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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Everton, 01.16.11

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Everton visit Anfield for the 215th Merseyside derby.

And, for what seems like the 215th time this season, Liverpool are tasked with rebounding from a difficult result.

Obviously things are different now---Kenny Dalglish is in charge, most of the squad is available and on full fitness, and the atmosphere around the club is much more positive.

But that doesn't change the fact that tomorrow presents another first step, another turning point, and, to echo the cries of last year's campaign, another "new season." It'd be nice for Liverpool to be in a spot where this type of forced optimism isn't entirely necessary, but for the time being it'll have to do. And as I mentioned, it's much easier to take this time around, with the right man in charge and a fanbase that, for the one of the first times in nearly two years, seems to be completely unified behind the club. That tends to happen around the time of the derby anyhow, but with Dalglish's appointment and the promise of better things to come, I get the feeling that most supporters are on the same page. Just not those that think Martin Kelly should be brought along slowly.

So Everton's visit is emotionally-charged, yes, but it's also an opportunity for Liverpool to claw their way back into relevancy. The other half of Liverpool is in a relatively similar position---level on points but ahead on goal difference, David Moyes' club has been all over the map. Since winning the first derby of the season 2-0 at Goodison, they've won only three league matches, but two were against City and Spurs. They've lost a few close ones and drawn the majority, but were also thumped at home by West Brom. From a Liverpool perspective, though, seven points in their last four is something to aspire to.

Moyes' squad has remained relatively consistent throughout the season, and tomorrow he'll only have a few ruled out. The big miss is Tim Cahill, who's with Australia in the Asian Cup; the only other regular Everton will miss is Phil Jagielka, who's missed three of the last four with a thigh injury. They'll still be anchored by Tim Howard in goal, though, and Leighton Baines, Johnny Heitinga, and Sylvain Distin will all be available in defense, and they'll likely be joined by Irish international Seamus Coleman. Phil Neville, Mikel Arteta, Marouane Fellaini, and wantaway Steven Pienaar (whom Moyes has refused to rule out despite accepting an offer) could figure in the midfield behind Louis Saha and the void left by Cahill.

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?

1. Who will start for Liverpool?

Reina
Johnson Skrtel Agger Aurelio
Kuyt Lucas Meireles Maxi
Ngog Torres

---Jamie Carragher continues to be the only long-term sufferer on the injury list. He'll be joined by Steven Gerrard, who's serving the second of a three-match ban after the red card at Old Trafford. Those that were MIA at Blackpool (Fabio Aurelio, Ryan Babel, Joe Cole) were either omitted by choice or for rest (I'd guess), so I expect to see those names back tomorrow.

---I guess at this point our tactical hopes and dreams are somewhat closer to fruition, and while I'm not sure the above is what we'll see tomorrow, I think there's a great chance we get front-foot football. Dalglish has brought a more fluid formation to the squad, and we can all agree that it's going to take some getting used to for the squad despite signs of encouragement. I think we can also agree that it's much better suited to the personnel, but part of shifting away from the football we saw earlier in the season involves some growing pains.

---Martin Skrtel probably needs a break at this point, but I'd guess they plow through with the Skrtel-Agger pairing unless fitness becomes an issue. Hopefully Aurelio's back in the squad, which would dismiss any thought of giving Glen Johnson another run at left back. If that's the case, I think Martin Kelly gets the day off and Johnson slides back to the right side.

---Raul Meireles and Lucas again in central midfield, and even if they haven't been as cohesive in the past few matches, I think they're needed for a match that's going to require some steadying. Dirk Kuyt is a mainstay in big matches regardless of form, and I think he's opposite Maxi behind Fernando Torres and David Ngog up top. As usual, none of this will happen, and that's probably a very good thing.

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

I think Dalglish was right to point out that Liverpool can't come out with their hair on fire and expect everything to fall into place, but for a squad who's looked dispassionate for most of the year, I don't think there would be any harm in embracing the emotion of the fixture. Tomorrow's atmosphere is going to be absolutely nuts, and I think capitalizing on that, in some way, would serve Liverpool well. Coming out as they did against Blackpool would be welcome, and from there it's a matter of sustaining the effort for a full 90.

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

Dalglish's first Anfield match in twenty years in the Merseyside derby is too much to ignore, so I'll say 2-0 to Liverpool in a flip of the reverse fixture.

No problems catching this one tomorrow on TV, as it'll be on Sky Sports 1 in the UK and Fox Soccer Channel in the US. It's likely that there'll be plenty of streams available as well, so I'll have the matchday thread scheduled to go up early in the morning with links to other, more shadowy ways to watch in addition to any news in the run-up.

Hope you all enjoy the rest of your Saturday, and let's all hope for a big result tomorrow morning.