Liverpool face a potentially season defining week with massive games against Spartak Moscow and Everton coming up.
Both sides will head to Anfield to take on Jurgen Klopp’s resurgent Reds with intentions of boosting their own hopes and denting Liverpool’s prospects. The Russian club are aiming to claim a Champions League knockout place ahead of the Reds thanks to a win in the final group stage match. If Massimo Carrera’s men do manage to go away with a win, they will move about the Reds thanks to having a better head-to-head record after the 1-1 draw at their place earlier in the campaign. Liverpool just need to draw the game to consign Spartak to the Europa League – but a win will ensure top spot is secured.
Newly appointed Everton manager Sam Allardyce will bring a buoyant team to Anfield for the first Merseyside derby of the season on Sunday. He oversaw a 2-0 win over Huddersfield Town at Goodison Park on Saturday after David Unsworth’s final game in temporary charge resulted in a 4-0 victory over West Ham United. While their supporters will be heartened by the two wins, those teams have two of the worst away records in the Premier League – alongside Everton. Allardyce will have them more organised and harder to beat than they may have been prior to his appointment, but Liverpool go into the game in far stronger form. But Everton cannot be overlooked in this fixture, despite a woeful record at Anfield, thanks to Allardyce’s last visit with Crystal Palace ending in a win for his team.
The return to Goodison Park of Wayne Rooney will also add extra spice to what promises to be the biggest derby in years. Their supporters were raving about their Summer business at the start of the season and believe that they have the financial backing in place to compete with Liverpool. A win for their team at Anfield, where they have an abysmal recent record, will add volume to those voices. While a home win will all but silence those claims as it would move the Reds fourteen points clear of Everton. It promises to be the biggest derby in years with a frenetic match in prospect and an electric atmosphere.
Klopp has overseen a much better run of results since the 4-1 hammering at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley in late October. Victories over Huddersfield Town, Maribor, Southampton, West Ham United, Stoke City and Brighton & Hove Albion have been accompanied by draws against Sevilla and Chelsea. The manner of those dropped points will have disappointed supporters, but there was plenty in each game to be positive about.
The German has rotated his team plenty so far this season, and particularly in recent games, after seeing his side collapse in January last season. There was just one victory that month, which came against Plymouth Argyle in an FA Cup replay, and Klopp is eager to avoid burning out his players again this season. He was used to having a winter break mid-season in Germany, but he does not get that luxury in England and is adapting to the demands of a busy festive calendar.
Victories in these fixtures will see Klopp’s men into the Champions League knockout phases, where they will be able to mix it up with the best teams on the continent, and on to a tighter grip on fourth place too. It is unlikely that he will rest too many key players in these two games and will likely put out the strongest team he has available to ensure progression in Europe and bragging rights against our local rivals are secured this week. And who would bet against him achieving both with the form his side have shown?