Pitchside Europe

Three key battles which could decide the Merseyside derby

After a week’s break due to the fourth round of the FA Cup, the Premier League returns in earnest on Tuesday night with one of its headline fixtures: the Merseyside Derby at Anfield.

Everton and Liverpool played out a thriller earlier in the season which ended 3-3, after a late Daniel Sturridge goal salvaged a point for the Reds, so let’s hope they have both saved some goals for the return fixture.

It is sure to be a highly competitive affair with both sides gunning to finish in the final Champions League spot at the end of the campaign. A win would not only give the victors a major boost to their European hopes but also the the bragging rights over their rivals.

Let’s take a look at three key battles that could decide this extremely important Merseyside Derby.

1. Luis Suarez/Daniel Sturridge v Phil Jagielka/Sylvain Distin

Suarez and Sturridge have been tormenting Premier League defences all season, scoring 33 league goals between them already which is more than 13 teams have in total. The duo have shown a phenomenal understanding when they have played together, linking up to deadly effect on many occasions.

The Uruguayan leads the league’s scoring charts with 22 goals despite missing the first six games of the season, with Sturridge notching up an impressive 11 goals as the Reds have ran riot in front of goal.

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Out to stop the ‘SAS’ are Jagielka and Distin, who themselves have formed a fantastic understanding in the centre of Everton’s defence for a number of years now.

The Frenchman may be 36 but he hasn’t lost much of his pace whilst Jagielka can read the game expertly, often getting in the right position to make a goal-saving challenge.

The pair have made an average of 24 defensive actions between them this season, winning 45 tackles and 117 headed duels combined.

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Martin Skrtel v Romelu Lukaku

At the other end of the pitch, Romelu Lukaku is out to cause Liverpool’s centre-backs as many problems as possible. He is capable of keeping them occupied for the whole game and can be impossible to stop on his day, as his nine league goals this season prove.

The Belgian has settled into life at Goodison Park well, maintaining an impressive 62% shot accuracy since joining the club. He will be hoping to improve his link-up play though as his 37% headed duels success and 66% pass accuracy don’t make for great reading.

Romelu Lukaku Shot Map (62% Shot Accuracy)

Martin Skrtel has been one of Liverpool’s staple centre-halves this season and he is likely to be given the task of stopping the big Belgian on Tuesday. The no-nonsense Slovakian has adapted his game to suit Brendan Rodgers’ style of football extremely well and can now play out of defence with no hassle at all as his 92% pass accuracy this season shows.

Skrtel generally dominates the aerial battle too, winning 68% of his headed duels. He has also made an average of 14 defensive actions per game but is still always prone to the odd lapse in concentration which Lukaku will be hoping to capitalise on.

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Steven Gerrard v Gareth Barry

Obviously the duels in both final thirds will be crucial to this game’s outcome but the battle of two deep-lying English playmakers could be the one which decides the clash.

In the red corner stands Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard. Despite making three defensive errors, the skipper has played well for most of the season, scoring five times and creating 40 chances for his team-mates.

His ambitious passes haven’t really had a detrimental effect on his overall passing accuracy which stands at 86%. Having won so many games for his side in the past, Liverpool would give anything for another match-winning performance on Tuesday.

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Meanwhile, in the blue corner is Barry. There have been calls for the on-loan midfielder to be named in Roy Hodgson’s England squad for the World Cup as a result of his exemplary performances in the heart of Everton’s midfield.

Barry is very consistent, reliable and plays an extremely important role in front of the Toffees’ back four. His discipline allows their full-backs to overlap and support attacks regularly. Barry has won 32 tackles, completed three defensive actions per game and created 24 chances this season.

So, which battle do you think will help decide the Merseyside derby?