The Big Match Tactical View: Liverpool v Everton
What selection surprises do Kenny Daglish and David Moyes have in store?
"I think both managers will err on the side of caution."
The first FA Cup semi-final is a Merseyside derby between Liverpool and Everton - Michael Cox ponders which side will make the running.
Liverpool v Everton, Saturday 12:30, ESPN.
When football matches are played at a neutral venue, there's often a big question about which side has the onus to make the running. In this fixture, this might be a particular problem.
For starters, Liverpool are on a truly dreadful run, and are clearly lacking confidence. The dramatic late win at Blackburn on Tuesday night will have lifted the spirits, but Thursday's sacking of Damien Comolli, while unlikely to have affected the team directly, demonstrates the nervousness around the club at the moment.
Everton, on the other hand, are generally a reactive side in Merseyside derbies. They often seem content to defend deep and soak up pressure early, before attacking more in the second half. The first few minutes could be a stand-off, and I'm going to back a half-time 0-0 at [2.9].
In terms of selection, I think both managers will err on the side of caution. For Kenny Dalglish, this would mean starting Luis Suarez upfront alone, with Andy Carroll a plan B for later on. Dalglish will need a good defensive player up on the right against Leighton Baines - a job for Dirk Kuyt - and because Everton defend narrow, a natural wide player like Stewart Downing on the opposite side makes sense.
In midfield Steven Gerrard is a no-brainer, Jordan Henderson's energy will be crucial in the midfield battle, and then a deeper midfielder will be needed. Jonjo Shelvey has started a lot in recent weeks, but Jay Spearing might get the nod. In goal, Brad Jones will start, with both Pepe Reina and Alexander Doni suspended.
David Moyes' defence and forward line are fairly predictable, but it's the midfield where there are questions, partly because Steven Pienaar is cup-tied. Magaye Gueye, Leon Osman and Royston Drenthe could all play out there on the left. I think it might be Osman - who hasn't started on the left for a while, but Moyes might want a good defensive player on the right against Jose Enrique (Seamus Coleman) and to be solid in the centre with Phil Neville alongside Marouane Fellaini.
Liverpool are likely to dominate possession - they see around 55% of the ball on average in their Premier League games this season, while Everton are down at 47%. Everton will defend relatively deep with two banks of four, and Liverpool's full-backs are likely to get a fair amount of time on the ball. Jose Enrique was excellent in the first half of the season but has dropped off since, and the underappreciated Glen Johnson, who has been very consistent this season, might be a bigger threat going forward.
The problem for Liverpool remains chance conversion. Upfront, I expect Suarez to move towards the right of the pitch and work that channel, trying to pull Sylvain Distin out of position. Kuyt and Gerrard need to be quick to support the spaces created by the Uruguayan.
Everton's main goal threat is clearly Nikica Jelavic, especially with Tim Cahill's poor goalscoring run. His Everton goals have all been scored in a similar fashion - a quick dart towards the near post to meet a cut-back, and a clever finish into the far corner. Everton will look to break into the channels, and wherever he plays, Leon Osman is likely to be the greatest danger in this respect.
The corners market will depend heavily upon the identities of the wide players - I'd expect Liverpool to win more within a slightly low overall total, but will steer clear of this market.
Instead, I'm going to look at the bookings market. This fixture has a reputation for being a bloodbath, but the last fixture saw only 15 fouls and one yellow card. Combine that with Howard Webb in charge - a referee who has only shown one red card in this last 30-odd games, and I'm going to back no-one to be dismissed in 90 minutes here, at [1.4].
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