Tag Archives: Ross Barkley

Liverpool Transfer Rumors: Why Reds Should Go All-Out for Everton’s Ross Barkley

With Liverpool having all but secured a place in next year’s Champions League, the Reds have been linked with potential summer signings right, left and center. Everton’s wonderkid midfielder, Ross Barkley, has been rumored as a shock £38 million target, according to Chris McKenna of the Daily Star.

Having made a splash in his debut season in the Premier League, Barkley has already been tipped as one of the finest talents of his generation—even a dark-horse option to make Roy Hodgson’s England squad for the World Cup this summer.

Which means that, even though Blues boss Roberto Martinez has already vehemently denied, via Paul Collins of the Daily Mailthe possibility of a first player move across Stanley Park since Abel Xavier in 2002, Liverpool fans will be dreaming at the prospect of Barkley turning out for them every week next season.

And for good reason. While not an ever-present in Martinez’s starting XI—not surprising given the amount of options at his disposal—Barkley has shown enough promise to suggest that he will be a Premier League force for many years to come. He might just have the potential to go down as one of its all-time greats.

Which is why, remote as the possibility may be, Brendan Rodgers should go all-out for Barkley.

 

Playing Attributes

At just 20 years of age, Barkley appears to already have the full set of attributes to succeed in the Premier League.

Blessed with pace and quick feet, Barkley is more than capable of taking on and dribbling past his man, while his physical power means that he is hard to shrug off, difficult to defend against and a forceful presence in the midfield.

A powerful left foot and a love for the spectacular mean that the Everton No. 20 is no stranger to long-range screamers; indeed, his goal this season against Norwich City was a prime example of him pulling the trigger and scoring with power, while given just a tight space to work with.

He has also exhibited composure in his finishing. A wonderful solo goal against Newcastle United a couple of weeks ago, in which he took the ball in his own half and proceeded to run past a few defenders before unleashing a shot into the top corner, will go down as one of the season’s finest efforts.

In the next few years, Barkley will no doubt be looking to improve his defensive and all-round contributions, while also developing the maturity that sees him make use of his technical and physical attributes to the best effect.

On raw potential alone, however, Barkley has all the tools to succeed Steven Gerrard as the pre-eminent attacking midfielder in the English game.

 

 

Alex Livesey/Getty ImagesBig-Game Mentality

While we’re on the topic of Gerrard, a lot has been written this season about his status in the Liverpool dressing room and his importance in the Reds’ impressive title run, both as a player and as a talismanic leader.

Without going as far as to say that Barkley will be England’s next captain and go down as one of the country’s greatest-ever players so early on in his career, all the signs so far suggest that he has the same big-game mentality as the current Liverpool and England captain.

Barkley has claimed, via McKenna, that big games bring out his best and that he likes “getting the chance to step up and show what [he is] capable of.”

His attacking play exudes confidence in abundance, while his unabashed attitude on the pitch perfectly complements his direct style and penchant for a long-range stunner.

As Liverpool can increasingly look forward to participating in Europe’s pre-eminent club competition next year, they could do with a few more match-winners and on-pitch leaders to add to their current swagger.

Rodgers would be hard-pressed to find a better option on the block than Barkley.

 

 

Michael Steele/Getty ImagesRodgers’ Young British Revolution

Not only would Barkley bring a rare and complete set of playing attributes and a commendable mentality, but he would also fit right into Rodgers’ young British revolution at Anfield.

His table-topping Liverpool side is one of the youngest in the Premier League, with Daniel SturridgeRaheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson—and increasingly, Joe Allen and Jon Flanagan—all playing prominent roles in their exciting charge toward the top of the league this season.

Two common characteristics of these all-star youngsters are technical proficiency and mental application, both of which Barkley has in his locker. His brand of physical and direct attacking midfield play would be an interesting alternative to Philippe Coutinho’s silky dribbling and outrageous through balls, though the all-round midfield play of the Brazilian, himself only 21 years old, has matured spectacularly in recent months.

