The last two matches of the season will certainly mean something, in the same way that every match means something, but it's hard to shake the feeling that Liverpool's season ends in earnest--or at least emotionally--with tomorrow's Merseyside derby. Fulham away and QPR in the finale, even if the latter will be Jamie Carragher's last match in a Liverpool shirt, don't hold the same gusto as tomorrow's date with Everton.
Unfortunately lacking for meaning is a feeling that Liverpool have become accustomed to in the season's final months, making tomorrow all the more welcome. There's no going through the motions or pretending that it matters, it just does. It's Liverpool and Everton, and as nice as it's been to see the two communities join together to such great effect as the campaign for justice unfolded throughout the season, tomorrow promises to be the queasy, nervous, anxiety-ridden affair that it always is. And that's kind of nice.
Everton have kept themselves in the discussion for a spot in Europe, largely on the back of a recent stretch that's seen them lose only once since the start of March. The month of February looked to be a significant setback, with only one point from three, but they kicked on from there, running off a six-match unbeaten streak before falling 1-0 at Sunderland two weekends ago. They rebounded last weekend against Fulham despite not looking their best, and a three points tomorrow would keep them right on the heels of fifth-place Spurs.
David Moyes' only fitness concern seems to be Darron Gibson, who might not be available after missing the match against Fulham. Tony Hibbert did return last weekend, though, and he could be in the mix to join a fairly settled and familiar eleven. Tim Howard will start in goal behind a back line of Seamus Coleman (or Hibbert), Phil Jagielkas, Sylvain Distin, and Leighton Baines, with Marouane Fellaini, Gibson, and Leon Osman through the midfield and some combination of Kevin Mirallas (who was terrific at Goodison but left injured), Nikica Jelavic, Steven Pienaar, and Victor Anichebe in attack.
Johnson Carragher Agger Enrique
Downing Coutinho Henderson
No new injuries to speak of, but we can subtract Fabio Borini from the weekly fitness check, which leaves only Martin Kelly and Raheem Sterling on the sidelines. Neither of them should be too far away from contention, though, and it's possible that one or both could feature again before the end of the season. Luis Suarez will serve the second of his ten-match ban.
The final Merseyside derby for Jamie Carragher has been the dominant storyline leading into Sunday, and I think we can probably expect--or at least hope for--the type of vintage display he produced against Chelsea a few weeks back. Pepe Reina's continued his strong form in goal to finish the season, and while Glen Johnson wasn't back on top form against Newcastle, he was at least a bit better than he's been in weeks. And, away from the spotlight, Jose Enrique's putting together a nice stretch to wrap up the season as the final part of what's become a settled back five.
Last weekend was, for my money, as active and aggressive as Steven Gerrard's been playing alongside Lucas in quite awhile. His workrate was much improved, and it finally looked as though Lucas wasn't tasked with doing the holding and covering for himself defensively. Not sure how much or how little that had to do with Lucas' sparkling display, but it was encouraging to see Gerrard seemingly more committed in all parts of the game.
Like the setup at the opposite end of the pitch, the front four shouldn't hold too many surprises. Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson were both very good at St. James' Park, Philippe Coutinho dazzled in a more central role, and Daniel Sturridge looked more than capable of leading the attack. Everton's defense likely won't be as feeble as Newcastle's was on Saturday, but if this unit manages to collaborate in a similar manner tomorrow, they can be might dangerous.
Kickoff is set for 1:30PM GMT/8:30AM EST, with Fox Soccer Channel airing the match live in the US and Sky Sports 1 televising it in the UK. Any other ways to watch or follow the match will be included in the matchday thread, which will have the team sheets when they're released an hour before things get underway. Hope you'll be around to join us here or over on Twitter, and that the end to the weekend is a pleasant one.