The first Merseyside derby of the season gets underway tomorrow afternoon at Goodison, with Everton looking to continue their hot start to the season and Liverpool hoping to play catch-up.
There's exciting and there's I think what I'm feeling is excitement but I also wish I was dead, and matches against Everton, Manchester United, and the Fernando Torres-era Chelsea typically fall into the latter category. In theory they're "fun" to watch, but the actual product varies in terms of quality and almost always produces a viewing experience that involves more anxiety than joy regardless of the result. The potential for shame, embarrassment, and catastrophic failure is just too high, and watching Liverpool take part in that type of event makes my blood try to escape my body.
So there's that. On a more normal level tomorrow's all the things we've already read--a chance for Everton to stick around the top four awhile longer, a chance for Liverpool to continue their climb up the Premier League table, and a chance for local rivals to continue tradition and fight for bragging rights. It's cliche, but familiarity most definitely does breed contempt, and last season provided more opportunities for contempt than usual, particularly for Everton supporters, who witnessed three defeats between the league and FA Cup meetings.
We'll find out tomorrow whether or not this season will be any different for the blue half of Merseyside, but early indications are that David Moyes' squad have a legitimate chance to top Liverpool for the second consecutive year. They've been very solid to this point, starting their season off with a 1-0 defeat of United and notching victories against Swansea, Southampton, and Villa along the way. Draws away from Goodison in their last two haven't been quite as impressive, but against Wigan they fought back late to level on a Leighton Baines penalty and at QPR they hung on with only ten men after Steven Pienaar's dismissal.
Two yellows for Pienaar means that he'll miss out, but Moyes is expected to have both Marouane Fellaini and Tony Hibbert back in the squad. Darren Gibson is still ruled out, but other than he and Pienaar, Everton will be at full strength. That's meant Tim Howard in goal, Hibbert (if available), Sylvain Distin, Phil Jagielka, and Leighton Baines across the back, and Seamus Coleman, Fellaini, Leon Osman, and Phil Neville in the midfield with Kevin Mirallas playing just off Nikica Jelavic in attack.
Wisdom Skrtel Agger Johnson
Suso Suarez Sterling
No fresh worries from the narrow win over Anzhi on Thursday, although there's bound to be concern about the recovery time for those who looked off the pace towards the end. Lucas, Martin Kelly, and Fabio Borini are confirmed, and Pepe Reina's fate was supposed to be decided one way or the other by today.
Popular sentiment seems to be that the back five should largely be identical to what we saw against Anzhi and Reading--that means Brad Jones instead of Pepe Reina, a choice that's bound to stir up some sort of discomfort. The rest is status quo unless there's room for Jamie Carragher, which there shouldn't be, so we'll hopefully get the impressive Andre Wisdom on the right, Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger in the middle, and Glen Johnson on the left, where he's flourished to this point in the season and cemented his place as one of the league's top fullbacks.
Joe Allen's a certainty to return to the midfield, and Steven Gerrard is a lock even after playing the entire match against Anzhi. That leaves either Jonjo Shelvey or Nuri Sahin as the third midfielder, and with the Turkish international playing significant minutes in both the wins this past week, I think that leaves Shelvey as the frontrunner. I still think a midfield with Allen and Jordan Henderson could control the match comfortably, but I've resigned myself to the latter getting minutes sparingly.
There's no other choice than to start Luis Suarez again, and after the drop-off on Thursday it's more than a little concerning. This is the problem the summer's failings have wrought; if Brendan Rodgers wants to take more than one competition seriously, he's going to have to do it at the expense of his best players. There's probably going to be enough adrenaline to carry Suarez for a little bit, and hopefully Raheem Sterling and Suso can provide enough support to give the Uruguayan a bit of a break. A reserve role for Oussama Assaidi seems on the cards, although I wouldn't complain if he figured into the eleven somehow.
Tomorrow's match will be easy to catch but comes at a wonky time--British Summer Time is ending, but Daylight Savings in the US doesn't switch until next week. That means kickoff is now 1:30PM GMT/9:30AM EST, which next week signaling a change back to the more common five hour gap. Live coverage will be on Sky Sports 1 in the UK and ESPN2/ESPN3.com in the US, and we'll have the team sheets ready an hour before the start time as part of the matchday thread.
Hope you join us for the match, and that you enjoy your Saturday ahead of what'll likely be a nervy Sunday.