Baines’ delivery would have made big difference for United against Chelsea

Although Manchester United had the better of the play in their 0-0 stalemate against Chelsea last night, one of the areas that David Moyes will look to improve is the final ball delivered from widemen. Patrice Evra in particular was guilty of poor distribution and had a glorious opportunity to create chances as he found himself in space.

With Danny Welbeck starting on the wing to facilitate Wayne Rooney, the England international’s first instinct was to drift in-field to get involved in United’s attack and support Robin van Persie. With Branislav Ivanovic forced to follow Welbeck, Evra came forward into space.

Leighton Baines

The France international’s delivery was ordinary all game. With United linked to Baines, I can’t help but think that the Everton man’s crossing and constant overlapping runs could well have proved very problematic for Chelsea.

Whether or not Baines is a better overall player or not than Evra or worth the inflated price tag given he is 28 remains to be seen. However last night United could have used his pinpoint accuracy.

How Martinez can lead Everton to the Champions League

He probably didn’t want it made public at his introductory press conference, but according to Everton chairman Bill Kenwright, one of the first things Roberto Martinez said to him was ‘I can get you in to the Champions League’. It’s a big statement of intent, but can it be achieved? For a club that has only finished in a Champions League spot once, albeit they failed to overcome Villarreal in the qualifying round, pushing on from their usual fifth – seventh dwelling is a big ask. However, it’s by no means an impossibility. Who would have thought this season’s cup winners would be Swansea and Wigan? Getting themselves above Arsenal, Spurs and Liverpool and in o fourth would be a greater achievement even than Martinez’s relegation escapes and the FA Cup win. So, how can he do it?

Keeping Leighton Baines, Marouane Fellaini and Kevin Mirallas is going to be critical. They are the Everton players who are most desired by other teams, who most belong in the Champions League. Keeping them will not be easy, despite Kenwright’s assurances than no players are for sale. However, Fellaini has a release clause in his contract of around £24m, which makes him vulnerable. His physicality and tenacity have been key factors in giving Everton the toughness and multidimensional attacking virtues that have made them top-six mainstays. Although not always the most elegant on the ball he has shown he can play as a rugged defensive midfielder, or even as a second striker. Such versatility is a valuable asset. One of the questions about Martinez’s Wigan was that they had no Plan B. If passing didn’t work they couldn’t figure out another way to score. Although Fellaini is less technical than Martinez’s ideal, he is a key force for Everton and gives them a legitimate Plan B. It’s possible that Man United, Chelsea, or even Monaco, could open up the release clause.

Bill Kenwright and Roberto Martinez

Keeping Leighton Baines is more important but could be just as difficult. There is no more consistent player in the league than Baines and his attacking forays from left back in tandem with Steven Pienaar or Mirallas give Everton as good a flank as any team in the league. Baines is a good defender but it’s his attacking output that is staggering. He gets goals and assists as if he’s a winger. For Martinez this is vital. He plays with extreme width; his 3-4-1-2 system at Wigan was designed to space the pitch out as much as possible. Baines could be unstoppable as the left wing back if Martinez brings the system with him. He’s wanted by Moyes at United to replace a possibly Monaco-bound Patrice Evra though.

Kevin Mirallas is the final jewel in the crown but keeping him should be easier. He was arguably Everton’s best player in 2013, regularly putting in performances of devastating thrust in attack and started to score more and more goals. Everton’s attack was their weakness last year, so keeping a major livewire threat in Mirallas is key. Martinez needs pace and width in attack, which he offers in abundance.

Buying a striker is the next most important task. Nikica Jelavic and Victor Anichebe are not strikers who can propel a team in to the top four. Whatever money Everton have, they need to throw it in to getting a proper striker. If Man City are willing to let Edin Dzeko go they could push hard for him, they could get involved in the Christian Benteke bidding or even look at a move for Michu. One way or another, they need a forward who can get them 20+ goals, and be reliable. They can get one for the £15m club record the brought Fellaini to the club, but without one they won’t have a chance.