Add in the fact that the likes of Luis Suarez, Mamadou Sakho and Simon Mignolet will be entering their prime years in the short to medium term, and Barkley would be walking into an accomplished Liverpool team still with much potential to fulfill.

Rodgers’ accomplished man management has worked wonders on his young charges in his two seasons at Anfield, and he would no doubt be able to unlock even more from Barkley’s game if he does cross Stanley Park.

The key is for Liverpool to follow up on their interest with a substantial bid to tempt Champions League-chasing Everton into letting their prized asset go, which won’t be easy. Then, there’s the whole stumbling block of Barkley being a boyhood Evertonian.

But just imagine a Liverpool attack next season featuring Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling, Barkley and Henderson on the break at pace.

Simply irresistible.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Picking a Premier League Best XI Team of the Season so Far

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Alex Livesey/Getty Images

It’s January, which means, besides the opening of the winter transfer window, the halfway point in the 2013/14 Premier League season is here. This is where we can look back and evaluate how the campaign has gone thus far.

With 20 games played by each team, we’ve witnessed a scintillating title race and an intriguing battle for the European places, while the permutations towards the bottom of the table mean that the relegation fight will only intensify in the months to come.

Given the quality that has been on show in England’s top flight this season, it’s one of the toughest mid-season tasks in recent years to pick a team of the season 20 games in—but we’ll do it all the same.

Here’s our Premier League team of the 2013/14 season so far, in a 4-3-1-2 formation and complete with a seven-man bench. Enjoy and let us know your picks in the comments below.

 

All statistics have come from Premierleague.com unless otherwise stated.

 

Goalkeeper: Wojciech Szczesny

With 39 goals scored and 18 conceded, Arsenal are the third-highest scoring team in the Premier League and boast the meanest defensive record in the top flight. It’s no wonder that Arsenal will approach round 21 in top spot, with 45 points on board.

A key part of their season has been Wojciech Szczesny, who has rediscovered his precocious form with a series of outstanding performances in the Arsenal goal.

A total of 61 saves this season has been augmented by nine clean sheets—the league’s highest tally—as Szczesny picked himself up from an inconsistent season last year to establish himself as one of the Premier League’s very finest goalkeepers.

 

Right-Back: Seamus Coleman

Such has been the success and aesthetic pleasure of Roberto Martinez’s Everton side this season that we’ve opted for no fewer than three of his players in our team of the season thus far.

Starting with Seamus Coleman, who, lest we forget, was signed from Irish club Sligo Rovers in 2009 for just £60,000.

He’s been a key part of Martinez’s system at Goodison Park, bombing down the right flank with total joy and in the process becoming the best right-back in the league.

He’s already scored five league goals this season. Don’t be surprised if he’s entered double figures by the time May rolls around.

 

Left-Back: Leighton Baines

On the opposite flank at Everton is Leighton Baines, who has continued his impressive form from last season with an excellent six months so far and just shades Southampton’s Luke Shaw to this position.

Baines’ runs from the back and world-class deliveries from both his crosses and set pieces make him a threat to any opponent, and he has even usurped long-time fixture Ashley Cole in the England national setup.

He’s scored three goals so far, making it eight in total for both full-backs in just 20 league games. No wonder Everton are flying high.

 

Center-Back: Per Mertesacker

If there’s ever a picture of composure, leadership, technique and anticipation at the Emirates Stadium, it’ll be of Per Mertesacker, who has been a rock in central defence for Arsene Wenger this season.

After an initial settling-in period, Mertesacker has grown into one of the finest defenders in the Premier League, striking up an impressive partnership with Laurent Koscielny and assuming the Gunners captaincy in the absence of Thomas Vermaelen and Mikel Arteta.

A key component in Arsenal’s league-leading defence, Mertesacker has also scored two goals in the league this year and makes up for his lack of pace by an outstanding reading of the game and impeccable positioning.

