The rescheduled Merseyside Derby finally takes place at Anfield, with the two sides headed in different directions. David Moyes' Everton side are surging, with wins over Manchester City, Chelsea, and Spurs since the final day of January. Liverpool are in the midst of their worst league stretch in years and, if Saturday's any indication, they don't have any solutions at the ready. There's plenty of cliches to discount the importance of recent form, but Liverpool need to have undergone a rapid transformation if they'll have any chance at all three points tomorrow.
On about five or six different occasions this season, I've found myself compelled to start this brief introduction with some variant of, "Well, this has been miserable, hasn't it?" Which is, of course, in and of itself quite miserable, but after Saturday's performance, there's no question about which performance and subsequent fallout was the most miserablist. The loss at Spurs was ugly, the drubbing at the hands of Bolton disappointing, but the complete ineptitude and lack of passion from Liverpool at the Stadium of Light, followed by loads of infighting and chest-heaving among Liverpool supporters, has dragged us down to depths previously unimaginable under Kenny Dalglish.
And that's uncomfortable, because we, like so many of you, hold Dalglish in ridiculously high esteem, both for what he put together in the first part of his Liverpool career as player and manager, and for most of his second stint at the club---there's no arguing that few, if any, could have inspired the club and its supporters the way that Dalglish did upon his arrival last January. Nothing about Liverpool's current struggles change any of that for me, regardless of how his current tenure ends. He's one of the great all-time Reds, full stop.
But that shouldn't make him immune to criticism, especially with so many incidents that have left us scratching our heads throughout last summer and the current campaign. Skepticism doesn't make you the most disgraceful supporter in history, just as agreeing blindly with what's gone on this year while shouting down anyone who's got questions doesn't make you the world's best supporter. We've been fortunate to avoid much of the caps-locking dialogue, which we're unbelievably grateful for, and hope that it can continue regardless of how tomorrow---and the rest of the season---goes.
Part of me feels the urge to include that overblown disclaimer because of the task Liverpool face tomorrow against an Everton that, like so many Everton sides over the past few years, has started to find their form in the final months of the season. The aforementioned wins over City, Chelsea, and Spurs have provided a boost in a season that started in discouraging fashion, and while their recent away form hasn't been as positive, they'll look to reverse the early season result at Goodison to add to their recent successes.
January signing Nikica Jelavic's strike gave Everton the narrow win over Spurs on Saturday after joining a fairly stable eleven that's improved as the season progressed. Tim Howard, who recently signed a contract extension that will likely see out his career in England, anchors things from the back, with Phil Neville, Sylvain Distin, Johnny Heitinga, and Leighton Baines starting on the weekend. Leon Osman and Marouane Fellaini started in the middle of the park with Royston Drenthe and Seamus Coleman wide, and Jelavic combined up front with Tim Cahill, with Dennis Stracqualursi coming on late along with Jack Rodwell and Phil Jagielka. Steven Pienaar will be available for Moyes after being ruled out via loan conditions against Spurs.
Who starts for Liverpool?
What might be nice:
Kelly Skrtel Coates Johnson
Gerrard Suarez Maxi
What's probably more likely:
Johnson Carragher Skrtel Enrique
Henderson Gerrard Adam Downing
---Daniel Agger and Lucas are the only confirmed absences, with Steven Gerrard making his return as a substitute against Sunderland and Glen Johnson expected to be back in contention. And, as has been the case with matches clumped together, Craig Bellamy seems likely to start on the bench with knee cartilage that's quickly transforming into tissue paper.
---Since I tend to produce a blend of what I want and what's likely, I figure I'd parse them out for tomorrow. Assuming Glen Johnson's fit, I'd prefer to see him on the left and Martin Kelly on the right with Martin Skrtel and Sebastian Coates in the middle. This allows Johnson to give Jose Enrique a much-needed rest, Kelly another start, and the promising Coates another chance alongside Skrtel. The young Uruguayan had a few shaky moments against Sunderland, as expected, but on the whole produced an encouraging display with an excellent feel for the game and ability in the air. All that being said, I'd guess if Johnson's fit he displaces Kelly, Carragher pushes Skrtel to the left and Coates to the bench, and Enrique continues on the left.
---Midfield's another area of contention, and the potential for a midfield pairing of Steven Gerrard and Charlie Adam seems high. I would like to see Jay Spearing in the eleven again, this time with Jordan Henderson as the more advanced partner, and a contingent of Gerrard, Luis Suarez, and Maxi operating off a forward man. Gerrard's a far better option than Henderson out wide, and it's about time for Maxi to at least finish his stay at Liverpool with a decent run of starts. Again, though, I wouldn't be surprised if Gerrard and Adam start, with Henderson pushed to his least effective role on the right and Stewart Downing pushed to his least effective role by playing.
---I'd understand if Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez started together up front, as that's a fairly common hope for the rest of the season. But I can't shake the reality that Liverpool are far more effective right now without Carroll, which is less about him than it is those in charge of figuring out how to use him. Dirk Kuyt for now with Suarez just off of him, or Suarez and Carroll because, you know.
What's the most important factor for the Reds?
To do the exact opposite of what they did against Sunderland in every way, shape, and form.
Kickoff tomorrow is set for 8:00pm GMT/4:00pm EST, with ESPN2/ESPN3.com airing the match live in the US and Sky Sports 1 televising it in the UK. We'll include links for streams in the matchday thread tomorrow, so please let us know if there's any that we haven't included or a link that's been seized by an overpaid and misguided government crackdown. Not saying who, but some countries might be worse than others. We'll also have teamsheets and full squads starting around an hour before kickoff, which will appear here and over on Twitter as well.
It may be on a Tuesday, everyone's least favorite non-Monday day, but let's hope we'll have some reason to celebrate.