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Studs Up: Liverpool v. Everton

Laurence Griffiths

The Merseyside Derby has arrived but neither team looks ready for it -- Liverpool have lost consecutive Premier League games and Everton are fresh off a 3-0 cup humiliation against Swansea. But from an emotional standpoint it's all there. Two bitter rivals that desperately need a win face off in a game that will make your blood boil, your heart sink, and your hair gray.

Liverpool must dominate play in the midfield to beat Everton, and that starts with their ability to press effectively. In a wonderful article written on Anfield Index, it is pointed out that Liverpool's losses to Aston Villa and West Ham coincided with a dip in pressing performance.

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It's incredible how closely tied midfield pressure and match results have been for Liverpool thus far. In the Tottenham game -- by far the best performance of the season -- Liverpool used pressure to take total control of the match. Meanwhile, Liverpool didn't harry Aston Villa and West Ham at all in the midfield, and it cost them vital points.

Whether the recent drop off in press performance is due to fatigue, injuries, or something else entirely is unclear, but the issue has to be fixed immediately. With a weak press Liverpool cannot force the midfield turnovers needed to fuel counter attacks and so it becomes far more difficult to create chances. Additionally, the back line is exposed when opponent midfielders are given enough time to play dangerous through balls.

Great midfield play sets the table for success, but it takes a village to win a Premier League match. Liverpool cannot continue to defend like a bunch of goldfish out of water if they want to succeed against Everton. Moreover, Simon Mignolet has to step up and anchor the back line.

In the 4-0 win in January, Everton created a multitude of chances and held 61% possession. The key for Liverpool in that match was to lure Everton forward, take the ball back in the defensive midfield, and then counter attack with pace. Roberto Martinez will be wary of this, but there's no stopping Liverpool if they can play with as much fluency and cohesion as they showed in the second half of last season.

You can't expect anything from a game like this besides murderous challenges, cards, and high drama. That's why it's in the highest echelon of sports rivalries; despite hundreds of matches of history between the sides, something new and unexpected happens every time. Oh and the passion runs pretty high too.

Other Thoughts:

-Mario Balotelli will be the main man in the attack again and so it's important that he continues to work hard as he searches for his first league goal with Liverpool.

-On the injury front Daniel Sturridge could play a part as a substitute, but any impact that he provides will be an unexpected bonus given that he's far from 100% fitness.

-Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson are locks to start, but it's unclear who will round out the midfield. Lucas cramped up at the end of the Middlesbrough game and both Allen and Can are out so there's a chance that Coutinho gets the nod.

-Raheem Sterling will probably start even though he played 120 midweek minutes in the cup. I wouldn't be surprised to see him sit out against Basel.