 

Center-Back: Dejan Lovren

Before Southampton’s season started unraveling, Mauricio Pochettino’s side were considered strong contenders for Europe and, at one point, even the top four.

Their brand of pressing, attacking football has attracted many a neutral observer and won plaudits for their impressive play, but equally noteworthy was their watertight backline, which until the end of November had conceded the fewest goals out of all 20 Premier League teams.

A towering young defender signed from Olympique Lyonnais in the summer, Lovren has been an ever-present in the Saints defence and has provided a classy blend of physicality, tackling, composure and technique.

 

Central Midfielder: Aaron Ramsey

There are few stories this Premier League season as heartwarming as Aaron Ramsey’s resurgence in the Arsenal midfield.

After a horrific leg injury in 2010, there were fears that Ramsey’s career would never reach the heights that his precocious talents had promised, but this season he has answered his critics in style.

With a barnstorming eight goals and six assists in just 18 league games, Ramsey has risen to the fold and become Arsenal’s midfield engine. His much improved passing, movement and finishing has been a joy to behold in a bewitching Gunners team capable of scintillating football.

 

Central Midfielder: Yaya Toure

Alongside the rejuvenated Ramsey, we’ll have perennial performer Yaya Toure, who surely now belongs in a class of his own as the complete midfielder.

We must also recognize the excellent work of Toure’s midfield colleague Fernandinho and credit his role in Toure’s consistently impressive form this season, but 10 goals in just 19 games speaks for itself: Toure, erstwhile known as a defensive midfielder, is now one of the league’s most devastating attacking forces from the middle.

An enviable concoction of power, pace, technique and finishing, Toure leads Manchester City from defence into attack in the blink of an eye, and has also added a deadly direct free kick to his dizzying arsenal of tricks. He already has four goals just from free kicks this season.

 

Central Midfielder: Ross Barkley

Our third and final Evertonian is Ross Barkley, who at just 20 years of age may just be England’s finest talent of his generation and has enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top this season.

His precocious talents have been given center stage by Roberto Martinez, who has made him a key cog in a purring Blues machine. Barkley has responded in kind and has taken the opportunity to establish himself as a genuinely exciting prospect who has almost everything in his locker.

Barkley is power, pace, explosiveness, creativity and finishing rolled into one young package, and has the swagger on the pitch to become a possible Everton and England captain in the future.

 

Attacking Midfielder: Wayne Rooney

Ahead of Barkley is his predecessor both in terms of club and stature, Wayne Rooney.

With strong rumors of a falling out with Sir Alex Ferguson and of a request to leave Manchester United towards the end of last season, Rooney was also strongly linked with a move to Chelsea over the summer.

Despite all the controversies and negative publicity before ultimately staying put at Old Trafford, Rooney has reinvented himself in an attacking midfield role this season supporting United’s main strikers.

As a result, his goals tally has dipped—albeit not by much, as he’s still scored nine goals in 17 games—but his influence in the team has greatly increased. His nine assists tell just part of the story: Rooney is now the indispensable player that makes Manchester United tick.

 

Striker: Sergio Aguero

Who’s the best player in the Premier League, Sergio Aguero or Luis Suarez?

The best part of picking a team of the (half-) season is that we can pick both and pair them up with each other, so our team will have the league’s two best players.

So let’s start with Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero, who has recaptured his form from their 2011/12 Premier League-winning campaign with 13 league goals and four assists in just 15 games thus far.

He’s been a constant in Manuel Pellegrini’s team as the Chilean manager has rotated to find the right partner for him. In Alvaro Negredo, Aguero has the perfect foil. Small wonder that they are now known as one of the league’s best strike partnerships.

A fit and firing Sergio Aguero at the tip of a peerless City machine makes for a wonderful spectacle. If Aguero and his colleagues continue their fine work this season, they might just go all the way.