Combining solid defence with sophisticated attacking play
is the key to Martinez’s possession-based system working for Everton. The defence was good last year, rarely conceding more than once in games. That can be left alone. What does need the Martinez touch is the attack. Everton have been increasingly fluent over recent years so it’s not like he’s inheriting footballing philistines but his tactical set up evolved over his four years at Wigan so might be hard to teach straight away. Everton were excellent at Goodison Park under Moyes but never great away from home. If Martinez can get them dominating possession and playing with the creativity they need, matched with the inherent will to will and desire infused by Moyes and Phil Neville it will be a potent combination.

Lastly, they need luck. If Spurs keep Gareth Bale and Arsenal recruit strongly it’s going to be very hard to overthrow them. They need to be flawless in the transfer market themselves, hope others make errors, and allow Martinez’s brand of football time to bed in. They have the winning, tough mentality, and if they can combine that with added attacking flair the top four is in reach.

Is Marouane Fellaini a good fit for Manchester United?

With David Moyes assuming the Manchester United hotseat, the transfer of Everton’s best players Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini to Old Trafford could well be on the cards. With Baines’ form and Patrice Evra in need of some top competition, the England international’s signing would make sense. But do the Premier League champions need Fellaini?

The Belgian has offered Everton a versatility that could well be useful for United. Fellaini has played most of his football this season as a brutish second striker, but has admitted that he prefers playing as an enforcer in front of his side’s defence.

United could potentially use one new signing in both of these positions. Michael Carrick has been devoid of support over the last 12 months in the centre of the park, while doubts remain over Wayne Rooney’s mindset.

Marouane Fellaini

In the attacking role, Fellaini certainly would provide an addition offensive option. His direct approach, ability in the air and endless running have made him a star in a good Everton team, and Fellaini has proved a nightmare for many a defence, including United’s, over the last 12 months.

In the centre of the midfield, Fellaini would certainly offer United more energy and a physical presence that has been missing since the retirement of Roy Keane. With Paul Scholes hanging up his boots, a creative central midfielder needs to be a priority, however Fellaini’s ability to be a stopper in the centre of the park could also be a sensible signing. Phil Jones has filled the enforcer role well in the recent past, but his preferred position is yet to be determined.

However, whether Fellaini has the ability on the ball and craft to fit into the United passing game is questionable. The Old Trafford faithful will want to avoid a scenario where the side compromise style for a direct approach, and utilising Fellaini in an attacking position could result in this.

Fellaini’s transfer fee is likely to be sizeable given Everton’s financial position, but it appears that he does not have a definite place in the United set-up. His versatility may well be asset, but the Red Devils may well end up signing a player that is good at two positions but great at neither.

Can Kevin Mirallas help Everton leapfrog Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea for a Champions League spot?

Could Mirallas miracles help Everton Edge out two of the London giants for Champions League football?

Behind Manchester United and City in the Premier League, the other big name clubs find themselves scrapping it out for European football and primarily a top-four spot, which grants entry to the glamour of next season’s Champions League. A first glance at how things currently stand would have most people reckoning on two from three of the big London sides, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal joining the Manchester pair in the top four positions come the final day. Everton though, remain within touching distance and with games against both Arsenal and Chelsea still to come, have to an extent, their destiny in their own hands. While Spurs have just lost Gareth Bale for a couple of weeks, the Toffees by contrast, have an exciting player who may just be hitting top form at the right time.

Kevin Mirallas arrived at Goodison last summer amid what could be described as little more than modest optimism. £6 million isn’t really a figure that sets pulses racing these days in the transfer markets, although by Everton’s standards this could be described as David Moyes splashing the cash, if not maybe even getting a bit reckless. The player was signed on the back of a successful campaign in the Greek Super league with Olympiacos, where he scored 20 times. The problem was though that at that time Mirallas, then 24-years-old, had never come close to that sort of goal tally before, despite having several seasons in the French top flight under his belt. He has also only netted six times in over 30 international caps. Moyes however, rarely gets it wrong with his acquisitions and it seems he may now be placed to begin seeing a return on his investment having shunted the player to a wide attacking role.

