Crucial to avoid early FA Cup exit

Liverpool's then striker Andy Carroll (right) scores their second goal of the FA Cup semi-final football match between Everton and Liverpool at Wembley Stadium in London, on April 14, 2012.
Liverpool's then striker Andy Carroll (right) scores their second goal of the FA Cup semi-final football match between Everton and Liverpool at Wembley Stadium in London, on April 14, 2012. PHOTO: AFP

Merseyside clubs' outlook hinges on derby as van Dijk may start for understrength Reds

There was a time when Liverpool and Everton used to meet in FA Cup finals. Twice in four seasons, to be precise, with Liverpool tasting glory on both Wembley occasions in the 1980s.

They can feel distant days when Liverpool have not lifted the FA Cup since 2006 and Everton have not won anything since 1995.

Admittedly, they met at Wembley more recently in a 2012 semi-final, but it feels as though two of England's most decorated clubs are now likelier to stop each other winning anything than to secure an honour themselves.

Should Everton exit the FA Cup at a point when 60 other clubs are still in it, they will end the campaign empty-handed.

If Liverpool lose, the Champions League becomes their last realistic chance of silverware this season.

History, including the recent past, suggests Liverpool will not lose this third-round clash.

Everton have not won in 19 visits to Anfield. They have not beaten a top-nine side this season.

They have one goal and two shots on target in three meetings with elite opposition under Sam Allardyce: a needlessly-conceded penalty Wayne Rooney converted to earn a point at Anfield last month.

And yet a man as immodest as Allardyce is bound to have noticed that the last visitors to taste victory at Anfield were his Crystal Palace team in April.

More pertinently, after Jurgen Klopp rested Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino last month, is the reality that Liverpool will be understrength.

The unsettled Barcelona target Coutinho and and the injured Mohamed Salah are out. The prolific Egyptian and Sadio Mane travelled to yesterday's African Player of the Year award ceremony in Ghana. Only Firmino of the Fab Four seems guaranteed to start.

There will also be focus on the other half of the team in case Klopp gives Virgil van Dijk his debut after the £75 million (S$135 million) man became the world's most expensive defender. Dejan Lovren, who gifted that spot kick in their last meeting, could drop out.

Yet Everton have been so negative in major matches under Allardyce that there is a temptation to say it may not matter who comprises Klopp's rearguard.

This promises to be an attack-versus-defence exercise which, given the tradition of Merseyside derby draws - though Klopp has won three of his four - has the potential to go to a replay.

Klopp has become accustomed to them when he named weakened teams in his two FA Cup campaigns. Which, in a 14th game in 48 days, is just as well. The difference is that his squad are stronger now.

The chances are that Liverpool will have to expend more energy. Everton are likely to defend deep and in numbers.

It may take an early Liverpool goal or two to open the game up. And if there is not one, it will suit Allardyce just fine.

LIVERPOOL V EVERTON
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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2018, with the headline 'Crucial to avoid early FA Cup exit'. Print Edition | Subscribe