 

Striker: Luis Suarez

Notice that we mentioned Aguero and Negredo as one of the Premier League’s best strike partnerships. The other? None other than Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.

Sturridge misses out on our lineup (and bench) entirely due an injury that ruled him out in December, and so we’ll round out our starting XI with the surely undisputed player of the half-season thus far, Luis Suarez.

And Suarez deserves all the plaudits. Anyone with 20 goals after 20 league games would be regarded as a striker on top of his game, but Suarez has scored that same amount despite missing the first five games of the season due to his suspension for biting Branislav Ivanovic last season.

His four-goal salvo against Norwich City in December showed us all just what this mercurial Uruguayan is all about: technique, finesse, unpredictability, finishing and a fondness for the outrageous.

Now that Suarez has seemed to buckle down and sort out his on-field attitude, he has matured into one of the very best in the world. We Premier League fans are lucky to witness a master of his craft in his prime.

 

The Bench

Simon Mignolet: With 65 saves made all season and having won his team valuable points courtesy of his brilliant shot-stopping, Mignolet has been an inspired capture for Liverpool.

Laurent Koscielny: If Mertesacker makes it into our starting XI, surely his regular partner can’t be too far away. Koscielny has been outstanding in an impressive overall season for Arsenal.

Curtis Davies: Our only pick outside of the Premier League top nine (yes, that’s a thing now). Davies’ form and leadership of the Hull City defence will see him go down as one of the best signings of the 2013/14 campaign.

Fernandinho: The other half of Manchester City’s central midfield, Fernandinho has been an unsung hero setting the platform for Yaya Toure to shine. But with his recent flurry of goals, he’s slowly becoming quite the big deal himself.

Eden Hazard: Is this the season Eden Hazard finally realizes his massive potential and becomes a major player on the European stage? If he can keep up his recent fine form, Chelsea could have a world star on their hands.

Oscar: This man has single-handedly kept Juan Mata out of the Chelsea first team. Week in, week out, he continues to show why he has Jose Mourinho’s complete faith. That should suffice.

Olivier Giroud: His goal-scoring run might have dried up, but Giroud beats off competition from Loic Remy and Romelu Lukaku due to his status as an integral part, both as creator and finisher, of Arsenal’s brilliant attacking football. A complete forward.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

Everton 3-3 Liverpool: 6 Talking Points from Thrilling Merseyside Derby Draw

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Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Goals, drama and controversy. High tempo, high energy and intense atmosphere. Liverpool lead, Everton comeback and Liverpool equalize. Simply put, the 221st Merseyside derby had it all.

Philippe Coutinho got things rolling from a set-piece situation in a frantic opening 20 minutes, which saw Kevin Mirallas equalize before Luis Suarez’s exquisite free-kick saw the Reds enter the break 2-1 up.

Romelu Lukaku notched up two devastating goals for the hosts to seemingly complete a gutsy turnaround, only for Daniel Sturridge to come off the bench to tie things up right at the death.

Saturday’s Premier League opening game was a spectacle for Liverpudlians and neutrals alike, and displayed to a full extent the attacking philosophies of the respective managers on the Goodison Park touchline.

Here are six talking points from a thrilling Merseyside derby draw between Everton and Liverpool. Enjoy and let us know what you made of it all in the comments below.

The Spotlight Shines on Luis Suarez, Simon Mignolet and Romelu Lukaku

After Luis Suarez’s goal, diving celebration and non-goal in this corresponding fixture last year, we knew there wasn’t a chance he’d let this one pass him by either.

If his free-kick in the 19th minute—an expert low curler from outside the box—was impressive, equally eye-catching and perhaps even more important was his fanatical work rate, desire and commitment to the Reds cause.

Sergio Aguero would have had something to say about this after his barnstorming performance in Manchester City’s demolition of Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, but there’s a very strong argument that Luis Suarez is currently the best player in the Premier League.

