Derby rivals set for Anfield showdown

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Daniel Sturridge heads in for Liverpool to make it 3-3 against Everton in the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Daniel Sturridge heads in for Liverpool to make it 3-3 against Everton in the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The fight for Champions League football provides the backdrop as the city gears up for a high-stakes Merseyside derby clash at Anfield on Tuesday night.

When Everton and Liverpool last collided, their encounter at Goodison Park astounded those in attendance, as both sides abandoned caution in favour of all-out attack and shared the spoils in a thrilling 3-3 contest.

The match contained all the ingredients that make for a classic derby, with goals galore and contentious decisions aplenty, and came at a point earlier in the season when both sets of supporters were cautiously optimistic about the year ahead.

Since then, that optimism has transformed into fully-fledged excitement.

Both sides have gone from strength to strength. Everton have remained consistently in or around the top four, while Liverpool even secured top spot at Christmas before falling away slightly.

Liverpool currently hold the advantage, with only a single point separating them in fourth and sixth. Neither will want a draw at Anfield, and their upcoming match promises to be just as cavalier as their last.

In their most recent Premier League fixtures, Everton and Liverpool both fell short of expected victories, with Everton conceding a late equaliser to West Bromwich Albion and Liverpool clawing their way back from a two-goal deficit to draw against Aston Villa in controversial fashion.

Both teams regained some vital momentum in the FA Cup 4th round over the weekend, as the Blues won 4-0 at Stevenage and the Reds eased past Bournemouth with a 2-0 victory on the south coast.

The city rivals know they face a sterner test at Anfield – a venue where Everton have failed to secure a victory since 1999.

Under new manager Roberto Martinez, however, Everton fans have come to expect the unimaginable. Just earlier this season they brought to an end their even longer Old Trafford hoodoo, beating Manchester United away for the first time in 21 years.

Liverpool's Joe Allen in action against Everton's Leighton Baines during the 219th Merseyside Derby match at Goodison Park last year. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool’s Joe Allen in action against Everton’s Leighton Baines during the 219th Merseyside Derby match at Goodison Park last year. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

To do the same at Anfield, they will have to contend with a mounting list of injuries. Bryan Oviedo has the most serious problem after he broke his leg in two places in the win at Stevenage.

Their mercurial youth graduate Ross Barkley is likely to be unavailable after suffering a broken toe, while the mercurial Seamus Coleman may also miss the encounter after limping off against WBA.

Liverpool are not without their own injury problems. The industrious Lucas Leiva will miss up to eight weeks of action after injuring his knee in their 2-2 draw against Aston Villa, while the continued absence of defender Jose Enrique is a concern, with loan star Aly Cissokho struggling as deputy.

They will take comfort from their home advantage, having won five of their last six games at Anfield, scoring 20 goals in the process.

Those figures can largely be attributed to their unstoppable strike force. Daniel Sturridge continued the form that saw many label him the best signing of last January’s transfer window, bagging 11 goals in 14 games.

Even those great figures pale in comparison to those of his forward partner, Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan has been without doubt the best player in the Premier League this season, scoring 22 goals in 17 appearances and smashing a variety of different records in the process.

Everton will approach the game with confidence in their own ability, though. Nobody has lost fewer games than the Toffees this season, and only Arsenal have conceded fewer goals.

They will be desperate to get Romelu Lukaku firing again. After a terrific start that saw him bag eight goals in his first nine appearances, he has only managed one in the last nine.

What all this promises is an electrifying contest between two clubs that have more to be optimistic about than they have for several years.

About Paul McIntyre, JMU Journalism