The big match is upon us and as usual, the build-up to it by Sky Sports has been non-stop. Much like the hugely anticipated “Red Monday” which, to put it nicely, was a bit of a let down, Sky Sports have heaped a great chunk of their advertising time onto this game. But away from TV, these two teams have had rather inconsistent seasons with individual players showing glimpses of brilliance, but not consistent brilliance. Despite the league table placing Everton six places below their rivals, these teams are more evenly matched than the table would have you believe. Therefore, with this thought in mind, who would make up an Everton-Liverpool combined eleven?
Choosing between Loris Karius and Maarten Stekelenburg is, to quote Gary Neville, “It’s like having a choice of two blokes to nick your wife.”. Karius and Stekelenburg have shown this season they are very capable of a major blunder and it’s hard to believe either goalkeeper fills their defence with any confidence. Even their understudies, Simon Mignolet and Joel Robles cannot claim to be treated unfairly by being picked behind their counterparts. This position is the weakest in both sides but if I had to opt for one in particular to place in my Combined XI, I’d have to go with: Maarten Stekelenburg
From the weakest position to arguably the strongest. Nathaniel Clyne and Seamus Coleman are both great full-backs with both having the innate ability to both attack and defend, something lost on many other modern fullbacks. Coleman and Clyne have both been consistent performers this season and have cemented their places in the starting-eleven of each team, ensuring neither manager can warrant dropping them, with Jürgen Klopp describing Clyne as a “machine”. Coleman has scored three goals this season whilst Clyne is still waiting for his first strike. Furthermore, Clyne’s failure to out-manoeuvre Kyle Walker into the England national side places Seamus Coleman slightly ahead of him in the pecking order. Therefore, at right-back we have: Seamus Coleman
Both defences have come in for a little bit of criticism recently with both teams shipping 20 goals apiece. Certainly, these teams have quality with names such as Phil Jagielka, Joel Matip, Dejan Lovren and Ashley Williams however, their stats do not back up their clear abilities. Matip has been missing some recent games through injury and Jagielka will be missing because of suspension after he picked up a late red card in Everton’s 2-1 victory over Arsenal on Tuesday. Centre-back is a fundamental position in any side and because of the amount of goals conceded by these teams, the answer isn’t an easy one. However, Matip has had a promising start to his Liverpool career and the game against Bournemouth showed how much the Reds miss his presence next to Lovren, therefore he must be included. Ashley Williams, although he may not be play as much of a pivotal role as he did for Swansea, his aerial presence and experience makes him a good choice to partner Matip. The centre-back positions will thus be filled by: Joel Matip and Ashley Williams
This fullback position is a strange one. In seasons gone by, Leighton Baines would be almost guaranteed a starting spot ahead of the likes of Alberto Moreno and José Enrique. However, a man named James Milner has managed to make this left-back position his own and despite Milner being the grand-old age of 30, he has almost reinvented his career at left-back and has become a mainstay of Klopp’s Liverpool. Of course Baines has quality, just look at some of his free-kicks, but it’s impossible to argue that James Milner doesn’t deserve a starting place. The player at left-back is: James Milner
First of all, we need a defensive-minded midfielder to help cover a shaky back four and goalkeeper. This means looking no further than Everton anchor Idrissa Gana Gueye. Gueye, one of the shining lights from Aston Villa’s hopeless 2015/16 campaign, has made great strides in adapting himself and his game to fit Ronald Koeman’s style of play. His willingness to defend, tackle and find a pass makes him an able player to slot into this side. The first midfielder is: Idrissa Gana Gueye
Also needed is a captain for the side and as I’m sure you’ve guessed, that man is Jordan Henderson. Henderson has had a great year under Klopp and has made himself a vital player for both club and country. His ability to defend and tackle, whilst playing a key role in supplying the star-studded front-three of Liverpool, means Henderson has transformed into the complete midfielder Liverpool have needed ever since… whisper it… Steven Gerrard. The captain of the side therefore is: Jordan Henderson
The final man in the midfield is German youngster Emre Can. Can has been praised for his style of play which has been likened to fellow Germans Michael Ballack and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Can is a physically strong midfielder with an engine not to dissimilar to a German automobile. His passing and finishing has dramatically improved and he has scored three goals in ten Premier League games this season. Normally going unnoticed beside Henderson, Can has developed a partnership beside Henderson which can be built upon and become a real force in seasons to come. Therefore making up the final place in midfield is: Emre Can
By far and away the strongest position of the team, the striking department of both sides has some serious depth and choosing just three is a hard task. However, the first striker will be Sadio Mané. Mané’s pace and finishing makes him a threat to all defences across the whole country. Mané is a threat to anyone, whether played out wide or through the middle, he can score goals and make chances from anything. This is why he has to be in the team… Bare pace: Sadio Mané
The second striker is the focal point of everything Everton do in their games. He has 69 goals in 154 Premier League games and has attracted attention from previous employers Chelsea in recent months. I am of course talking about Romelu Lukaku. It’s hard to find a weakness in his game. He’s pacy, strong, a great finisher and he wins games for his team. Everton would be a far worse team without him and although I don’t want to call them a one-man team, because they are far more than that, they are very reliant on the Belgian striker, maybe overly-so. As a target man and natural finisher, there is only one option for this position: Romelu Lukaku
The last striker is the mercurial Phillipe Coutinho. What can be written here that hasn’t already been said about the Brazilian wizard? Everything he does on a football field with the ball looks effortless and easy. Any player who can do that is a great player. Then, you add in his ability to dribble past men time and time again, his finishing from distance and his eye-of-the-needle balls through to Firmino, Mané, Origi or whoever is on the end of them makes him an all round striker. Within this team, the pace of Mané, finishing of Lukaku and the flair of Coutinho make this an unstoppable front three. The last spot of the Combined XI goes to: Phillipe Coutinho
When we add up these players, we find that Liverpool have six representatives to Everton’s five. This statistic alone should be an indication of how hotly contested this Merseyside Derby will be and I predict a tight 2-2 draw at Goodison Park.