If Suarez is the best outfield player in the top flight, surely Simon Mignolet has an equal shout as the best shot-stopper currently in England.

Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool fans will, in the aftermath of the draw, look at the positive side of Mignolet’s nine saves and conclude that he has indeed been an upgrade on Pepe Reina, and ignore all the insinuations that come with conceding so many shots on goal in the first place.

Mignolet has won the Reds many a point and kept them in many a game this season, but Everton’s loan star Romelu Lukaku made sure that the Belgian goalkeeper would have to concede three times before making the return journey across Stanley Park.

The cream of the crop among some fine transfer window business by Roberto Martinez, Lukaku simply had too much for Liverpool as they looked to recover from Joe Allen’s horrendous miss.

With two goals in 10 minutes, Lukaku enhanced his burgeoning reputation as the premier target-man striker in the Premier League and he’s only 20 years old.

Liverpool Hurt by Kevin Mirallas, Phil Dowd and Joe Allen

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Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

It wouldn’t be a Merseyside derby without its fair share of controversy and drama, and a single dose of Kevin Mirallas provided all the poison this traditionally fiery clash warranted—not that it needed it.

Currently doing the rounds on the Internet are comparisons between Mirallas’ knee-high challenge on Luis Suarez and the other noteworthy referee blunders of the weekend—starring Wes Brown’s sending-off and Wayne Rooney’s petulant lash—but he wasn’t finished there.

A further stamp on Suarez and a bloodying elbow to Jordan Henderson’s face ensured that Mirallas ended the game as the villain. So it was all too fitting that he’d opened the scoring for Everton before any of the above happened.

If Phil Dowd had stuck to the referees’ guidelines of sending players off for dangerous tackles to protect the recipients, perhaps this game would have turned out differently.

As it were, just as we predicted before the match, the referee’s decision and the Fat Lady came to the fore, like it did in both the derby fixtures last season. Mark Halsey was demoted to the Championship after his blunder against West Bromwich Albion a few weeks ago; Dowd might just be fearing the same.

Of course, Liverpool could’ve rendered any outside forces and chance to a mere afterthought if they had taken charge of their own destiny and made their own luck.

We’re talking, of course, about Joe Allen, who found himself clear with just the goalkeeper to beat from a mere 10 yards, and proceeded to fail to test Tim Howard so comprehensively that Everton—as though footballing karma actually exists—completed their comeback almost immediately.

Another “coulda-woulda-shoulda” for Liverpool, who, thanks to other results in the Premier League, keep their spot behind league leaders Arsenal for another week.

Time for a Change to the Reds’ Central Defence

After Mamadou Sakho’s heroics for France during their World Cup play-offs against Ukraine last week, one could’ve reasonably expected him to start in the derby with his confidence sky-high, especially against the sheer force that is Romelu Lukaku.

But marshalling the defence instead were Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger, Liverpool’s tried and trusted central defensive pairing back in those days when they didn’t have any quality backup.

The problem, of course, is that the visitors do have alternative options these days, and in not playing Kolo Toure and Sakho, Brendan Rodgers opted—wrongly—for more of the same, and a continuation of old tradition.

Against a busy Lukaku and an energetic Everton midfield, and with a lacklustre and tired central midfield ahead of them, Toure and Sakho would have offered steel, composure, experience, physicality and pace as a defensive partnership.

Alas, the lack of strong defensive options meant that Saturday’s Liverpool had a soft core, and Everton’s approach play almost fully exploited it, like Southampton had done before them.

Without a strong right-sided central defender anchoring in beside him, Glen Johnson struggled as well, perhaps predictably, against the dynamic duo of Steven Pienaar and Leighton Baines, in a generally testy and nervy performance by the Liverpool defence.