Kevin Mirallas

Much has been said of the promise on the horizon for Belgian football and the current talented crop migrating from that small nation to Europe’s big leagues. Eden Hazard was the most high-profile acquisition in the summer and he has certainly made an impact. Jan Vertonghen has consistently impressed for Spurs and Mirallas has even been overshadowed by a fellow countryman at Everton thanks to the swashbuckling antics of Marouane Fellaini. The 25-year-old is now though beginning to revel in his role cutting in from the wing and is starting to look as dangerous as anyone in the league.
Early in the season the Belgian showed promise but injuries soon hampered his debut campaign. His comeback stuttered and he impressed only with a cameo here and a dribble there. The last few weeks however have seen him threaten defences consistently and produce two stunning individual goals against Stoke and Spurs.

Granted the Standard Liege youth graduate did land on Merseyside with a poor goal-scoring pedigree but the Greek goal haul and his exploits in the last fortnight suggest he can finish. Despite this it could be that if Moyes continues to deploy him wide he may get the best results. The 25-year-old boasts pace, excellent close control and has the look of a player who can threaten defenders when cutting inside to run at the backline. He also gives Everton a nice balance with his skill on the right to compliment the link- up between Baines and Pienaar on the left. Getting the ball wide to Mirallas could well be another option Everton can deploy when searching for a breakthrough, an alternative to hoisting the ball onto the chest of Fellaini.

Moyes’ men are certainly outsiders for a Champions League berth as they currently trail fourth-placed Tottenham by six points, albeit with a game in hand. They are also though, perennial over-achievers who have finished strongly in recent years and if Mirallas can continue his sparkling form they should not be counted out. A surprise win in their next away fixture at the Emirates would blow the race for the Champions League wide open.

Five players Manchester City should sign this summer

Under Roberto Mancini Manchester City have signed players at the peak of their powers. They have not been scared to pay big money and they are working on a timeline which doesn’t seem to afford them time to develop younger players. City have given him the likes of Matija Nastasic, Scott Sinclair and Jack Rodwell recently but Mancini has tended to favour his more experienced players. With this in mind, I will only suggest the finished articles for them to look at.

Leighton Baines – Everton

Leighton Baines

Scout Report A roving and buccaneering left-back, Baines is one of the most consistent players in the Premier League. He rarely misses any game time and can take matches over from his position, which is a rare talent for a defender. His crossing is amongst the best in the league and he is defensively secure.

Where does he fit? City could buy him, plug him in and leave him there for every game. That is fundamentally what they need at left-back. Aleksandar Kolarov can’t defend and Gael Clichy has real problems staying fit. Signing Baines would fix that in an instant. If Mancini wanted to play wing-backs Baines would be more than comfortable playing there too. He would also add some much need width to City’s play, which can sometimes get narrow and slow. If they move it out to him he will sling a cross in quickly to be attacked. He makes too much sense for how infrequently he is linked to them

How much? Probably not too much given Everton’s financial limitations. Something in the £15m region would probably suffice.

Daniele De Rossi – Roma

Daniele de Rossi

Scout Report The complete midfielder, De Rossi brings an infectious determination to win and unwillingness to accept defeat. He intercepts the ball, makes tackles and scores goals. He is truly the all-around package.

Where does he fit? De Rossi would be an enormous upgrade on the incumbents Gareth Barry and Javi Garcia alongside Yaya Toure. Mancini likes a team of men, of winners, and this is where De Rossi would fit. You wouldn’t see City overwhelmed under pressure as they have been at times this season. He would grab games by the scruff of the neck and shake up those around him. He also has the tactical acumen to move back in to a three-man defence should that system be deployed further.

