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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Everton, 10.17.10

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After weeks of emotional lability, the Merseyside derby ushers us back.

And, for better or worse, we're going to have to deal with it.

Last week I made fun of the people that said Liverpool would be out of excuses once the sale went through---it's a tired, lazy argument that neglects the fact that we've been bitching admirably for weeks on end about Liverpool's play separate from the ownership debacle. To say that supporters were using the ownership issue as an excuse for poor performances was, in my mind, entirely ignorant.

So obviously Jamie Carragher had to go out and say that Liverpool have no more excuses. Bastard.

I'm sticking to my guns here. I think the biggest issue the club are left with is not the absence of excuses; rather, I think it's the task of developing an identity besides that of a club who are permanently in crisis. The Liverpool we've known in the past season and a half is not one that is entirely about the football---it's been about the ownership, about the fans' displeasure, about the squad members' disillusionment, and, most recently, a laborious judicial process that had absolutely nothing to the actual football.

Tomorrow, then, presents the first glimpse at who Liverpool are when freed from the shackles of boardroom unrest and farcical ownership. Nothing changes overnight, that much is certain. But for me, tomorrow is the first step in moving forward as Liverpool Football Club, not Liverpool LLC or Liverpool Inc. or Liverpool & Hicks & Gillett.

That it comes in the Merseyside derby is going to prove to be either pitch-perfect or heartbreaking. Or, in the words of Noel in his interview at the Everton Offside, it could turn out to be "a bloody boring nil-nil draw with both sides playing like warmed over manure."

It's no secret that the sentimentality and emotion will outweigh the pragmatic aspects of tomorrow's match---like Warren Barton shouted at me earlier, FORM GOES OUT THE WINDOW IN THESE THINGS. Let's certainly hope so, Warren, and if you don't mind, dial it down to a "3" if you please.

Noel covered most of the Evertonian aspects in his wide-ranging interview with Chris from Everton Offside earlier this morning, so I'll be brief---the Toffees are level with Liverpool on form and points, but will likely be hoping to maintain any sort of momentum created by the 2-0 win over Birmingham at St. Andrew's prior to the international break.

They're not a team without their fitness concerns--Victor Anichebe, Marouane Fellaini, Phil Jagielka, Steven Pienaar, Jack Rodwell, and Louis Saha are all listed as injured, which leaves David Moyes with a dangerously thin squad. But they're steadied by the presence of familiar faces; Tim Howard, Mikel Arteta, Sylvain Distin, and Leighton Baines have started all seven league matches this season, and Tim Cahill will no doubt have something to say before the afternoon's over.

As for Liverpool:

1. Who will start for Liverpool?
2. What’s the most important factor for the Reds?
3. Who’s going to win and what’s going to be the scoreline?

After two weeks I'm just as rusty at this as anyone else, so leave your answers below and welcome the shame.

1. Who will start for Liverpool?

Reina
Johnson Carragher Skrtel Konchesky
Meireles Gerrard Lucas Jovanovic
Cole
Torres

---No matter what, I will not guess that Christian Poulsen starts for the rest of the season. Even if he probably will start tomorrow. I don't care.

---As much as our collective mood has been buoyed by the sale of the club and the hope that things are turning in a direction that could be confused for positive, I think Roy Hodgson's bound to suffocate the optimism and positivity right off the Goodison pitch tomorrow. HE'S BEEN DOING THIS FOR 35 YEARS PEOPLE, YOU WEREN'T EVEN A SPARK IN YOUR DADDY'S EYE BACK THEN.

---The Fernando Torres race to full fitness is a copy-and-paste story at the moment, but he's needed and probably should start. As much as it pains me to say it, though, it's bound to be another frustrating afternoon if he's put on an island against Jonny Heitenga and Sylvain Distin. He needs support, and Hodgson's shown little propensity to give it to him. Smell the optimism.

---There's a left back available for selection! Nevermind that he had his share of troubles before injury, Paul Konchesky will feature. It'll be a welcomed sight, but not one that will convince me that left back is still a top priority in January. As for the rest of the back line, I'd expect more of the same---lying deep, hoofing forward, emancipating Glen Johnson from defensive duties and scrambling to cover.

2. What’s the most important factor for the Reds?

A performance that starts to articulate some sort of identity, as I mentioned above. The transition to being just a football club seems unnecessary, and it likely is, but I still think it's what Liverpool are tasked with. There's no telling how, if at all, the events of the past two weeks will influence the squad tomorrow, and I'm guessing it'll have less to do with a change in ownership and more to do with Hodgson's approach. Which, unfortunately, has showed few indications that it's changing.

3. Who’s going to win and what’s going to be the scoreline?

At risk of completely jinxing the potential for a feel-good win, I'll say 1-1. But I'm desperately hoping for all three points tomorrow---after the heights of the court victory, the promise of things moving forward finally and starting that process with a derby win seems almost too good to be true. Let's hope it's not.

Despite some of my negativity about Hodgson and earlier performances this season, I am absolutely elated that for the first time in awhile, we can actually focus on the match. Yes, Hicks and Gillett linger, but we can start to put them in the rear-view mirror tomorrow, and that's a mighty fine prospect.

Back in the early morning with the matchday thread---this one plays live on Fox Soccer Plus in the States and on the Tom Hicks Appeasement channel in the UK.

Have a nice Saturday evening, all.