It is over 70 years since Germany executed the infamous Schlieffen Plan, using Belgium as a key route of attack. On Saturday, Roberto Martinez will shape his own offensive around products of the same nation. Kevin Mirallas and Romelu Lukaku (2) scored Everton’s goals in the 3-3 draw at Goodison Park last season, and they will once again pose the greatest threat to exposing Liverpool’s leaky back-line. Lukaku is the type of strong, quick striker that Liverpool routinely fail to deal with. Indeed, in only 153 minutes of normal time across the last two campaigns, he has scored four goals against them, having twice terrorised Brendan Rodgers’s men as a substitute in West Brom colours in the 2012-13 campaign. The 21-year-old will also pose a considerable threat from set-pieces, which have led to the opposition’s opening goals in Liverpool’s last three domestic games. It will be interesting to see where Lukaku features, having twice exploited the space behind Nacho Monreal against Arsenal from a right-sided role in recent months. Martinez may be tempted do so again against a similarly attack-minded Spanish left-back in Alberto Moreno. More likely, though, is that the buccaneering Mirallas will perform this counter-attacking duty, leaving his Belgian team-mate to attempt to bully Liverpool’s probable centre-back pairing of Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren. Whatever the individual components, Everton are on the verge of scoring two or more goals in eight successive Premier League games for the first time. Liverpool’s back-line, then, will need to defend as if Anfield is Flanders Fields if they are to avoid a first home derby loss since 1999.
Whether it’s full-back, wing-back, winger or attacking midfielder, there aren’t many positions Raheem Sterling hasn’t occupied under Rodgers’ tutelage. But which Sterling will we witness on Saturday? Will it be winger Sterling, looking to exploit John Stones’s lack of pace (should he start) and/or pinn Leighton Baines back? Or attacking midfielder Sterling, supporting his suspect midfield unit by keeping Gareth Barry and James McCarthy more concerned with what’s going on behind them? Ultimately, with Adam Lallana keenly in support, it will likely be a mixture of the two. With six goals and three assists in his last 10 Premier League appearances, however, what is certain is that whichever Everton target blinks first will be at risk of being punished by the in-form teenage prodigy. Steven Naismith, meanwhile, may be a less glamorous player but he has more in common with Sterling than meets the eye: both have three goals already this season. Martinez will surely use the adaptable Scot to disrupt Steven Gerrard in a manner Gabriel Agbonlahor and Stewart Downing have enjoyed in recent weeks. Liverpool must do all they can to ensure their flexible force, Sterling, has the more influential game to put an aging Everton defence to the sword.
Should Lukaku, Mirallas, Naismith or any other Everton player for that matter give Martinez’s men the lead—as has occurred in four of their five games this season—Liverpool must display better bounce-back-ability. After all, they have won only three of the last 36 games in which they have trailed at the interval. Substitutes have become a key part of the modern game yet, on Tuesday night against Middlesbrough, Suso became the first substitute to score for Liverpool for over six months (since Sterling at Southampton on 1 March). The previous two before that? Daniel Sturridge, twice: at Stoke on 12 January and at Everton on 23 November last year, both when returning from injury. Moreover, as Jonathan Liew’s article for The Telegraph showed, Rodgers, on average, was one of the slowest managers to make a change last season, and one of only three managers to use under 80 per cent of subs available to him. Admittedly, Rodgers wasn’t exactly blessed with multiple options at his disposal. During the fatal home loss to Chelsea in April, for example, he could only turn to Iago Aspas in the dying stages. The Spaniard’s dreadful corner allowed two of José Mourinho’s own substitutes, £32m Willian and £50m Fernando Torres, to combine on the break and blow the title race wide open. In that match, Sturridge was rushed back from injury as a 58th-minute substitute, but could not repeat his knack of scoring from the bench as he had at Goodison Park and the Britannia Stadium.
Should Liverpool find themselves behind again on Saturday, and assuming he is fit enough for the bench as expected, they may need their Subway star earlier than they would have liked once more, to go in tandem with their Spicy Italian, Mario Balotelli. But after spending over £100m on nine new signings in the summer, they should not be finding themselves in this position. Rodgers must continue the decisive vein he showed at West Ham when stemming the tide by moving to three at the back, while also learning how to coax the best from his wider range of options from the bench. After a gruelling 120 minutes in mid-week, they will surely be required no matter the scoreline.
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