How much? De Rossi is one of the premier midfielders in the world so would not come cheap. City would have to part with around £30m but they’ve made bigger deals than that in the past.

Mario Gomez – Bayern Munich

Mario Gomez

Scout Report The arch penalty box poacher, Gomez has an incredible goal scoring record throughout his career. A big, strong, physical target man, Gomez spends his game on the last line of the defence and in the box sniffing out opportunities.

Where does he fit? City could do with a striker who doesn’t fancy himself as a footballer. Yes Gomez has his limitations in terms of contribution to open play but City don’t need everyone to do that, they need a big lump who will put the ball in the net with the likes of Silva, Aguero, Nasri, Tevez and Yaya feeding an endless supply line of chances. City’s biggest problem this year has been chance-taking so they could just stick Gomez in and leave him to snaffle them up.

How much? It’s almost impossible to imagine Gomez being part of Pep Guardiola’s plan for Bayern next year so he could be gettable. Surely a bid of around £20m would get this done.

Benat Extebarria – Real Betis

Benat

Scout Report Benat is attracting huge buzz in Spain. He is the conductor of the Betis midfield that has led the team up to a surprise sixth place in La Liga this season. If it wasn’t for Xavi, Benat could very well be strutting his stuff in the Spain midfield, such has been his impact. Benat can operate in a deep playmaking role or buzzing around an opposition box, threading intricate passes or dictating tempo.

Where does he fit? City don’t have anyone like him. They don’t have a central midfielder who can take on the mantle of setting the tempo when in possession. Silva likes to operate further forward or wider and possession utilisation isn’t Yaya’s strong suit. Mancini tried to get his ilk with a brief experimentation with Claudio Pizarro last season so he is clearly open to the idea.

How much? Betis wouldn’t be in a position to turn down £10m.

Dede – Vasco de Gama

Dede

Scout Report Dede is a 24-year-old  central defender with a crunching tackle who is aerially dominant. He also has an ability to carry the ball forward from defence and play penetrating passes. He is quick enough and incredibly strong. Regarded as the best defender in Brazil locally.

Where does he fit? The spot next to Kompany has been a revolving door this year. The solidity of last year has gone and they defended poorly in Europe particularly. Dede can be purchased and if Mancini resists the urge to tinker, left to settle in next to Kompany. The Belgian is the ideal defender to come in next to, which would give Dede a chance to adapt and thrive. His physique is ideal for England and for City who like big defenders.

How much? Buying from Brazil isn’t as easy as it used to be so this would surely cost £12m plus.

Is it time for Everton and David Moyes to part company?

Is the time right for Moyes to move on?

Next week marks the 11th year anniversary of David Moyes taking charge of Everton but after Saturday’s 3-0 FA Cup quarter-final defeat to Wigan he may feel it is time for a change for both himself and the club when his contract runs out in the summer.

After such a lacklustre performance in such a big game for the club, Moyes may wonder how much longer he can continue getting so close to that elusive first trophy only for his players to seemingly freeze when the opportunity presents itself. Just like last year when they held a 1-0 half-time lead over Liverpool in the semi-final; they seemed to go into their shells and not have the belief to grasp the chance of glory.

He will certainly not be short of offers if he does decide to call time on his tenure at Goodison Park. His record in the league has been outstanding considering the budget he has had compared to the teams he has been competing with. For the last six seasons Everton have finished no lower than eighth and they are likely to finish higher than that this season as well. Add into that Champions League qualification once and three times qualifying for the Europa League and Moyes has unquestionably regalvanised the club.

David Moyes

Moyes has completely rebuilt the team as well to include players who are now coveted by some of Europe’s top clubs. His record in the transfer market has been exceptional. The likes of Marouane Fellaini, Steven Pienaar and Nikica Jelavic have all had an impact to make Everton an attacking force, not forgetting the now departed Mikel Arteta. He has also turned Everton into a solid defensive unit with the consistent Tim Howard in goal, the experience of Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka at centre-back and the ever improving Leighton Baines at left back.

