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PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 October, 2010, 12:00am

Liverpool remain a club in crisis on and off the pitch after a tumultuous week, and their only consolation going into tomorrow's Merseyside derby is that city neighbours Everton have also endured a difficult start to the English Premier League season.

The last time they met, eight months ago, Liverpool were fifth on the table and Everton ninth, but now they are 18th and 17th respectively, seven games into the season. The slippage seen at the two clubs last season - when Liverpool finished outside the top six for the first time in more than a decade and Everton for only the second time in six seasons - has worsened so much that they will do well to match last season's finishing positions.

Liverpool's slump has been more dramatic, but was predictable to some extent, even without the ownership maelstrom swirling around Anfield. They have swapped one defence-minded coach for another in Roy Hodgson and it is no surprise that their play has lacked excitement and expansiveness.

One problem for Hodgson is that he has inherited a team reliant on two star players. And, with Fernando Torres out of sorts, the onus has fallen even more heavily on Steven Gerrard to inspire the team. Rival managers have woken up to the fact that they can outscore Hodgson's team, as Blackpool proved two weeks ago with their memorable win at Anfield.

Liverpool have scored just seven goals in their seven Premier League matches - only three teams have a lower tally - and Hodgson is not the type of coach who will easily turn that form around. Looking at his record with Fulham, it is clear he relied on stifling the opposition on the road in particular, with just 12 goals scored in their 19 away games last season. Hodgson's negative approach brought just one away win but seven draws, a fair level of success for a club like Fulham but far from what is required to get Liverpool back into the Champions League.

In fairness, Hodgson deserves time to put his stamp on Liverpool and that has been far from easy with all the problems surrounding the club. If he has money to spend in January, it will be interesting to see whether he chooses to strengthen the attack or defence.

But his biggest test is getting the Liverpool players to buy into his prescriptive methods, which arguably work best with middle-ranking teams.

While Liverpool are probably where they deserve to be given their lack of attacking threat, Everton may be in a false position because they have been unlucky in some games - notably when dominating at Aston Villa but losing 1-0 - and have shown spirit and scoring potential, as in the 3-3 at home to Manchester United.

Even so, Everton have scored even fewer goals than Liverpool, with just six, and a low-scoring match looks likely. The last seven Merseyside derbies have had two goals or fewer, which is common in games between closely matched city rivals.

The key factor on Merseyside is how many goals Liverpool can be expected to score. In the past decade there have been 22 derby meetings and 12 have had fewer than 2.5 goals, with Liverpool scoring nil or one in 10 of those. When Liverpool scored no more than one goal, 10 out of 11 have had under 2.5 goals, so this season's low-scoring form is a strong pointer to under 2.5 goals tomorrow.

When a tight game is expected, the draw becomes a strong possibility - half of the 12 derbies with fewer than 2.5 goals in the past decade have ended all-square - and on the handicap it is best to side with the outsider. In this case, that is Liverpool and it is worth noting that they have lost just two of the 12 derbies with under 2.5 goals.

The best-value bet in the Premier League is Blackburn at home to Sunderland. Under Sam Allardyce, Blackburn are unbeaten in 17 home games against visitors from the bottom half of the table, with 12 wins. That is a formidable record and the aerial onslaught from Allardyce's team is likely to be too much for Sunderland, who have lost 14 of their 22 away games under Steve Bruce and won only two.

The away teams with the best chances are Chelsea, Tottenham and Stoke. But Chelsea are too short for the win at Aston Villa, where they lost 2-1 on this weekend a year ago. The 1-0 defeat at Manchester City in their last away game raised further doubt about Chelsea's effectiveness on the road against the upper-middle Premier League teams and Villa remain in that category despite the upheaval caused by Martin O'Neill's shock departure on the eve of the season.

Tottenham rate good value in their London derby at Fulham, as long as they can produce their good away form of last season when they lost just four of 14 away to teams outside the top six. They missed a good chance at West Ham in their last away game, however, and there is some doubt about whether they will be as consistent this season given the additional demands of the Champions League.

That leaves Stoke, who go to Bolton in good form after a slow start. Tony Pulis' side have won four and drawn one of their last five against Premier League opposition and they look the best longer-odds chance, with Bolton having beaten only struggling West Ham this season.

Shortlist: Blackburn, Bristol City, Derby, Borussia Monchengladbach, Atletico Madrid, Deportivo, Sevilla, Auxerre, Lyon

Top five bets

1 Derby home win

On a roll at home after two high-scoring wins

2 Atletico Madrid home win

Have won 11 out of 15 at home in 2010

3 Deportivo home win

Can start to improve after difficult opening fixtures

4 Auxerre home win

Unbeaten in 14 at home and look good value

5 Lyon home win

Can bring recent good away form back home

 

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