We will reserve our compliments for Jon Flanagan, who, despite the pre-match doubts of almost all Liverpool fans, put in a shift that Jose Enrique would’ve been proud of. Aly Cissokho went on record stating his hopes of making his loan move from Valencia permanent (h/t Sky Sports)—on current evidence, he’ll need to work a whole lot more.

A Tale of Set Pieces

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Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

It is curious that one of Liverpool’s likeliest ways to get a goal these days is also one of their most vulnerable areas, and that the main protagonist in the former is also one of the main culprits for the latter.

Let’s mention attacking set pieces first, and salute the deliveries of Steven Gerrard time and again, for it was his corner kick that led to Philippe Coutinho’s opening goal, and it was his free-kick in the 89th minute that made Daniel Sturridge’s dramatic headed equalizer possible.

A week ago, of course, two Gerrard set pieces got the ball rolling at Anfield against Fulham. It’s no surprise that with the captain in such inspired form from these situations, he currently leads the Premier League in assists, with five.

On the flip side, as inventive and effective as Gerrard has been from set piece situations, he has unfortunately been equally lethargic and lacking in mobility as a central midfielder, which would be less obvious if a dominant defensive midfielder were supporting him.

As it is, the combined energy, pace and positioning of Lucas and Gerrard have created holes in the midfield this season that have let opposing midfielders run past them all too easily, especially those with the physicality and power to do so.

This leads to the unfortunate propensity of conceding free-kicks in the Red half. Not an ideal situation, especially given the set-piece frailties that still plague Brendan Rodgers’ side.

Liverpool fans will be fervently hoping that Yann M’Vila, spotted in the stands on Saturday, was doing more than just paying his friend Mamadou Sakho a visit, as was rumoured by the Liverpool Echo.

Young Blues Full of Pace, Power and Promise

According to the main events in the match, it seemed like Kevin Mirallas and Romelu Lukaku stole the spotlight for Everton and will be the Blues’ main men this season.

After all, both profited from defensive mishaps to score the goals to almost win all three points for the hosts, and with five assists and seven goals respectively, they are high in both charts thus far this season. Mirallas leads the assists table with Gerrard, while Lukaku is joint fifth in goals scored with Robin van Persie and Olivier Giroud.

But many of the excellent performances that Everton have put on this season have been down to their young midfield duo, Ross Barkley and James McCarthy, both of whom put in mature displays on Saturday in one of the biggest matches in the Premier League season.

Barkley’s driving runs from midfield were relentless as they were tormenting, while McCarthy’s composure alongside the experienced Gareth Barry set the platform for the hosts’ impressive second-half comeback.

Just as Lukaku has been a brilliant loan signing, so too has Barry been a real bargain for the Blues. Looking long term, the trouble is whether or not Martinez will be able to replace them in his starting XI. But that’s a problem for another day—for January, or for next summer, perhaps.

For now, this Everton side have added pace, dynamism and an aesthetically pleasing brand of attacking football to their play. Martinez’s philosophies—and his excellent summer signings—seem to have found their place at Goodison Park already.

Daniel Sturridge Has Much to Learn

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Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
With his match-winning goal-scoring prowess, affable confidence and crowd-pleasing dance celebrations, what’s not to like about Daniel Sturridge?

From Brendan Rodgers’ post-match press conference, however, it seems that this exact attitude may have found its way into Sturridge’s own head, with the Liverpool manager citing “different personalities, different types” while comparing Suarez’s competitiveness to Sturridge’s lack of fitness, according to the Telegraph.

It is indicative of Rodgers’ man-management approach that he has embraced the qualities of Sturridge—qualities that were evident as he scored a dramatic equalizer after coming off the bench—but also that he has seen fit to criticize Sturridge’s fitness in times like this.

When your strike partner is Luis Suarez, though, it means you almost have to improve in every facet of your game.

Suspended for the first five games of the season, Suarez has roared back into first-team action and is already currently tied with Sturridge on nine league goals (just one behind league leader Sergio Aguero). But Suarez also brings with him a tremendous work rate and an eagerness to compete, even in training, which Rodgers has brought to attention.