Having these good players though may provide another reason for Moyes to consider his future in the summer. Fellaini seems almost certain to leave in the summer with Chelsea rumoured to be preparing a bid. Baines also seems certain to attract interest in the summer having been the league’s most consistent left-back this season. Manchester United continue to be linked with him, and a move could especially be on the cards if Patrice Evra makes his way to PSG. If these types of players are sold and with no news on the horizon of new investment, Moyes may feel there is no more that he can achieve.

A couple of months ago Moyes already stated his ambition to manage abroad at some point, citing Germany as his ideal destination.

“I always had the hope of being a coach abroad. If I had the choice, I would probably go to Germany, in part because of the mentality, which is similar to mine. I’m also fascinated by what happens in German football.”

Decision time is inching closer and closer for Moyes. There is no doubt that the board and fans want him to stay, but is the constant saga about whether he will sign or not beginning to have an unsettling effect on the players? Does a defeat like the one on Saturday make him even more determined to come back fighting next season? Or does it just confirm to him that enough is enough and he now needs to seek a new challenge?

These are all questions that need to be answered quickly, ideally with a decision from Moyes himself, otherwise Everton may find themselves wasting their good work from the first three quarters of the season.

By Chris Newman

Chelsea’s Mata, Man United’s Evans and the undervalued Premier League XI for 2011-12

It is that time of the year when everywhere you look there is a Premiership Best XI or team of the season, but what about all those unsung heroes and subs that have contributed to their team’s success in one way or another? Here is Ninety Minutes Online’s Undervalued XI of 2011-12.

GK: Tim Howard – The former Manchester United shot stopper has been one of the most consistent goalkeepers in the division for some time now. Capable of excellent reflex saves and with a commanding presence, the United States international has lead the Everton defence in conceding just 39 goals all season, which has included keeping 12 clean sheets. Having played every Premier League game this term, the goalkeeper has once more proved invaluable to the Merseyside team.

RB: Bacary Sagna – With the Arsenal defence being inconsistent, this man has been their shining light. Excellent defensively and dangerous going forward, the full-back has come to the fore this season, and is just as effective as Kyle Walker, Micah Richards etc. Another leg break at the tail-end of the campaign is a massive blow for the Gunners, and Arsene Wenger will hope to have the France international fit for the start of next season.

CB: Branislav Ivanovic – With John Terry seemingly in the limelight on a weekly basis, Ivanovic has been there going about his work effectively. Contributing three goals to the cause, including the decider against Napoli in the Champions League, and armed with an array of defensive capabilities, the Serb’s versatility and combativeness has been showcased this term.

CB: Johnny Evans – Evans has been a squad player in recent seasons, but with injury to Nemanja Vidic the centre half has had a run in the team and finally had the chance to show what he is capable of. The Northern Ireland international has played 27 games this year, and has been the subject of praise from Sir Alex Ferguson.

LB: Leighton Baines – Despite Ashley Cole being considered by many as England’s number one left-back, Leighton Baines has had an excellent campaign and will push the Chelsea man for a starting jersey at Euro 2012. With a deadly left foot and excellent delivery, the Toffees defender has been linked with a move to Manchester United this summer.

RM: This position was a hard call, but it is going to Stephane Sessegnon of Sunderland. Assured on the ball and with an eye for goal to match, the attacking midfielder seems destined for bigger things. Ten assists and seven goals for The Black Cats this year has confirmed the attacker’s importance to the Stadium of Light outfit; it remains to be seen whether he will stay or move on to a top six club.

CM: With a mass of players to choose from, the first central midfielder is Moussa Dembele from Fulham. He is quickly becoming integral in the Cottagers’ set up and seems another player with potential for the big time. Martin Jol’s men have had a steady season, and with Dembele providing athleticism, stamina, tackling, and scoring an occasional goal, he really is a lynchpin in the side.

