At long last, the final international break of the season is over. The often capricious and vindictive Football Gods have decided to lay their fingers of despair upon both Liverpool and Everton ahead of a return to club football. Seamus Coleman broke his leg to effectively rule him out until 2018, Ramiro Funes Mori suffered requires surgery on his knee, and Adam Lallana has been ruled out for a month when only two months of the campaign remain. Hopefully all three make a speedy recovery.
Premier League action resumes with the 228th Merseyside Derby. Jürgen Klopp's team needs three points to attain the manager's "Second Holy Grail" of finishing in the top four. Ahead of a kindly run of fixtures, ones that will be an intriguing test of the team's habit for dropping points against the inhabitants of Premier League's rat race. Those questions, however, can be dissected and debated later given the task at hand.
Despite home advantage and a reassuring recent record, the absence of Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson and the creative, pressing midfield operative otherwise known as Adam Lallana weakens Klopp's midfield options. Emre Can is showing that he can be a reliable and influential force at the base of midfield. Dejan Lovren should return to the starting line-up in place of Ragnar Klavan, but who will step in for Henderson?
Mignolet; Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner; Coutinho, Can, Wijnaldum; Mané, Firmino, Woodburn
Marko Grujić may return to the matchday squad, but Daniel Sturridge remains unavailable. Everton's form and reshuffled defence will even the concerns both teams will face ahead of tomorrow’s derby. Phil Jagielka and Mason Holgate are certain to start after key defensive injuries, but key midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin will miss the next two games. Gareth Barry is a likely replacement for Schneiderlin, but like Lucas Leiva, he may struggle to keep up with the pace of what should be an energetic game.
Since Sadio Mané condemned Everton to defeat at Goodison Park in December, the Toffees have lost only one of their 12 Premier League games and are six points behind their local rivals. A victory could give Koeman’s squad hope of finishing above Liverpool in the Dutchman’s first season at the club. Romelu Lukaku is the top scorer in the Premier League and will be the main threat for the visitors despite the uncertainty surrounding his long-term future.
Liverpool, however, have consistently shown an appetite for the grand occasion against the top six and have won two out of two Mersesyide derbies under Klopp. The natural inclination for fans and observers is to focus on how Klopp’s physically demanding counter pressing style thrives in these types of matches against more ambitious and talented opponents. Yet the focus, organisation, and resilience in such games have greatly aided Liverpool’s prospects. Do not underestimate the players’ attitude and mentality, either.
Everton are a good side that should, in theory, provide more opportunities for Liverpool to display their strengths. The contest at Goodison Park was characterised by a surprising lack of ambition and enterprise by the home side, but Everton have shown considerable improvements since then. Everton find that their ambitions to be among the league’s best will result in failure against players that are becoming experts at cutting down the best in the Premier League.
Kickoff is set for 12.30PM BST/7.30AM EST tomorrow on Sky Sports 1 in the UK. Online radio coverage is provided by BBC Radio 5 Live. Elsewhere, Optus Sport in Australia, Sportsnet World in Canada, DAZN in Germany, Star Sports Select HD2 in India, Supersport3 Africa in Kenya, Astro Supersport 3 in Malaysia, and NBCSN in the US are carrying the match. You can find full listings at LivesoccerTV.
We'll be keeping you updated with all the buildup to the game, including team news as it's released, our live matchday thread and post-match recaps from The Liverpool Offside staff. If you want to join the discussion, sign up for an SB Nation account to have your say on all the action as it happens.