In-form Everton seek to end derby hoodoo against Liverpool as Premier League top four race heats up
Blues last recorded a win over the Reds in 2010, although the most common result since then has been a draw with seven stalemates and six wins for side from Anfield
The English Premier League weekend is bookended by two big matches that could have a major influence on the race for Champions League places behind Chelsea.
First up is Saturday’s Merseyside derby as Liverpool host Everton and the weekend ends with Arsenal at home to Manchester City.
With a full midweek programme to follow, when the big games at the top are Manchester United against Everton and Chelsea against Manchester City, this is set to be a pivotal period in the battle for Europe.
Seven into four won’t go when it comes to Champions League places and there are certainly seven teams in contention now that Everton have moved level on points with sixth-placed Arsenal, albeit having played two games more.
The Merseyside derby is always important, but there is added significance with Liverpool and Everton only six points apart having played the same number of matches.
Victory for Everton would halve the gap, and give them a serious shot at a top-four finish, while a Liverpool win would give them valuable breathing space over their neighbours and possibly Manchester United and Arsenal too.
The form team on Merseyside is Everton, who have improved tremendously since losing 1-0 at home to Liverpool just before Christmas.
Ronald Koeman’s side have won eight and drawn three of their 12 Premier League games since that defeat, losing only at Tottenham Hotspur in that period.
By contrast, Liverpool have won only five out of 12 since beating Everton and have taken eight points fewer than the Toffees in that period.
The first five weeks of 2017 were the worst time for Juergen Klopp’s side, however, and they have turned the corner in recent weeks with three wins and a draw from their last five league games.
Three of those recent matches were at home to top-six opponents, and Liverpool reinforced their excellent record against elite teams with wins over Tottenham and Arsenal and a draw against Manchester City.
On current form Everton deserve to be included as an elite team and, if we include Liverpool’s win at Goodison Park, Klopp’s side have a record of six wins, five draws and no defeats against the top seven.
Everton’s record in that category is respectable with two wins, three draws and three defeats, but it is no match for Liverpool’s and it is also worth noting that the two wins for Koeman’s team came at home.
In three away trips against the elite, Everton have conceded heavily on two occasions after losing 5-0 at Chelsea and 3-2 at Tottenham, but taken a creditable 1-1 draw at Manchester City in the other game.
The psychological block for Everton is their poor long-term derby record. Their last win over Liverpool was in 2010, although the most common result since then has been a draw with seven stalemates and six wins for Liverpool.
Before the 2010 win, Everton’s last derby victory in the league had been four years earlier.
The two sides currently look more closely matched than usual, however, and Liverpool’s odds are too short, while Everton rate the pick on the handicap.
Current form favours Manchester City in Sunday’s big match, with Arsenal having beaten only strugglers Hull City and non-league sides Sutton United and Lincoln City since late January.
In fact, the only team of any note who have lost to Arsenal in 2017 is Southampton having suffered a 5-0 defeat at home in the FA Cup.
Manchester City, like Arsenal, went out of the Champions League in the round of 16 but domestically their form is pretty solid with no defeat in 11 in all competitions since losing 4-0 at Everton in mid-January.
The setback at Everton is one of two heavy defeats for Manchester City in the Premier League, with the other a 4-2 loss at Leicester City in December, but otherwise the only teams to have beaten Pep Guardiola’s side are the current top three.
Arsenal are clearly not as bad as they are being portrayed by people desperate to get Arsene Wenger out, but their form in the top-level matches is worrying as they have won only one out of eight against the top seven.
Manchester City just get the nod in a tricky match that should at least provide plenty of entertainment.
The best bet in the Premier League is Swansea City in their big relegation clash at home to Middlesbrough.
The Swans have won their last three home games and their only defeat at home since Paul Clement’s appointment was 4-0 against Arsenal.
Even with Aitor Karanka gone, it is difficult to see how Middlesbrough will raise their goals tally and Swansea have the creativity to outscore them easily.
Shortlist: Leverkusen, Villarreal, Valencia.
Swansea home win
The pick in the Premier League
Mainz away win
Worth a shot at long odds
Torino home win
Strong at home to teams below them
Chievo home win
Banker at home to poor travellers
Atletico Madrid away win
Outstanding against lesser teams
Years since Everton won away to Liverpool