CM: Yohan Cabaye – With Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse hogging the headlines, the strikers’ supply line can be overlooked. Cabaye is a critical member of Alan Pardew’s starting XI, and the talented midfielder drives their possession game. With eight assists and four goals, the France international has been one of the signings of the season.

LM: This position goes to Juan Mata of Chelsea. His countryman David Silva has been phenomenal in Manchester City’s challenge for the title, but Mata at the other end of the country has provided 13 assists and 6 goals in Chelsea’s inconsistent season.

CF: Jermain Defoe – Despite starting on the bench in 20 games this year, Defoe has still contributed vital goals for Spurs. One of England’s deadliest finishers, the diminutive marksman may be looking for a move away from White Hart Lane if he is not assured more than a bit-part role for next term.

CF: Grant Holt – The Norwich City targetman has led the line for the newly-promoted side, scoring 14 goals this year, to keep the Canaries safely up on their return to the Premier League. A potential candidate for Euro 2012; as the second highest scoring Englishman in the top flight behind Wayne Rooney, Holt is sure to be in Roy Hodgson’s thoughts.

There were literally dozens of players to choose from when compiling this team; it was almost impossible to choose. We may be blessed with the Rooney’s, Bale’s, Aguero’s, and Van Persie’s, but the competitive nature of the league means there is a vast array of talent that can at times get overlooked.

By Stephen Reid

England and Euro 2012: Who will be in the squad, and how will they fair in Group D?

England interim manager Stuart Pearce has this week revealed that the nation’s squad for Euro 2012 will be named before the end of the Premier League campaign, whether a new permanent boss is in place or not. With the last game of the season on Sunday 13th May, it is reasonable to expect the successful and unsuccessful players to be unveiled a couple of days before this. With this date only two weeks away, who will be stepping out for the Three Lions in Ukraine and Poland?

Goalkeepers – Joe Hart is a shoe-in, and the Manchester City stopper is an outside shout to be the next national captain. Consistent, agile and assured, Hart is a real attribute to the home nation.

GK to go: Hart, Carson, Stockdale

GK to miss out: Ruddy

Defenders – John Terry’s inclusion or exclusion could well depend on the new boss, with the consideration of Rio Ferdinand also entering into the equation; the Chelsea centre half is to stand court for racially abusing the Manchester United man’s brother Anton. Other central defenders to be included should be Gary Cahill, Phil Jones and Joleon Lescott.

At left back Ashley Cole will travel, whilst Leighton Baines is currently injured but will recover in time. On the right, PFA Young Player of the Year Kyle Walker will expect to be included, as will seasoned international Glen Johnson. Micah Richards has been an outcast under Fabio Capello, but under-21 boss Pearce would surely select his former player, potentially to the detriment of the Liverpool man.

DF to go: Walker, Richards, Cahill, Terry, Lescott, Jones, Cole, Baines

DF to miss out: Ferdinand, King, Johnson, Dawson, Smalling

Midfielders – England will most likely play four across midfield, and this will be the most tightly-contested element of the squad. Scott Parker and Frank Lampard are almost certainties, Steven Gerrard hangs in the balance depending on fitness, Paul Scholes is an outside shout, whilst Tom Cleverley, Jack Rodwell and Jack Wilshere will miss out through injury.

On the flanks, Ashley Young will travel if he stays fit, as will Stewart Downing despite an inconsistent campaign. Aaron Lennon needs to get back to his best, Jordan Henderson looks unlikely whilst Arsenal team-mates Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may well be in direct competition for a place.

MF to go: Young, Downing, Barry, Parker, Lampard, Gerrard, Scholes, Walcott

MF to miss out: Wilshere, Rodwell, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lennon, Henderson, Joe Cole, Cleverley, Carrick, Milner, A.Johnson

Strikers – Although Wayne Rooney will be suspended for the first two group games of the tournament, it will take a brave manager to leave out the Manchester United forward. Darren Bent faces a risk against time due to his knee injury, whilst Andy Carroll will need a strong end of season to convince the selectors. Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge should be included, whilst Jermain Defoe is a 50-50.

