Tuesday night's featured kick-off sees Everton travel to Liverpool in what will be an enthralling Merseyside Derby.
With Everton and Liverpool vying for Premier League supremacy, both managers will go into this game looking for three points. Liverpool will want to respond to a poor 2-2 draw with Aston Villa, whilst Everton know that they can leap frog their city rivals with a famous victory at Anfield.
Liverpool have injury problems. Glen Johnson, Mamadou Sakho and Daniel Agger are out, as is Lucas Leiva who picked up a knock versus Aston Villa. On the plus side, Jon Flanagan returned as a substitute in the FA Cup at Bournemouth and should start as Liverpool will continue in a fluid variant of a 4-4-2 formation.
Everton will be without Seamus Coleman at right-back, whilst Ross Barkley should return to the starting line-up behind Romelu Lukaku. Bryan Oviedo broke his leg in the FA Cup at Stevenage at the weekend and joins Steven Pienaar on the sidelines, which should lead to Leon Osman being placed out in left midfield.
The implications of ‘the SAS’ for the rest of the Liverpool side
Liverpool reunited Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge for the first time since the latter's injury from the start of the game versus Aston Villa. Sturridge got on the scoresheet whilst Suarez won a controversial penalty which Steven Gerrard converted, but the pairing of Liverpool's deadly strike duo did have an impact for the rest of the side.
Liverpool have not been defending well lately, they have conceded ten times in their last six Premier League games and looked very open at the back against Villa. The primary reason for the openness against Villa was the return to a 4-4-2 to accommodate ‘the SAS’ up front.
Gerrard was partnered with Jordan Henderson in the centre of midfield and neither looked particularly comfortable in the pairing. Henderson had been flourishing in a 4-3-3 prior to this, looking more impressive with Lucas in behind him. Worryingly, neither Gerrard nor Henderson managed a single interception versus Villa. Lucas, the club’s top tackler with an average of four per game is now injured, which leaves Liverpool with midfield concerns ahead of this tie. Joe Allen isn't going to be as capable of plugging gaps or hurrying Everton when they're in possession and as such we will see Gerrard and Henderson continue an awkward partnership.
Liverpool will as such be open in the middle of the pitch, which is a consequence of maximizing their goalscoring potential by opting for a 4-4-2. Liverpool's primary focus will then be to simply outscore Everton using Suarez and Sturridge, both of whom are in fine form.
They will however have to be wary of Everton's ability to control the game in the middle of the park, outnumbering them with a three man midfield.
The importance of Gareth Barry
Gareth Barry joined Everton on loan from Manchester City without much fanfare. The former Aston Villa captain has however been re-invigorated by his move to Goodison Park and has emerged as a key figure for the Evertonians.
Barry's importance to the midfield is largely due to the way he holds the ball and also breaks up play. Only two Premier League players (Yaya Toure and David Silva) have completed more passes per game than Barry, with 70.4. His passing display against Stoke in the recent 1-1 draw was typical of this:
Barry completed 62 passes at a completion rate of 85%. We can also see how he strokes the ball around, both with short and long passes. This range of passing and ability to move the ball out from defensive areas is crucial to Everton. If Liverpool want to stop Everton, sitting on Barry will be a good way to do this and to stop Everton in transitions.
Barry is not just good on the ball though, he is also very impressive when it comes to breaking up the opposition play. He has completed 32 tackles this season, equating to 1.88 successful tackles per game, as well as making five defensive actions (clearances/interceptions/blocks) per game, more than any other Everton midfielder.
Whilst he isn't particularly spectacular, Barry is a crucial cog in Roberto Martinez's well-oiled Everton machine. He will be responsible for disrupting Liverpool's rhythm, through pressing Liverpool's midfield players, as well as by using the ball, something he does very well.
With both teams pushing for a top four finish this Merseyside derby will have added spice.
The midfield battle will be crucial, with Liverpool potentially being out-numbered by Everton. Gareth Barry's role both defensively and offensively will be central to Everton's tactics, whilst Liverpool will look to simply outscore Everton, in the knowledge that their defensive record has not been very good lately.
Both sides should be chasing the three points and following on from a 3-3 draw in the reverse fixture we should be in for a treat, perhaps with the spoils shared again.
Liverpool 1.75, draw 3.80, Everton 4.50 - Bet Now!