Four key battles that could decide the Merseyside derby

Next up in the Premier League is a big one: it's the Merseyside Derby and Liverpool simply have to get back to winning ways against their bitter rivals.

The international break came at somewhat of a good time for Jurgen Klopp's side.

Putting controversy aside, the Reds ultimately picked up just one point from two games before the break, and the 12-day hiatus was a chance to reassess how to get back on track.

Everton on the other hand, are coming into the fixture in slightly better form off the back of a 3-0 win at home to Bournemouth, even if that was only the Toffees' second win this season.

READ MORE: Liverpool vs Everton – Match Preview

In terms of league position, Liverpool are sat in fourth on 17 points after an incredibly hard set of fixtures, while Everton are languishing in 16th place on just seven points. However, as Anfield Watch writer Sam McGuire points out, these positions aren't entirely representative of the underlying stats.

Everton have an Expected Points total of 14.34 this season, which would put them in seventh place, just one behind Liverpool with an Expected Points total of 14.7.

An unlucky Everton side coupled with the fact that the game is being played as the early kick-off on the Saturday after the break – this fixture has huge banana skin potential for Klopp and co.

The Reds need to on it to come away with the three points. Here are four key battles that could decide the tie.


MOHAMED SALAH vs VITALIY MYKOLENKO

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, February 13, 2023: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah (L) celebrates with team-mate Andy Robertson after scoring the opening goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Everton FC, the 242nd Merseyside Derby, at Anfield. Liverpool won 2-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Everton could in truth line up with either Vitaliy Mykolenko or Ashley Young at left-back on Saturday, but if the game against Bournemouth is anything to go by, they will more than likely play both with the Ukrainian playing in his preferred position.

While Everton have been very poor this season, when Mykolenko has played, the Blues have looked significantly more solid.

The left-back didn't make an appearance in any of the first four games of the season (in which Everton lost three and drew once), but once he forced his way into the team, his side have won two out of the four games he's played in (Brentford and Bournemouth).

READ MORE: Mohamed Salah made 'significant donation' to Gaza aid

However, the 24-year-old's introduction hasn't completely stopped Everton's defensive leaks, with the club's only clean sheet this season coming in the 3-0 win against Bournemouth.

The former Dinamo Kiev star will face his toughest test of the season in keeping Mohamed Salah quiet. The Egyptian has been in superb form all season – as he has been for the past five years – and he has already registered nine goal contributions in the Premier League alone.

He also has five goals in nine outings vs Everton. One more strike will make him Liverpool's second top Merseyside derby scorer in Premier League history.

RYAN GRAVENBERCH vs AMADOU ONANA

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, October 5, 2023: Liverpool's Ryan Gravenberch (L) celebrates with team-mate Harvey Elliott after scoring the opening goal during the UEFA Europa League Group E matchday 2 game between Liverpool FC and Union SG at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool's starting midfield combo is without doubt the most difficult thing to predict in the lineup this season.

However, if there was ever a game for Ryan Gravenberch to start, it's this one. Everton are going to be physical – collectively, Sean Dyche's side are the top tacklers in the Premier League so far in 2023/24.

Abdoulaye Doucoure, James Garner and Amadou Onana are all robust presences in the centre of the park, with the Belgian in particular perhaps key to the Toffees' break-up play.

READ MORE: How Liverpool should line up to combat Everton's physical battle

For Liverpool, it could be wise to use the 6ft 3in Gravenberch's stature and strength as part of the antidote.

Not only is he strong enough and big enough to deal with Onana physically in a way that Harvey Elliott or even Alexis Mac Allister may struggle with, but he is capable of helping out defensively and isn't afraid to bomb forward with a marauding run when he sees fit.

Gravenberch's starting place isn't guaranteed, but controlling a game as big as the Merseyside derby, especially after his fine form before the international break, would be the perfect opportunity for the 21-year-old to audition for a long-term place in the first XI.

IBRAHIMA KONATE vs DOMINIC CALVERT-LEWIN

© Proshots - Ibrahima Konate

While he has struggled with injury problems more than most, when fit, Dominic Calvert-Lewin possesses undeniable quality that can punish teams if they underestimate him.

The striker has already proven that when he plays a full season, his goalscoring numbers are up there with the best. Way back in 2020/21, he scored 16 goals in 33 appearances (just under a goal every other game) for the Toffees.

This season, he is starting to play himself into a bit of form, with three goals in six games in all competitions.

READ MORE: Why unlucky Everton could be a tough test for Liverpool

When combined with the fact that Liverpool have rarely kept a clean sheet this season, you wouldn't put it past the Englishman to pose a threat at Anfield.

Ibrahima Konate will likely be the man kept busiest with Calvert-Lewin.

The Frenchman is likely to partner Virgil van Dijk at centre back, and Liverpool's tall pairing should be confident in dealing with the aerial threat from Everton – the Toffees are the division's second most prolific crossers this season averaging over 22 a game.

However, Konate will need to be alert to cover the space vacated by Trent Alexander-Arnold's new roaming role.

As good as the Reds have been in attack this season, they've kept just one clean sheet in the Premier League to date.

KOSTAS TSIMIKAS vs DWIGHT MCNEIL

Kostas Tsimikas, ProShots

With Andy Robertson sidelined with what appears to be a significant shoulder injury, there has been some debate about how Klopp will rejig his defence.

While Joe Gomez or even Jarell Quansah could deputise in a hybrid left/centre-back role, the most likely scenario is that Liverpool's 'Greek Scouser', Kostas Tsimikas, will start at Anfield on Saturday.

READ MORE: Three ways Liverpool could line up in Andy Robertson's absence

Tsimikas is great at hugging the touchline and getting forward, but has even more defensive limitations than Robertson.

How he handles the threat of Dwight McNeil who put in a start turn during that win over Bournemouth could prove pivotal on the game.

Stop the crossing machine and pin them back will be Tsimikas' mission. Whether he accomplishes it could decide how much more game time he sees in Robertson's absence.

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