By Chris Myson
One of the matches of the weekend in the Premier League sees derby day arrive on Merseyside as Everton host rivals Liverpool in a crucial clash at Goodison Park on Sunday.
If the Toffees win, they will extend their lead over the Reds to nine points as they look to finish above the five-time European champions for the second season running.
But many still argue that Brendan Rodgers’ side have the better players and there is certainly an expectation for them to close the gap on Everton as the season progresses.
Ahead of the clash, Goal.com analyses each area of the squads of David Moyes’ side and Liverpool, attempting to come up with what would be the best combined team, lining up in a 3-5-2 formation.
Had this combined XI been under consideration three years ago, Pepe Reina would have been have been the automatic pick as the Spaniard was considered to be one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League.
However, mistakes have crept into the 30-year-old’s game, notably against Hearts at Anfield in August and, more recently, against Arsenal, where Santi Cazorla’s shot squirmed under him to hand Arsene Wenger’s side the victory.
Tim Howard, meanwhile, has steadily emerged as one of the most consistent goalkeepers in the Premier League, and despite an unconvincing start to the season, the 33-year-old currently looks more assured between the posts than his rival at Liverpool.
To structure our squad as strongly as possible, we’ve opted for a three-man defence with two wing-backs.
The right of our two wing-backs is Glen Johnson, who represents an attack-minded option from the back. There are question marks that remain over his defensive capabilities, but in fairness they seem to be improving, with some decent recent performances for England.
Leighton Baines swoops in on the left. If it wasn’t for the presence of Ashley Cole in England’s ranks, the Everton man would’ve had closer to 50 caps rather than the 12 he currently sits on. His presence in the side provides us with solid defensive skills, accurate crosses from out wide and a threat from set pieces.
For our three centre-backs we go for two from Liverpool and another from Everton. The Toffees’ representative is the consistently excellent Phil Jagielka, who is now an England regular and has been key to Moyes’ men’s strong start to the new season.
He is joined by the Liverpool duo Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger, who when fit have built up a decent understanding and complement each other well in defence, even if both are liable to throw in an occasional mad moment.
Sylvain Distin, Jamie Carragher, Martin Kelly and Jose Enrique are amongst many stoppers from the Merseyside duo to miss out on a place in our side.
At the heart of our midfield is Steven Gerrard. Liverpool’s inspirational captain has been subject to claims he does not fit into Brendan Rodgers’ fluid passing system at Anfield but continues to provide key contributions and finally appears to be over the worst of his injury woes.
Joe Allen is a player brought in exactly to aid Rodgers’ tactical system having been such a key part of that strategy at Swansea. He has impressed since signing for Liverpool, with near-perfect pass completion rates becoming his trademark.
There also has to be a place for Marouane Fellaini of Everton. Since the Belgian dominated Manchester United on matchday one of the new season, he has continued to display fine form. Unplayable at times with his aerial prowess and box-to-box capabilities, he is likely to be a wanted man in January.
That means no spot for Nuri Sahin, who is starting to hit full stride after his loan move from Real Madrid, or the injured Lucas Leiva in what is a competitive area of the pitch. Suso is a youngster with a very bright future, while across Stanley Park Steven Pienaar could consider himself unfortunate to miss out.
The 27-year-old has begun this season in similar fashion after netting four in seven games and is on course to challenge for the Premier League’s Golden Boot.
Over in the red half of Merseyside, Liverpool’s catastrophic striker shortage has piled the pressure on Luis Suarez to improve his scoring record after the Uruguayan netted 11 times in 31 league appearances last term.
Suarez looks on course to smash through last season’s tally after registering five goals in eight league games this season, and for our combined side, we believe the 25-year-old’s link-up play outside of the area would complement Jelavic’s movement and precise finishing inside the box.
Because of our 3-5-2 system, Raheem Sterling misses out despite taking to the Premier League like the proverbial duck to water after being thrusted into first-team action by Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers.
Kevin Mirallas also missed out on a spot in our selection since David Moyes has deployed the Belgium forward primarily on the right flank since his arrival from Olympiacos in August. Fabio Borini is omitted for similar reasons after the Italian was handed a spot as a winger, rather than a striker for Liverpool.
Victor Anichebe also fails to make the grade since he’s struggled to displace Jelavic in Everton’s attack this term.
Suggested combined Merseyside XI
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