Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 11/20
The Premier League is finally back in action, and after the two matches in midweek completed the 29th round of the 2019/20 season, round 30 brings the Merseyside Derby with it. On Sunday, Liverpool will make a very short trip across Stanley Park to Goodison Park, where they will be hosted by city rivals Everton.
It has been very difficult for the Toffees, looking across the park and seeing their neighbours prosper in the last several years. They haven’t exactly just let it happen without trying to make some progress themselves, but they haven’t been able to keep in step with the Anfield outfit.
Earlier this season, they parted ways with manager Marco Silva and replaced him with the legendary Carlo Ancelotti. Their performances had improved slightly between then and the moment when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, but it only showed the magnitude of the task awaiting the trophy-laden Italian.
Everton go into this match sitting 12th with 37 points to their name. Teams currently lodging in that part of the table are very close together, and though some believe the Blues have a good chance of securing European football for next season, the truth is, they haven’t even secured survival yet.
Of course, as this will be the first game back after a break which lasted over three months, form shown in the previous league matches counts for practically nothing. It might as well be their first game of the season, but for what it’s worth, Everton won two, drew two and lost two of their last six outings in the English top flight.
Ancelotti will have to begin this final stretch of the season without the help of defender Yerry Mina, midfielders Fabian Delph and Jean-Philippe Gbamin, as well as forwards Cenk Tosun and Theo Walcott.
It means Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin are set to start upfront, and it will be interesting to see if Andre Gomes is given a place in midfield from the start. The former Barcelona man has recovered fully from a bad ankle injury he had picked up back in November, but he has been struggling with a minor knock in the last few days.
Despite it being a Merseyside Derby, it’s now simply down to business for the Premier League’s runaway leaders. Their chance to defend the Champions League crown is gone after Atletico Madrid knocked them out in the round of 16, but the first domestic title in 30 years, their 19th overall, has never been closer. That is probably the only thing they’ll be worrying about at this point.
Liverpool’s lead at the top of the table has been reduced from 25 to 22 points after Manchester City beat Arsenal on Wednesday, but it is still a huge mountain to climb for the defending champions. With nine games to go, the Reds only need six points to secure the title beyond any doubt. At the moment, they stand at 82.
As with Everton, the recent form shouldn’t really come into the calculations, but of their last six league games, Liverpool won five and lost one – the shocking 3-0 defeat at the hands of relegation battlers Watford, which ended their hopes of an unbeaten season.
There have been some worries about the fitness of forward Mohamed Salah and left-back Andy Robertson as the two left-footers were noted as missing from training photos for a few days, but manager Jurgen Klopp was adamant in his press conference that nobody is ruled out for the Everton clash.
Everton haven’t won a Merseyside Derby since 2010. The winless run for the Toffees stands at 18 Premier League games and 21 in all competitions, and it’s not very likely to end on Sunday; the 45-point gap between the neighbours is a rather telling sign. At Goodison, they’ve managed to scrape six draws in the last seven encounters with Liverpool, and while that could be an encouraging sign, the fact that the stands will be empty is likely to take away plenty of the comforts playing at home usually brings.
Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 11/20