Daniel Storey shares his Merseyside derby questions
Everton’s performance in the Merseyside derby in April was not the only reason for Sam Allardyce’s sacking, but it certainly played a part. Even at Goodison, Everton held on for a 0-0 draw like a lower-league team in the FA Cup. They ceded territory and possession to Liverpool. Even the point gained was not enough to appease supporters who believed Allardyce was quickly giving Everton a small-club mentality.
Marco Silva has brought an attacking edge to Everton that was not present last season. Under Allardyce, Everton ranked 20th in the Premier League for total shots and 19th for chances created. So far this season, Everton rank sixth for total shots and fifth for chances created. A change has come.
But is attacking Liverpool a foolhardy strategy? Jurgen Klopp’s team have not lost in the league at Anfield since April 2017.
The teams who have sat back against them have eventually been bullied, but those who have played in a more carefree manner have conceded in threes and fours. If Silva as recruited partly because of his attacking football, Sunday provides a huge test of whether he also has a Plan B.
We can loosely refer to it as the ‘Kante index’. The number of tackles and interceptions is not the perfect judge of a central midfielder’s quality, but it does highlight those all-action players who put out fires across the pitch.
This season, only three Premier League players have managed more than 65 tackles and interceptions combined. Third is Watford’s Etienne Capoue and second is Crystal Palace right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka on 72 and 81 respectively. Way out in front is Idrissa Gueye on 89. He hasn’t even started all of Everton’s matches. If Everton are to have any chance of a result at Anfield, Gueye needs to be at his absolute best. He must look after Xherdan Shaqiri and Georginio Wijnaldum’s runs forward from central midfield, but also offer cover to both full-backs against two of the most adept wide forwards in Europe. Good luck.
In his first five league matches of the season, Alisson registered a passing accuracy of over 82% as he instantly looked like the answer to all of Liverpool’s goalkeeping problems. But his mistake against Leicester City, when he was caught in possession attempting a Cruyff turn, has given opposition managers hope that he can be ruffled. In his last eight league games, Alisson’s passing accuracy has dropped from 82% to 77%.
Picked as a central striker but with the remit to roam where he pleases to cause trouble, Richarlison will be Everton’s greatest chance of an Anfield goal. The young Brazilian is hard-working, too. Only two Premier League players have won possession more times from an opponent in the final third.
As soon as Alisson receives the ball to feet, Richarlison will be tasked with putting his countryman under pressure and forcing Alisson to kick it long. Stopping the supply line as early as possible is necessary to clog up the Liverpool machine.
Lucas Digne has been one of Everton’s standout players of the season so far, but there’s no doubt where his strengths lie. No Premier League defender has created more chances this season and only Gylfi Sigurdsson has created more for Everton, which is ludicrous given that Digne has only started ten of a possible 13 league games.
But Silva has a big call to make. If he tells Digne to stick to type, marauding down the left and overlapping Bernard, he can double up on Trent Alexander-Arnold and cause Liverpool defensive headaches. But woe betide any left-back that gets caught up the field when facing Mohamed Salah. Give the reigning PFA Player of the Year space and he will surely decide the derby in Liverpool’s favour.
One option would be to play a central defensive three for the first time this season, sacrificing one of Bernard or Theo Walcott but giving licence to Digne and Seamus Coleman to get forward. It’s not a formation Marco Silva has used so far at Everton, but it does have merits.
Jordan Henderson must have felt a ruddy fool for collecting his second yellow card against Watford, not least because it means Liverpool’s captain will miss tomorrow’s derby. But his absence does present Klopp with a problem. If Naby Keita or Fabinho are the natural fits to slot in, Liverpool’s manager has hardly placed all his trust in the pair this season. Wijnaldum and James Milner have all played more league minutes than Keita and Fabinho behind.
This is not the match for experimentation, and Milner may well be the dependable head to join Wijnaldum and Shaqiri if Klopp chooses to attack Everton. But Milner is more comfortable on the left or right of a midfield three than the man in the middle. Is it time to release a £40m+ signing and trust them to come good?