ST to go: Rooney, Welbeck, Sturridge, Defoe

ST to miss out: Bent, Carroll, Crouch

Group Games

England vs France, June 11: Old enemies renew their rivalry in the Group D opener, and these two will be favourites to progress. Without Rooney England may lack direction in attack, and will need to be regimented to stave off the advances of Ribery, Benzema and Remy.

Prediction: 0-0

England vs Sweden, June 15: The Three Lions have suffered disappointment against the Scandinavian nation in international competitions in the past, and Sweden are a slightly unpredictable entity. Led by AC Milan’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Swedes will be no pushover.

Prediction: 1-1

England vs Ukraine, June 19: With a tight group likely to go down to the wire, England will face co-hosts Ukraine in the last round of fixtures in what will be a test of their character and resolve. Rooney’s return will be a boost, but England must be at their best to quell a pumped-up opponent and crowd.

Prediction: 2-1 win

Published – Soccerlens

Liverpool vs Everton: Merseyside bragging rights on the line in FA Cup semi-final

Merseyside rivals Liverpool and Everton go head-to-head on Saturday at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-final, in a massively important match for both sides. Kenny Dalglish will be eager to replicate the team’s heroics in the Carling Cup and draw attention away from under-par league form, whilst David Moyes knows that he is 180 minutes away from lifting his first trophy for the Goodison Park club.

Liverpool ended a terrible run of six defeats from seven games with a 3-2 victory over Blackburn on Tuesday night, with Andy Carroll heading the injury-time winner. Despite inconsistency in the league this campaign, the Reds have been more determined in the cup competitions, and have eliminated both Manchester clubs and Chelsea from the FA or Carling Cup this term.

Triumph in the Carling Cup has only papered over the cracks of a mediocre campaign for the Anfield outfit, with director of football Damien Comolli given the axe earlier in the week. King Kenny is now under pressure to deliver, and with ambitious American owners eager for success, a defeat to bitter rivals Everton would put a question mark over the Scottish manager’s future. With Liverpool also behind their cross-town neighbours in the Premier League standings, Reds fans are becoming impatient and frustrated.

Everton meanwhile have had a strong second half of the season, and David Moyes’ men have looked like a dangerous and difficult opponent since the turn of the year. The Toffees are up to seventh place in the league, and have beaten the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham over the last three months. Comprehensive victories over Sunderland both in the league and the last round of the cup will see Everton enter the fixture with confidence. However two derby defeats to Liverpool this term will stick in the memory, and spur Moyes’ men on.

A clever January transfer window has been a key factor in the club’s rejuvenation, with the additions of Steven Pienaar, Darron Gibson, temporarily Landon Donovan and especially Nikica Jelavic adding quality to an already able squad. The Croatian striker in particular has impressed, and the travelling Goodison Park fans will pray the ex-Rangers forward can inspire his team to victory on Saturday. Everton have not lifted a trophy since winning the FA Cup back in 1995, with a solitary Paul Rideout goal ensuring a 1-0 win over Manchester United.

A number of factors will be important in deciding the outcome of the fixture, with key personal battles all over the pitch. With Pepe Reina and Doni both unavailable, Brad Jones will start in goal for Liverpool, with their opponents sure to test the inexperienced stopper early on. The clash between England colleagues Leighton Baines and Glen Johnson could also play a part in the result, as both full-backs play an important role going forward for their sides.

In any Merseyside derby there will be passion, and the midfield battle between Steven Gerrard, Jay Spearing, Darron Gibson and Marouane Felliani will dictate possession. Finally, Luis Suarez and Nikica Jelavic will look to build on promising individual campaigns, and pose the biggest threat to goal.

Published – Soccerlens

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