Everton vs. Liverpool: Premier League Matchday 34 Preview

Jürgen Klopp's squad put forth a performance worthy of a title contender, can they rally together for a huge Derby win?
Fulham FC v Liverpool FC - Premier League
Fulham FC v Liverpool FC - Premier League / Julian Finney/GettyImages

Finally, at long last, Liverpool outperformed xG. Between a banger of a free kick from Trent Alexander-Arnold, a memorable lightning bolt strike from Ryan Gravenberch, and a classy finish from Diogo Jota, the Reds turned exactly 1.00 xG into three goals on the scoreboard.

The bad news is that in the process of scoring his goal- really, you can't make this up- Jota sustained another injury and will be missing some time. Furthering the tragic irony is that he was already slated to exit the game at the next stoppage, and he did just that before play resumed.

Without the team's most clinical finisher, can Liverpool keep this bit of momentum and finish off a three-game stretch of road trips without dropping points?

Their next hurdle will be a visit to Goodison Park, which will surely be a challenging environment as Everton and their fans will do everything possible to fully bury Liverpool's title chances. Let's talk about what the Reds can do to keep themselves in the race.

Top of the Pitch

As I discussed in my article before the Fulham match, Liverpool's core issue up top is that they've been playing talented players in the wrong position.

Most frequently, that means Darwin Nunez or Cody Gakpo, both of whom should be left wingers, playing up top. The easy solution I presented in that piece was to put Jota up top consistently and enjoy some really nice wing depth- Nunez and Gakpo on the left, Mo Salah and Luis Díaz on the right

Well, with Jota out, the path forward is a bit hazier, and through no fault of his own, Klopp is about to return to playing a winger up top.

Of course, the team could throw it back to the Firmino era and play someone like Dominik Szoboszlai as a false nine, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for that to happen. So who will it be?

Realistically, it should be Salah. He's in a finishing slump, but of the main options, he's by far the most clinical finisher.

However, Klopp is not moving him off of the right wing. The choice is most likely between Gakpo and Nunez, and given the Dutchman's recent strong form on the left wing, expect Darwin to get the nod.

Truthfully, for all of his shortcomings, he's done more from the #9 position this year than anyone else other than Jota, so let's see if one more stab at the role is met with success.

Liverpool's front line will be met with their greatest perennial foe outside of those wearing sky blue- Jordan Pickford, Everton's longtime goalkeeper who admittedly rises to the occasion on the biggest stages for club and country.

Really, the entire Toffees defense has been solid this year, ranking above-average in terms of xG conceded, but Pickford's excellence has them sitting in fourth as far as goals conceded per match, worse than just Arsenal, Manchester City, and Liverpool.

The chances may be few and far between, and Pickford makes it tough to score even the best ones, so Liverpool's forwards will need to have their scoring boots on in a way we haven't often seen these past few months.

The Midfield

Liverpool once again ruled the day in terms of possession against Fulham, even as Alexis Mac Allister and Szoboszlai were excluded from the XI.

Wataru Endō looked well rested and had a nice return to the lineup, while Harvey Elliott and Gravenberch were as bright as we've seen them in recent weeks, with the pair contributing an assist and a goal, respectively.

For the Derby, expect the first-choice three to be back; Endō, Mac Allister, and Szoboszlai. Creating volume of chances will be absolutely vital against this back line and Pickford, so the consistent possession and endless barrage of passes that this trio has been able to produce most games will be a huge key to this match.

Will all of that result in any end product? It may be out of their hands to some extent, but Mac Allister has scored some lovely goals of late, as of course has Gravenberch, who might be a substitute later on.

We also haven't seen a nice Szoboszlai strike in some time, but the Hungarian star is more than able to produce one.

Another reason this area needs to be at the core of Liverpool's approach to this match is Everton's weakness in the middle of the field. Yes, midfielders like Idrissa Gana Gueye and James Garner have been among the club's best players, but they rank 18th in the league in average passes completed per match and 19th in average possession rate.

Manager Sean Dyche's 4-4-1-1 formation isn't exactly conducive to holding onto the ball, so Liverpool will absolutely need to take the game to them and live in the attacking third.

The Back End

Whoever the second centre-back is- expect Ibrahima Konaté on Wednesday- one thing is for sure; the longtime defensive trio of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson and Virgil van Dijk must appear in every XI the rest of the way.

Virgil is of course a fixture in the middle, while the fullbacks were back to their best against Fulham, reminding the world why they're the greatest pairing at the position in Premier League history.

It's not just the free kick goal from Alexander-Arnold; both fullbacks were extremely productive in terms of passing and chance creation, and had a solid defensive day as well.

As far as the centre-backs, there was a bit of sloppiness on Fulham's equalizer, but not much to raise concern; Everton's approach is not likely to force quite as much chaos.

Which brings us to the Toffees' attacking record this year. They're 19th in the league in per-match goal scoring despite ranking 11th in xG and shockingly, first in accurate long balls per match.

That speaks to a complete lack of finishing from the strikers, and their figure of 15th in touches in the opponent's box signals a total lack of composure and passing in the final third.

That's not going to fly against Alisson Becker, so as tough as it could be for Liverpool to score, Everton likely have it even worse.

Three of the past five editions of this Premier League fixture at Goodison Park have ended in a 0-0 tie; it wouldn't be a complete shock to see another one, a result that would effectively put an end to Liverpool's title-winning dreams.