Delicious derbies on the menu in the EPL as Merseyside and Manchester set to thrill

PHOTO: Paul ELLIS / AFP

There are conspiracy theorists who believe that there are patterns in the way fixtures are drawn in the European leagues and with the fixture list for this weekend in the English Premier League, they might just be on to something. We’ll be witnessing arguably the two biggest and fiercest derbies in English football in Merseyside and Manchester and they will both be played on the same day. We’re getting into the holiday season and as usual the EPL is something that we are sure will be with us throughout the season and make it more enjoyable. There are undertones and sub plots to these derbies and rivalries in the North of England and as usual, I’ll be breaking them down today to whet our appetites as we anticipate a delicious full course meal of fantastic football in the land of the Queen.

LIVERPOOL vs. EVERTON
Sam Allardyce has been involved in a few English derbies in his storied career, most notably, the Tyne-Wear derby. However, this will be his first taste of the Merseyside derby and this one definitely trumps every derby he has been involved with in the past. Big Sam will take his Everton team to Anfield, home of their biggest rivals Liverpool and if he wants to get instant legendary status amongst Evertonians, all he needs to do is leave the stadium with all three points. Liverpool are on a six-game unbeaten run in the league with five wins and one draw, scoring eighteen goals and conceding just three in that run and notching up a victory against the toffees in front of their home fans will be a very satisfying way to keep this unbeaten streak going for the Reds.

Their attacking quartet of Saido Mane, Mo Salah, Roberto Firminho and Phillipe Coutinho are dynamic and lethal as they all carry real goal threats and there is no arrow head for opponents to concentrate on. In their last two matches, they have scored twelve goals and the quartet accounted for ten of those goals. They will be anticipating this visit of Everton because the toffees will come into this game with the third worst defence in the league and with the recent form of the Red’s attack, they might just rack up a cricket score. Everton began the season with genuine hopes of challenging for a top four finish in the league, having finished in seventh position last season. They spent a record amount of money during the off season to strengthen their team but it has all not gone according to plan as they had been having a nightmarish season which saw them sitting in seventeenth place until just recently. They got rid of Ronald Koeman, had David Unsworth as manager in temporary capacity, before appointing Sam Allardyce.

Big Sam’s appointment seems to have given the team a renewed sense of confidence as they are now on a three game winning streak, scoring nine goals and conceding none in the process. Allardyce is known for his very pragmatic approach to the game and expect him to try and negate Liverpool’s ‘fab four’ by stifling them with bodies around them. This is going to be a very tough game for Everton as they are winless in their last fourteen matches against Liverpool and haven’t won at Anfield since 1999. Sam Allardyce will hope to have Leighton Baines available after he missed their last match through injury, while Michael Keane and Phil Jagielka are both fit for this game after overcoming injury problems. For Liverpool, either James Milner or Andrew Robertson will replace the injured Albert Moreno at left back, while Joel Matip is still out with injury. This game is supposed to be the appetizer for the main course on the day (The Manchester derby), but it has the potential to be tastier and we (the consumers) will not be complaining.

MANCHESTER UNITED vs. MANCHESTER CITY
The Red Devils were involved in major battle last week at the capital and it took the heroics of David De Gea, the pragmatism of Jose Mourinho and the hard-work of the players for them to leave the Emirates with all three points, but they paid a huge price for that win as they lost their most influential player Paul Pogba to a harsh red card and ultimately he will not be involved in this week’s monumental battle against their bitter rivals and ‘noisy neighbors’, Manchester city in the Manchester derby. Jose Mourinho’s men finished sixth in the league last season and that ‘dismal’ final position was largely due to their poor home form where they won only eight games drew ten games and suffered one defeat. The most telling feature in that statistic is the amount of draws they had at home last season, most of which they dominated but weren’t clinical enough to finish off teams and convert the draws to wins. However, they seem to have corrected that anomaly this season as they are yet to drop a point in the seven home games they have played and they would love to extend that run with a win over their mancunian rivals. Jose Mourinho’s men equaled a 51-year old club record on Tuesday when they beat CSKA Moscow and are now unbeaten in their last forty matches at Old Trafford.

Ironically, this weekend’s opponents were the last side to inflict a home defeat on Manchester United. The Citizens currently sit on top of the table, eight points above their hosts and United know that a win can help them cut that deficit to five and put pressure on their neighbours going into the hectic Christmas period. I mentioned David De Gea and his heroics at the Emirates earlier, if Manchester United approach this game the same way they did last weekend, it’s safe to say that De Gea will face a sterner test than he did last week (yes, it’s that possible).

Last season, Pep Guardiola finished a football season without any form of silverware for the first time in his coaching career and that prompted the Catalan to splash the cash in the off season and beef up his squad so as not to suffer a repeat of last season’s ‘trophylessness’. The result has been amazing thus far as they have been outstanding in the league, winning all but one of the fifteen matches they have played. Only Everton have been able to collect a point from Manchester City all season. Guardiola’s men are currently on a run of thirteen consecutive wins in the league and have equaled a Premier League record for consecutive wins. They would really love to set a new record by winning their fourteenth game on the bounce at the home of their rivals.

Whatever the outcome of this match, one team will set a new record of some sort, Manchester United will set a new club record of 41 consecutive home matches without a defeat if they avoid a loss in this game, while Manchester City will set a new Premier League record of fourteen consecutive wins if they get a victory in this game. Ander Herrera will partner Nemanja Matic in midfield as Paul Pogba will begin his three-game ban this weekend, while a late decision will be made on Marouane Fellaini. Jose Mourinho has confirmed Phil Jones and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are available for selection this weekend, but Eric Bailly and Michael Carrick will sit this one out. For Manchester City, David Silva is available after overcoming an injury scare, while Vincent Kompany remains a doubt and Fabian Delph may not be fully fit for this game. This game will be very intense and anything can happen at the theatre of dreams.

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