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(Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

2020 Preview: Everton vs Liverpool

There’s a certain irony to Liverpool Football Club being unable to secure the league title for three decades. They never enter the derby with Everton as anything other than heavy favorites, yet when they come into the game as champions of England, their neighbors in blue are top of the table and the talk of English football. In that sense, with the reigning league champs against the top of the table flyers, the stakes in this Merseyside Derby are higher than they’ve been in a generation.

Despite Everton’s flying start – their run of seven wins in all competitions to start the season is their best since the 1890’s – Liverpool’s championship pedigree will still see them start as the heavy bookies favorite.

However, the champions are coming off an utterly shocking 7-2 loss against Aston Villa before the international break. It’s fair to wonder what to expect from Liverpool, given their patchy (by their lofty standards, at least) form to start the season. Jurgen Klopp’s side enjoyed a routine win against Arsenal and a quietly efficient triumph at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea. They’ve also shipped three goals in an opening day victory against newly-promoted Leeds and the capitulation above against Villa.

In contrast, Everton took down Tottenham on opening day, the 1-0 scoreline not doing the Toffees dominance justice. Since then, they’ve been scoring for fun, finding the net 20 times in their last five outings. Everton’s front three of Dominic Calvert-Lewin (9 goals), Richarlison (4 goals, 2 assists), and James Rodriguez (3 goals, 3 assists) are the talk of the Premier League. At least for the moment, supplanting Liverpool’s dynamite attacking trident of Mo Salah (5 goals), Sadio Mane (3 goals), and their selfless workhorse Roberto Firmino.

It’s fair to deduce that whichever team’s attacking troika can make and take their chances the best will win this game. With both front three’s in form, this match has all the makings of a goal-fest, especially considering both teams’ goalkeepers’ indifferent form.

Ah, yes: the fly in the ointment. Neither Everton’s Carlo Ancelotti nor Liverpool boss Klopp can be all that confident in their glovemen, right now. Everton’s Jordan Pickford continues to act like a gifted but hyperactive toddler, finding new and increasingly inventive ways of mixing the sublime with the ridiculous. For the Reds, Adrian continues to deputize for the injured Alison. The Spaniard remains an utter liability with the ball at his feet and sometimes appears to have all the constitution of smoke as the ball seemingly drifts through him on the way to a goal. Even if Alison makes an unexpected return, he’ll be very much underdone: shoulder injuries are never easy for a keeper to recover from.

Fortunately for both managers, the defenders protecting those keepers are solid. Everton will continue to start the much improved Michael Keane and Yerry Mina inside Lucas Digne and club captain Seamus Coleman, the only holdover from Everton’s last league victory against Liverpool, back in 2010. For Liverpool, Joe Gomez hasn’t quite hit his stride, though it is well covered by Virgil van Dyke’s commanding. Their fullback combination remains the best in the Premier League. Scotland’s Andrew Robertson is in blistering form and Trent Alexander-Arnold, while continuing to struggle for England, remains the creative fulcrum of the side.

Each team’s midfield’s makeup will be intriguing, with injuries casting doubts on several prime movers. Klopp is likely to hand a full debut to off-season signing Thiago Alacantara with skipper Jordan Henderson still not 100%, despite playing in the midweek internationals. He could go with any of Gigi Wijnaldum, Naby Keita, or Fabinho, depending on how much security he wants to provide his back four.

Everton will undoubtedly start the indefatigable Abdoulaye Doucoure, although injuries will likely keep their other first-choice midfielders in Andre Gomes and Allan on the sideline. Tom Davies did an excellent Allan impression last time against Brighton, though this is a clear step up for the 22-year-old. Gylfi Sigurdsson will complete Everton’s XI. The Icelandic international looks far more assured in a slightly deeper role this season.

For all of the talk about increased scoring in the Premier League this season, Merseyside Derbies have often turned out to be fizzers, as an understandably defensive Everton set out to slow and frustrate the ball movement of their superior opponents. Last year’s 5-2 defeat aside, which saw the demise of Everton manager Marco Silva, the last time we saw a high scoring, competitive derby was a 3-3 at Goodison Park back in 2013.

High scores or not, this does promise to be a cracker of a fixture. Both teams are flying – one the reigning champs, the other the league leaders – with flowing, confident forward lines, solid defenses, talented midfielders, and – crucially – potential calamities in goal.

The call here is a tight one, with the home side prevailing by the odd goal in three: Everton 2, Liverpool 1.

Expected lineups:

Everton (4-3-3)

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Liverpool (4-3-3)

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