Liverpool FC: 5 Key Battles vs. Everton in the Merseyside Derby
In less than 24 hours we will be seeing the city of Liverpool come to a halt as the city's two oldest and most successful clubs face off in the first Merseyside Derby of the year.
Everton and Liverpool have shared the spoils in two of the last three meetings, and the Toffees have pulled one over on their rivals as well. The Reds will be looking to take some pride back to Anfield this season by beating Everton on their home ground this season.
This season's first derby is a special one for Liverpool as it is the first one that Kenny Dalglish has been a part of in over 20 years. The Reds manager will be looking to get a result for his club as they continue to push for the top four and a return to Europe in the UEFA Champions League.
With Everton having had cash flow problems for several seasons now and the Reds having pumped more than £100 million into their squad in the last nine months, it is paramount that new signings and old faithfuls show up and deliver this weekend.
There will be a number of key battles on the pitch, and the return of Steven Gerrard to full fitness is certainly expected to be the highlight of the match for the Reds before kickoff.
Jack Rodwell vs Jose Enrique
So far this season Jack Rodwell has underperformed for the Toffees. Should he get picked on the right side again, he will have a tough challenge.
Rodwell will be up against Liverpool's most consistent new signing of the season in Jose Enrique.
The Spaniard continues to play like he has something to prove while young Rodwell is facing crunch time, as the time for him to break off the shackles and shine has never been more at hand.
Dirk Kuyt or Craig Bellamy vs Leighton Baines
It is no secret that Dirk Kuyt has been clutch in his Merseyside Derby career. Between him and Steven Gerrard, the two are responsible for many of the most recent Liverpool goals in the rivalry game.
The Dutchman's work ethic and ability to score in this fixture should make him a lock for the match, but his selection has been touch and go this season.
Craig Bellamy is also a possible man to take up the right side of the Reds formation after a strong performance last week in the Carling Cup.
Either of them will be running down the Everton left flank guarded by Leighton Baines. The English national team member is the Toffees' best weapon from the wide areas coming forward and is also their main man with set pieces. It will be an easier match for the Reds if Kuyt or Bellamy can run him to death all day long.
Tim Cahill vs Jamie Carragher
Tim Cahill is Everton's most dangerous weapon. The veteran Australian attacking midfielder has been a stand-in striker for part of the season so far and has shown he still has all of his prowess.
He is a dangerous header of the ball and a tough man to hold off on any occasion, especially a derby of this caliber.
Liverpool counter with their own veteran in the form of central defender Jamie Carragher. The Reds vice captain has been suspect at the back at times in recent seasons as he is losing a step or two, but his experience reigns supreme and he will give Cahill a hard time all afternoon.
Steven Gerrard vs Phil Neville
Last week I picked Phil Neville to start for the Toffees, and despite everyone on the Everton side of Bleacher Report calling me crazy, he did just that.
Once again this week I believe he will return to the starting XI for David Moyes as he needs the veteran on the pitch in a match of this magnitude.
On top of that, Steven Gerrard is expected to make his first EPL start of the season against his old rivals. If he plays in the support role for Luis Suarez as believed, Neville will be the first line of defense to try and break up their link play.
Luis Suarez vs Phil Jagielka
Luis Suarez is no doubt the Reds' biggest threat to Everton. His constant moving, harassing and all-out attacking mindset sees him always be the center of Liverpool's attack these days.
Everton's Phil Jagielka will have his hands full trying to corral the Uruguayan, and the play of Suarez may be enough to open up other avenues for the Reds to score through.
Most importantly for Suarez, this is his debut in the Merseyside Derby and will set the tone for his performances to follow in the coming battles to be had between the two neighboring clubs.
For more Bleacher Report buzz on Suarez check out fellow Liverpool Featured Columnist David Hendrick's Luis Suarez: 10 Reasons Liverpool's Striker is the Best in the Premier League.
Conclusions and Preview
Liverpool are favored for this match, but David Moyes always has a team capable of more on the pitch than they seem to be up for on paper.
I expect it to be a cracker of a game with the Reds making the first efforts on goal.
While I would love to see Kuyt and Gerrard take the places of Jordan Henderson and Andy Carroll (despite Carroll's improvement against Wolves), I feel at least one of them will be preferred over Kuyt for whatever reason.
Kenny Dalglish will be a welcomed return to the Derby spectacle, and he will hope to see his side to victory.
You can read the full match preview in this weeks English Premier League: Week 7 Previews and Predictions.