It may be the first Merseyside derby for Everton manager Roberto Martinez, but plenty more is on the line in the 221st edition at Goodison Park on Saturday, where the Toffees will try to keep a top-four spot in their sights at the expense of arch-rivals Liverpool.
Martinez has quickly moulded Everton into a more flowing team, and the results have backed his side's improved play. The Toffees (5-5-1) are sixth with 20 points, trailing Manchester United on goal difference but leading Spurs by the same tiebreaker. Additionally, Everton are only five points behind front-running Arsenal and one of two teams with only one league loss along with surprise package Southampton.
They enter on a four-match unbeaten run with two wins and two draws, but goals were scarce heading into the international break as the Toffees were held to scoreless draws by both Tottenham and Crystal Palace. Martinez, though, thinks his team is on the verge of finding the proper balance of offence and defence that could make Everton a title contender.
"To be able to keep clean sheets is always a very important part of play," he said. "I think we're developing into a team that is now able to get into the final third really often with a very good threat.
"The next step is to use that to our advantage and make sure we get good goals. That's just a natural process."
Any kind of goal versus their Merseyside neighbours would be welcome. Everton have just one win in their last 13 matches versus Liverpool, getting blanked on eight occasions and failing to score in three of the last five clashes at Goodison Park. Romelu Lukaku could be the most likely candidate to find the target after scoring against Liverpool in both matches last season while playing for West Bromwich Albion.
The Toffees have taken points in their last 14 matches at Goodison Park and in 27 of the last 28, outscoring their opponents 52-21 in the latter span. They have conceded only three goals in their last ten home league matches.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers failed to win either of his derby matches last season, but also didn't lose either as the Merseyside neighbours played out a 2-2 draw at Goodison and a scoreless tie at Anfield. However, the Reds (7-2-2) are in the thick of the title chase as they enter this match two points behind Arsenal and in sole possession of second place.
They entered the international break on a positive note, hammering Fulham 4-0 on Nov. 9 thanks to a brace from Luis Suarez and two assists from Steven Gerrard. Suarez's availability may be a concern as the striker wrapped up international duty by helping Uruguay become the final team to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, but Rodgers will have Daniel Sturridge at his disposal and defender Mamadou Sakho coming off the high of his two-goal effort that stamped France's ticket to Brazil as Les Bleus rallied to beat Ukraine in a two-legged playoff.
"I don't see myself as a hero; the team was the hero in this one," Sakho said. "A lot of people didn't believe in us but there were plenty who did."
Sturridge and Suarez have combined for 16 of Liverpool's 21 goals, and they are the only Reds to find the back of the net in the second half of league matches. Suarez has been a menace to Everton, totaling three goals and two assists in his four matches versus the Toffees.
Liverpool have won 88 head-to-head matches compared to Everton's 66, and the teams have shared the points on 66 other occasions. The Reds have claimed points in the last six matches (3-3-0) since a 2-0 defeat at Goodison on Oct. 17, 2010.
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