Everton v Liverpool
Saturday 17:30, Sky Sports 1.
Match Odds: Everton 3.55/2, Liverpool 2.35/4, The Draw 3.55/2.
The second high-profile derby of the day feels somewhat different to the first - whereas the two north London clubs are in excellent form, Everton and Liverpool have struggled badly compared to last season. In those kind of seasons for the Merseyside clubs, however, the derby takes on extra importance - and both sides will be desperate to win here.
Liverpool have at least rallied in recent weeks, partly thanks to Brendan Rodgers' use of a 3-4-3ish system which has caused opponents significant problems in terms of positioning. No-one seems to have worked out how to track the movements of the wide attackers coming inside, and this has allowed Philippe Coutinho to show the most consistent form of his Liverpool career - he hit a superb late winner against Bolton in the FA Cup.
Rodgers has a decision to make, however, about whether to hand Daniel Sturridge his first Premier League start in four months, after the striker finally recovered from a succession of injury problems. In his absence, Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert have struggled, but Raheem Sterling has thrived recently in that false nine role, showing good finishing in addition to his clever movement and direct dribbling.
It's hard to imagine Sterling would keep a fully-fit Sturridge out of the team entirely, but if there's any doubt about Sturridge's fitness, it wouldn't be a disaster if Sterling continued upfront. If not, and he moves wide, Adam Lallana could miss out.
With the defence looking unusually settled, Rodgers' other big decision is in the centre of midfield. It would be a brave decision to leave Steven Gerrard out of his final Merseyside derby - but realistically Liverpool have looked much more settled with the combination of Lucas Leiva and Jordan Henderson in the middle. They provide defensive discipline and energy respectively, and will be hopeful of outplaying Everton's midfield.
Roberto Martinez's side are in extremely poor form, and it's not clear how the Spaniard is attempting to fix things. There have been two major problems this season: the lack of a clear approach in terms of winning possession, which has also meant Everton have conceded some extremely soft goals, and a lack of creativity from the attacking midfielders. Clearly, it's a pretty bad combination.
Ross Barkley has been particularly off-form this season, and Martinez might be guilty of basing his side too much around a young and naturally inconsistent (at this stage of his career) talent. Barkley, amazingly, has recorded only one assist since the start of last season, although in this fixture last season he completely dominated his head-to-head clash against Lucas. The Brazilian will need close support from Henderson.
From Everton's perspective, the most interesting tactical feature will be the positioning of their full-backs, Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman. Everton depend upon these players so much for both width and creativity: Baines has eight assists, and no-one else on the Everton side has more than two.
However, against a Liverpool side playing quick, dangerous, attack-minded wing-backs in Lazar Markovic and Alberto Moreno, Martinez will be fearful of getting caught out on the counter-attack. Everton's wing-backs will probably focus on shutting down those players, with Liverpool's wide attacking drifting inside into the space occupied by Everton's two central midfielders, Gareth Barry and Mohamed Besic, who are likely to sit very deep.
I wonder where Everton's creativity will come from, however, and feel they might need to rely on attacking directly into space through the likes of Aiden McGeady, Steven Naismith and Kevin Mirallas, possibly exploiting gaps either side of Liverpool's three-man defence.
Merseyside derbies are traditionally feisty affairs, but that hasn't really been the case in recent years, with both Martinez and Rodgers emphasising the importance of patient passing build-up, and relentless ball retention. Therefore, while many will back a high number of cards, I'm going to buck the trend and back no sending off, at around 1.68/13.
Back 'No' in 'Sending Off?' at 1.68/13