Liverpool host Everton in a mouthwatering Merseyside derby on Saturday evening.
Both sides harbour expectations of European qualification, and both will be desperate to damage their rivals chances of success.
For Liverpool, victory would enhance confidence and could ignite a run whereby the Red’s look to cement their top four ambitions.
For Everton, a first Anfield victory since Kevin Campbell’s fourth minute winner in 1999 appears as tangible as ever and would propel them level on points with their rivals with a game in hand.
Here are the keys to victory for both Liverpool and Everton on what will be a fascinating Merseyside derby Saturday evening.
Being Courageous & Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s Fitness
It remains a fairly obvious point but one nonetheless that is vital. Calvert-Lewin has been instrumental to Everton’s successes this season, notching 13 goals in 20 Premier League games.
Carlo Ancelotti is hopeful his star striker will return from a hamstring injury in time.
His return is vital. Calvert-Lewin brings more than just goals to this Everton side.
He is a willing runner and a harrier of defenders. The Englishman dominanates in the air but a ruthless finisher in the box.
Liverpool’s defence is makeshift and despite outstanding performances from Ozan Kabak and Jordan Henderson in a clean sheet victory against RB Leipzig in the Champions League they still gave up plenty of good opportunities.
Calvert-Lewin should look to play on the shoulder of Henderson and drag him out into the channels in behind the marauding fullbacks and make darting runs centrally.
Liverpool have struggled with low block sides and the direct counter attacks suffered against them (losses to Burnley and Brighton are contemporary examples).
Therefore Calvert-Lewin will have to hold the ball up well and look to bring his teammates into play in and around the gaps between Liverpool’s midfield and the defence in transition.
If Everton are to get their first win at Anfield in 22 years they will have to be courageous.
Ancellotti’s men must be willing to commit a midfield runner to their counter attacks when turnovers occur.
Calvert-Lewin will be the focus point to the counter attacks and will have to knit them together smartly to cause Liverpool problems.
Mohamed Salah’s Goalscoring Form Must Continue
Mohamed Salah equalled Ian St John’s record of 118 Liverpool goals when he scored against RB Leipzig on Tuesday.
Despite Liverpool’s poor domestic form since the turn of the year, the Egyptian forward remains an ever present shining light in this side.
Salah is the Premier League’s top goalscorer with 17 goals and over the last couple of weeks has been the only Liverpool player who has scored in their last three premier league games.
Worryingly for Klopp, the Egyptian has been the only player who has looked like scoring for Liverpool.
Both Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, despite a European goal on Tuesday for the Senegalese forward, have been bereft of consistent goals and assists since the turn of the year.
If Liverpool are to bat away their fiercest rivals on Saturday, they will need Salah’s rich vein of form to continue.
In recent games, the marauding long ball over the top of opposition fullbacks has been latched onto by Salah with opponents struggling to deal with him.
A moment of magic as seen against Leicester, or the instinctive sniffing of opposition errors as seen against Leipzig, either way, Liverpool will need their main man firing on Saturday.
Toffee’s Must Take Advantage of Set Pieces
Back in October Michael Keane rose above the Liverpool defence to nod past Adrian at Goodison Park.
Fast forward to February and Everton have to be looking to do the same again.
Without Virgil Van Dijk and Jöel Matip Liverpool lack significant height in their side.
Ozan Kabak and Jordan Henderson, the likely centre back partnership standing at 6”1 and 5”11 respectively don’t offer the most stubborn defence from set pieces.
On the other hand Everton possess dangerous threats off of set pieces with the height of Michael Keane and Ben Godfrey.
Liverpool wont have to worry about the 6″5 defender Yerry Mina who Carlo Ancelotti ruled out with a calf injury: “He will not be available for the game on Saturday”.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side have scored eleven goals from set pieces this season, which reflect 32% of their goals this season per whoscored.com.
Therefore, when the opportunity arises, set piece takers Luca Digne and Gylfi Sigurdsson will have to provide quality deliveries for Everton to really capitalise on their physical advantage.
Alexander-Arnold’s Balancing Act
Liverpool’s talismanic homegrown fullback has been criticised this season for giving the ball away numerous times, defending too naively in certain moments and not providing the creative outlet he has been famed for.
This criticism has been correct in parts but is largely mitigated by factors such as injuries, systems being rejigged and general fatigue.
In this game though, Liverpool will need Alexander-Arnold back to his best.
Everton, particularly away from home, attack 40% of the time down their left-hand side, and in all likelihood Richarlison will be the man assigned to that position.
Therefore Alexander-Arnold must perfectly blend the swashbuckling forward runs and the probing passes with guarding against the direct counter-attacks from Everton who will look to play balls in behind him.
Without the safety blanket of Jordan Henderson further up on the right of a midfield three, and Van Dijk’s presence at centre back, he will have to be extra mindful.
He managed to strike a perfect balance against RB Leipzig in midweek, whereas against Leicester and Manchester City at times the gap was too large between fullback and centre back in transition.
Liverpool’s style is always a balancing act, one prerequisite on risk/reward, whereby one small error wherever on the pitch can lead to players being out of position and a vulnerable looking defence.
Get it right however, and Alexander-Arnold can be the game changing match winner he has been since his Anfield debut.
Jurgen Klopp will be hoping for the latter, and that they can begin to get a grip on their top four hopes with a win against their rivals.