Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

Premier League: Merseyside Derby preview

Posted in UK Football by peterbein on February 5, 2010
Everton v Liverpool

Liverpool's Dirk Kuijt fights for the ball against Everton's Leighton Baines

The 213th Merseyside derby between Liverpool and Everton kicks-off the action in the English Premier League this weekend. Both teams are going into the game during their best run of form this season with hosts Liverpool unbeaten in six league games whilst opponents Everton are undefeated in their last nine, including draws away at title hopefuls Arsenal and Chelsea. With both teams now in confident mood having endured a miserable start to the season this derby is being widely anticipated.

The first meeting of the season between these two rivals in November was arguably the most low-key that one can remember. Liverpool had picked up only five points from their last six matches before the game whilst Everton were hovering just above the relegation zone and their woes were further compounded when Liverpool, thanks to a Joseph Yobo own goal and a late Dirk Kuijt tap in, emerged victorious 2-0 although Everton were unlucky not to get a point in a game where they dominated for long periods.

The negativity surrounding the previous derby clash has been replaced by a renewed mood of optimism as both teams have rekindled their sense of purpose and direction since that encounter at Goodison Park. Liverpool are still hopeful of finishing in the top four although they have tough competition from ambitious clubs such as Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa and Manchester City, the last of whom appear to be favourites to gain that spot at the moment. Liverpool coach Rafael Benitez has had his critics this season for playing negative tactics and making strange substitutions. However things have picked up for the Reds despite Steven Gerrard’s lack of form and Fernando Torres’ injury problems thanks mainly to the hard work of Kuijt, the emergence of Sotirios Kyrgiakos at the centre of defence and the reliability of goalkeeper Pepe Reina. If big money signing Alberto Aquilani can produce a quality performance in a game of this magnitude then his early detractors might think again about his potential.

Everton, meanwhile, have risen from the bottom of the table up to a respectable ninth place and a finish in the European qualification places doesn’t appear to be so far-fetched now. David Moyes’ men have become a resilient, hard to break down side and have benefitted from Maraoune Fellaini’s consistency in midfield, Tim Cahill’s appetite in front of goal and loan signing Landon Donovan has looked a shrewd short-term move. Everton are also hopeful that long-term injuries Phil Jagielka and fans’ favourite Mikel Arteta will be back featuring regularly for the Toffees again in the near future. Everton will, perhaps, not have a better chance to end their Anfield hoodoo, their last win at their former home coming in 1999.

A win for either side is not only crucial to their respective ambitions in the league but also due to the fact they expect a tough month ahead. Liverpool’s next four games are against Arsenal (away), Manchester City (away) and a two-legged encounter against Romanian champions Unirea Urziceni in the UEFA Europa League. Everton’s next games are even tougher playing at home to league leaders Chelsea and champions Manchester United as well as their UEFA Europa League double header against Portuguese giants Sporting Lisbon.

In the other Premier League games title contenders Arsenal and Chelsea meet in a London derby on Sunday which means Manchester United should beat bottom side Portsmouth on Saturday to go top of the table, even if just for 24 hours. Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa meet in a game with huge importance in the fight for fourth place whilst Manchester City play away at struggling Hull City, who gained a crucial point at home to Chelsea in midweek. The other games are Birmingham City v Wolverhampton Wanderers, Bolton Wanderers v Fulham FC, Burnley v West Ham, Stoke City v Blackburn and Sunderland v Wigan Athletic.

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