Premier League returns to action this weekend, putting an end to the two-week international break and what a way to kick things off. Everton visit Anfield to take on local rivals Liverpool in the Merseyside Derby, in the first game of the weekend.
Liverpool have found some form in recent weeks after a terrible start to the year and come into the game having been unbeaten in their previous 3 fixtures, in which they managed to beat their top-4 rivals Arsenal and mid-table team Burnley before getting a crucial point away at Manchester City.
Everton too have been on a decent run and will pose a serious threat to the Reds on Saturday afternoon with striker Romelu Lukaku scoring for fun in recent weeks. But Liverpool will need to get maximum points if they are to stay ahead of the chasing pack in the race for the top four.
In order to do that, here are three key battles that Liverpool will need to come out on top if they are to beat their local rivals.
Joel Matip v Romelu Lukaku
Romelu Lukaku, over the years, has grown into a beast of a striker. The Belgian international has grown in stature year after year and is by far enjoying his best season with Everton in the Premier League. Lukaku has already netted 21 league goals and is the highest goal-scorer in the competition this season. The fact that he has scored 6 goals in his last 4 league games doesn’t bode well at all for Liverpool.
However, they have Joel Matip in their ranks who could turn out to be the ideal man to keep the former Chelsea striker quiet. The last time the two sides met, Matip could not play a part due to injury issues. But the fact that the Cameroonian went head to head against the likes of Harry Kane, Zlatan Ibrahimovic earlier this season and managed to nullify their threat will give the Reds a great deal of confidence.
If Liverpool are to win on Saturday, Matip will have to be at his best and take Lukaku’s threat out of the picture.
Georginio Wijnaldum v Idrissa Gueye
Another key battle that will take place in the middle of the park that will have huge bearings on the game will be Wijnaldum vs Gueye. It will be interesting to watch Wijnaldum and Gueye go against each other.
Wijnaldum has been absolutely sensational since his arrival to Anfield and has become a crucial part of the way the team operates. He provides the drive and the energy in the middle of the park for Liverpool and often chips in with important goals with his smart late driving runs into the box. He also has the ability to create chances in plenty for his teammates from the midfield, which will come in handy against a tight Everton defence.
On the other hand, Gueye has been equally impressive in stifling midfielders from the opposition. The summer arrival for the Toffees has brought in some much-needed tenacity in the midfield and is always up for a battle. A shrewd operator, Gueye has shown great awareness and reading of the game to thwart opponents from building up attacks and a similar performance will be expected at Anfield.
If Wijnaldum manages to get the better of Gueye in the midfield, it could definitely be three points in the bag for Liverpool.
Sadio Mane v Leighton Baines
If Liverpool are to stand a chance of winning against Everton, goals will be crucial and they will be looking at their leading scorer Sadio Mane to deliver for them.
The Senegalese international has scored 12 goals for the Reds this term from 26 appearances and has been brilliant, to say the least.
But he will be up against one of the steadiest left-backs in the league in Leighton Baines. The 32-year old may not be as fast as he used to be once but is an intelligent operator. It will be no easy task for Baines to keep Mane quiet and if the Liverpool man manages to get the better of the veteran full-back, it could very well be game over for the Toffees.