In the thick of the Anfield soap opera, which has brought to the sports pages of British newspapers the orgy of hairdresser's-chair gossip usually confined to the TV mags, Sunday's Merseyside derby has become a minor subplot. New England Sports Ventures' stop-start and now concluded takeover,
It's an understandable, even inevitable, shift of emphasis, but a shame when this is one of the biggest Merseyside derbies in a long time. Maybe even one of the most meaningful in its 213-match history. In April 2001, Liverpool made the short hop across Stanley Park to play a relegation-threatened Everton side while itself being dangerously off the Champions League pace, but it's not often that this meeting is a relegation six-pointer. In fact, it hasn't been since 1903-04.
Under-fire Liverpool manager
Nonetheless, a win would lift either side into the relative comfort of mid-table and offer the promise of renewed optimism for the campaign ahead. Everton has not been playing that badly, but it has struggled to find the net. For Liverpool, things are simpler: It really has been playing that badly.
On paper, this is a fantastic time for Everton to play host to its neighbor, which has rarely looked so ripe for the taking. In front of its own fans -- gone are the days when the crowd would unite as one Merseyside mass -- and having ruined Birmingham City's yearlong unbeaten home run with a 2-0 win last time out, it should be advantage blue.
But, as Everton fans will be only too aware, the form book is rarely a guide here. When Liverpool last visited, in November last year, it had just taken two points from nine and the relationship between the club's support and
The problem this season for Everton manager
Not a bad option when he's in the form (and against a defense that's conceded seven goals in its last three league games), but Yakubu -- out of shape and out of sorts after an aborted move away this summer -- is still feeling his way into this season. Some fans are keen to see Moyes pair him with Beckford, easing the burden for both of them, but it's more likely that he'll hope Yakubu has turned a corner and load the midfield.
Where Moyes will be keen to get it right is out wide. Liverpool has shown a real lack of width and has fullbacks to encourage Everton forward in these areas.
As for Liverpool, Hodgson needs to select carefully across the middle, where Liverpool has offered a flawless demonstration of the problem with "square pegs in round holes" for much of the campaign. Liverpool has won eight of its last 10 matches at Goodison Park, and after this week, no Hollywood scriptwriter would want to stain that record. But it will take a major shift in performance level.
Players who can't rouse themselves for this match should be in short supply (and quickly removed). For the manager's part, it means round pegs. Both
Hodgson knows he must attend to Everton left back
Together, Lucas and Meireles give the middle bite and guile, allowing
Hodgson must trust the wings to players bought to play there. With
Instilling that change of approach is as important for Liverpool as any change of personnel. Hodgson hasn't set out a Liverpool side like the one above, and the manager has shown remarkable inertia by failing to make changes mid-game and repeatedly picking some of the weaker performers. Having paid $7.2 million for Poulsen, he seems determined to prove the Danes' worth, and
Both teams need to be steeled for a frantic start to a fixture that has included more red cards than any other Premier League meeting (19 since 1992). Defeat is unthinkable for each. There will be no space, no respite, and the first goal -- if it comes -- will do much to define the course of the match. It's a little early to say that these 90 minutes will define the course of the season to come for either side, but they will certainly do much to what is dreamed in the L4 postal code in the weeks to come.