Liverpool know for certain that they will be without Jon Flanagan, Joe Allen and Emre Can, but there are also doubts over Jordan Henderson, Philippe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge and Glen Johnson, meaning there are major questions about the make up of the front end of their team. Everton are without Ross Barkley, while both Seamus Coleman and Steven Pienaar face late fitness tests.
Both league meetings between the sides last season produced goals. The match at Everton last September ended 3-3 after a thrilling finale, while at Anfield Liverpool were comfortable 4-0 winners.
That was a slightly odd game in that Liverpool only just edged the shot count 20-18, and yet they could easily have won more comfortably, Sturridge missing a penalty and Coutinho hitting the post. Rodgers opted for an extraordinarily attacking formation, with Steven Gerrard at the back of midfield in a 4-1-3-2, with Raheem Sterling, Coutinho and Henderson in front of him, lining to a front two of Luis Suarez and Sturridge.
Everton played an orthodox if attacking 4-2-3-1, with James McCarthy and Gareth Barry holding, Kevin Mirallas, Barkley and Pienaar in front of them and Romelu Lukaku as the lone forward. The result was that Everton dominated possession – 61% of it – but were desperately vulnerable to Liverpool’s pace and counters.
The danger of the diamond
Much depends on whether Sturridge has sufficiently recovered from a thigh injury to start. If he has, then it’s safe to assume Liverpool will field a front two of he and Mario Balotelli, whose best performance for Manchester City arguably came when scoring twice in the 6-1 win over Manchester United (it would probably be reading too much into one game to say he was inspired by the occasion; in four matches against United, those were the only goals he scored and he twice finished on the losing side).
The question then, though, is whether Liverpool go with a diamond. Although Sterling has thrived at the tip, the danger is that it leaves Liverpool very narrow, and exposes them to the attacking prowess of Everton’s pair of full-backs (assuming Coleman is fit).
Sturridge and Balotelli were extremely good at pulling wide to unsettle the full-backs in the 3-0 win at Tottenham Hotspur earlier this season, but there probably is no better pair of attacking full-backs in the league than Coleman and Baines. If Sturridge isn’t fit, it changes everything: Fabio Borini can play wide and could operate in that blocking role, but he was disappointing against West Ham, while Rickie Lambert doesn’t really have the mobility to cover the flanks.
Everton have let in 13 goals in five matches, two more than any other side in the Premier League. Only two teams in Europe’s top five leagues have conceded more, and one of them is Reims, who have played seven games. The reasons are debatable. There are those who would suggest that Roberto Martinez benefited last season from the work David Moyes had done previously and that he is suffering now that his influence is wearing off.
There are those who wonder Phil whether Jagielka is still out of form after a poor World Cup and ask whether Sylvain Distin, at 36, is finally showing signs of age. It may simply be that with full-backs as attacking as Baines and Coleman (and John Stones, a centre-back filling in for Coleman), a certainly defensive vulnerability is inevitable; after all, Everton also have the second best attack this season.
Can Liverpool change approach?
The Tottenham game proved Liverpool could thrive attacking largely through the centre and using the full-backs for width but, especially if Sturridge is injured, and even more so if Coleman is out, attacking Everton in wide areas looks the sensible option, all the more so because by doing so they can force Baines to defend and thus stifle one of Everton’s most potent weapons.
Brendan Rodgers may then be tempted to turn to the 4-2-3-1 he used against Southampton and Aston Villa this season, or he could even use a back three as he ended up doing against West Ham, with Sterling and Alberto Moreno as wing-backs.
Liverpool’s five games this season have produced 15 goals, Everton’s 24, so it’s no great surprise that over 2.5 goals is as low as 1.57
Realistically, though, the chances are that both sides, stung by recent defeats, will look to tighten up defensively so neither that, nor the 2.45 available for over 3.5 goals is that enticing.
Both sides have been in poor form, but it may be that Everton have not actually been as bad as they have appeared; certainly against Crystal Palace, for all their loose defending, they played some glorious football through midfield before being undone by a couple of errors from Tim Howard.
With that in mind, an Everton win, draw no bet, at 3.15, may be the way to go.
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