There have been attempts from some quarters to play down Liverpool’s win at The Riverside Stadium on Wednesday night. The theme of those who would like to belittle how well the Reds played, especially in the second-half, is that Middlesbrough aren’t that good and a better team would have stopped us from scoring. Well, they’re not the best team in the Premier League but they’re tight at the back yet they couldn’t stop us scoring three. Better teams have tried and failed to do the same.
It was a genuinely professional performance from Jürgen Klopp’s men and a much needed return to form ahead of one of the biggest games of the season. However much the Blues like might to pretend otherwise, the Merseyside derby is more important for them than it is for Liverpool, with the Manchester United game now taking precedent owing to the two sides’ relative fortunes. The Everton game is still massive, however, and this might be one of the most closely contested in years.
Any squad that loses two or three starters would suffer and our side has been no exception to that rule. Philippe Coutinho remains absent for this one, though the Brazilian announced this week that he’s targeting a return against Manchester City on New Year’s Eve. The manager’s pre-match press conference did shed some light on the other injuries, though he couldn’t say with any confidence that any of those who’ve been missing recently will be making an appearance at Goodison Park.
Daniel Sturridge still hasn’t been training with the first-team, though Klopp is hopeful that he might train over the weekend and if he does then he could find himself on the bench. Emre Can has been training and ‘felt no pain’ in his knee on Thursday so hopefully he’ll be in the squad at the very least. The more worrying news is that Joel Matip has been ‘suffering pain for two or three weeks’ and continues to do so. It isn’t a specific injury but he has now missed two games recently and so he is a doubt for the game.
Klopp made a big call to drop Loris Karius for the match against Middlesbrough. The German has been struggling for form since he was promoted to the first XI, finding himself in the spotlight of the media and at the centre of a bizarre story involving both of the Neville brothers. The manager’s decision to bring Simon Mignolet back in was rewarded with a clean sheet and he confirmed in his press conference that the Belgian will keep his place for the derby. The team as I see it, then: Mignolet – Clyne – Klavan – Lovren – Milner – Henderson – Lallana – Wijnaldum – Mané – Firmino – Origi.
The Blues picked up their second league win since September the 17th in midweek, coming from behind the beat Arsenal despite looking genuinely awful for the first twenty minutes of the game. Their performance was almost certainly aided by the absence of Gareth Barry from the starting XI, though the former Aston Villa man has been rewarded with a new contract so he might well find himself back in the team for Monday night.
I’d be at least slightly surprised if that was the case, however. Ronald Koeman is a fan of rewarding players who deserve it so I wouldn’t be shocked to see him opt for the same line-up against us as he went for against the Gunners. That’s with the exception of Phil Jagielka, of course, who was sent off for two bookable offences on Tuesday night. With that in mind I would be surprised to see a side different from this on Monday night: Stekelenburg – Coleman – Funes Mori – Williams – Baines – McCarthy – Gueye – Barkley – Valencia – Lukaku – Lennon.
The big question for Liverpool as we head into the tricky festive period is whether or not our form before the match against Boro was a genuine slump and, if it was, was the win at The Riverside a sign that we’re on our way out of it? We’ve still only lost two games all season and in all competitions, so there’s no need to be hitting the panic button just yet. Our form of late looks sketch when you write it down in the traditional style, though, saying W-D-W-L-D-W. Hopefully we see a few more Ws in there as we head towards the New Year.
For Everton the story is decidedly different. They started the season well, with the famed ‘new manager bounce’ seeing them collect four wins on the spin after an opening day draw against Spurs. They lost to Norwich in the EFL Cup, however, and one just one of their next five. They were thumped 5-0 by Chelsea at the start of November, drew 1-1 with Swansea and lost 1-0 to Southampton to see out the month. So far in December they’ve drawn one, lost one, won one; though to be fair their draw was against a resurgent Manchester United and the win was against all-conquering Arsenal.
It’s become fairly standard on Merseyside for Liverpool fans to be bullish around derby time and for Evertonians to fear the worst. One win in eighteen games will do that to a side. Yet I’m not feeling as confident as I should be and fear that this could be one time when the Blues get a Christmas gift of three points. What should you be betting on? Here are my thoughts:
Merseyside derbies are traditionally fiery affairs. It is the fixture that has produced the most red cards in top-flight history in England, after all. I’m not sure that it will be as bad tempered as previous years have been, but I do think the Blues will find it difficult to resist the urge to fly into a few tackles when the crowd is roaring them on. They may feel that this is a Liverpool side that ‘won’t like it up ‘em’. Combine that with the fact that Wirral resident Mike Dean is the referee and you’re likely to encounter a game that features more than a few bookings.
If you’re a conspiracy theorist then you might surmise that Mr. Dean will be keen to prove that he’s not bias against either side. With that in mind the 4/1 available for Both Teams To Get The Same Number Of Bookings looks very interesting indeed. If you think that this game could have the same disciplinary issues as previous encounters then the 11/4 you can find for A Sending Off will be worth a punt. If you think both sides will be as bad as each other then it’s as long as 20/1 for Both Sides To Get A Red Card.
Mike Dean Loves Penalties
Every team believes that referees are bias against them, yet no other ref seems to enjoy giving penalties as much as Mike Dean. The Wirralpudlian refereed 33 games last season and awarded 11 spot-kicks. So far this campaign he’s been in charge of 12 games and pointed to the spot 8 times. Across 17 seasons he’s given 130 penalties in 411 matches. That’s about one in three. For that reason I reckon you should lump on the 9/4 you can find for A Penalty In The Game.
Who’ll Get On The Scoresheet?
James Milner is Liverpool’s penalty taker. Leighton Baines takes the penalties for Everton. If you’re as convinced as I am that a penalty will be awarded in this game then you might want to look to one of those two as your goalscorer bet. Milner is around 4/1 to Score Anytime and that must be worthy of some serious consideration. If you think Dean is more likely to favour the home side then Baines to Score Anytime is about 8/1 and may interest you more.
Divock Origi has now notched up five goals in his last five games and seems to be in the middle of a very purple purple patch. He also looked like a more cohesive part of the attacking three against Middlesbrough so I wouldn’t rule out him making it five out of five. If you agree then you’ll want to stick some money on Origi as Anytime Goalscorer, which is 6/4.
I’m putting my faith in our Belgian centre-forward to continue his scoring spree and I think you should, too. Origi is 6/4 to Score Anytime and I think that’s worth £10 of anyone’s money. I like to recommend bets that are as close to sure things as you can get, so I’d be very annoyed if Mike Dean didn’t award a spot-kick. It’s 9/4 for A Penalty To Be Awarded To Either Side and if you don’t put some money on that then don’t come crying to me afterwards.