The second Merseyside derby of the 2013-14 season is just hours away and after the previous meeting between Everton and Liverpool ended in a 3-3 draw, both teams will be doing everything they can to walk away with the win. For Everton, that means relying heavily on Romelu Lukaku.
At 6’2’’, Lukaku is a dominating presence on the field and has produced five assists to accompany his nine goals this season, in addition to a staggering 58 shots (avg. three shots per game).
In November’s draw, Lukaku was the most aggressive member of the Everton squad, scoring two of the team’s three goals to put the Blues in the lead before Luis Suarez scored a goal in the final minute of regulation to level the score.
“I think at club level, in the league, it's the best experience I've ever had to play in such a derby," Lukaku said after the match (per SkySports). "Two great sets of fans, two great clubs with really great history - and to score at such a young age is a really great thing.”
Lukaku’s counterpart on the Liverpool squad will likely be Daniel Sturridge. As this table from The Mirror shows, Sturridge is on paper the more prolific player of the two.
However, though Lukaku has struggled with his form recently, going scoreless in his last nine games, he has a history of consistent goal scoring against Liverpool, scoring four goals in four Premier League appearances against the Reds.
Liverpool's main weakness this season has been the defense. The Reds have held their opponents scoreless in only four Premier League games this season, opening the door for Lukaku. Effectively neutralizing the Blues' forward will be key for Liverpool.
"We need [centre back] Martin Skrtel to rise to the challenge," said John Aldridge of the Liverpool Echo earlier today. "He needs to be strong and combative, especially from set-pieces where Lukaku did some damage at Goodison."
In a game that has so much riding on it, Lukaku’s history against Liverpool is a particularly significant factor. Furthermore, the Belgian’s charged performance in the November Merseyside Derby should provide a significant confidence boost for tonight’s match.
Lukaku also has a history of scoring late, with 55 percent of his goals coming after the 70th minute. In a match that is likely to be tight, Lukaku's clutch play could be the deciding factor.
Tonight’s derby is a key matchup for both clubs. In the derby head-to-head, Liverpool leads Everton 88-66, but the two teams have produced 67 draws in their 221 matches, including their last three games. Everton’s last victory over Liverpool came in October 2010.
Though the matchup features a notoriously friendly rivalry, tonight’s game will be as contentious as any with so much on the line. A Liverpool win would put the Reds within three points of Chelsea at third place, while Everton, who have won 16 of their last 17 games, sit one point behind the Spurs in the League and need a win tonight to keep their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League alive. A win for either would be a huge psychological boost.
With less room to maneuver, Everton will need Lukaku and the rest of the frontline to deliver in a big way.