, feel free to share any other legal viewing options and we'll include them in the matchday thread, which will run a bit earlier than usual given the early kickoff. Team sheets will be updated as close to an hour before the match as I'm able to wake up, and the overnight thread will have your pre-match buildup fix.
Hope we'll see you around, and hope we'll all have a reason to celebrate to start the weekend.