“A lot of players, especially the top ones, are never 100 percent fit. Suarez will never have been 100 percent in his time here.”

For all the right noises that have been coming out of Daniel Sturridge, there is still plenty for him to learn. Fortunately for him, he’s got the perfect role model alongside him—at least for this season.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

Everton vs. Liverpool Preview: How and Where the Merseyside Derby Will Be Won

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Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
 
 
The Red and Blue halves of Merseyside will meet for the 221st time on Saturday, as Liverpool prepare to travel across Stanley Park to take on Everton at Goodison Park.

After two successive derby draws last season, the rivalry has a different complexion to it this time around: Having finished outside of the European places last May, Liverpool enter this fixture second in the Premier League table, while Everton, with 20 points in hand, are just a solitary point behind fourth-placed Chelsea.

As we look forward to a Merseyside derby with a renewed significance, let’s look at five areas—outside of focus on Liverpool’s Luis Suarez-Daniel Sturridge strike partnership and Everton’s in-form Romelu Lukaku—where the points might just be won on Saturday.

Enjoy, and let us know your views in the comments below.

Full-Backs and the Flanks

Let’s start first with a position that both Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers consider to be integral to their style of play: the full-backs.

With both managers preferring wingers that cut in and build through the middle, the full-backs figure prominently in the tactical setups of both Everton and Liverpool—Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines have been every bit as impressive and important as the Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique duo over at Anfield.

And with Enrique out with a knee injury (according to BBC Sport, he will likely face surgery), Liverpool’s deputy left-back—whether it’s Aly Cissokho or Mamadou Sakho—will face a battle on his hands against Coleman and the talented Kevin Mirallas.

Johnson and Baines over on Everton’s left flank will be a battle between two of England’s most all-rounded full-backs, and will be equally mesmerizing. We can’t rule out a Baines free-kick or a Johnson stunner as the match-deciding goal either.

Steven Gerrard and His Young Pretender

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The central midfield at Goodison Park will likely feature a matchup that more than fans of the Merseyside derby will be keeping an eye on: Premier League fans, England fans, England manager Roy Hodgson and journalists looking for quick headline fixes will be paying attention as well.

That’s because in Steven Gerrard vs. Ross Barkley, we have the makings of a battle between the present (and soon-to-be past) and the future of the England central midfield.

Everything that Steven Gerrard is and used to be—the influential midfield playmaker, talismanic captain and erstwhile match-winning driving force—Ross Barkley, at 19 years of age, is currently aspiring to emulate.

And everything Barkley has been for Everton this season—a young, energetic talent with a penchant for the spectacular, and a snappy attitude to boot—Gerrard wishes he still had in his locker as a precocious teenager.

A changing of the guard, one that Liverpool fans surely wish was happening at Anfield instead of the derby, could also be pivotal in determining the result on Saturday.

Potential Match-Winners off the Bench

But it’s not just the starting XI that will influence proceedings, especially given the talent present in both squads these days. The match could easily be affected by a managerial masterstroke.

Let’s look at the home bench first, where on-loan Barcelona starlet Gerard Deulofeu is clearly the danger man for the Reds to keep an eye on. His pace, dribbling and eye for goal will be a threat to the Liverpool defence—the No. 10 might even find himself in the starting lineup on Saturday.

Outside of Deulofeu, Everton also have Steven Naismith, who scored the winner against Chelsea back in September, and the admittedly short-of-confidence Nikica Jelavic to call on. Three goalscoring options off the bench, then. Not too shabby.

Quite on the contrary, Liverpool don’t have any strikers to call on, but they do have one of the league’s best strike partnerships in Suarez and Sturridge, of course. Victor Moses and Raheem Sterling are valuable attacking options that will help open up the midfield for SAS and Philippe Coutinho to push through the middle and attack.

Luis Alberto and Joe Allen also help add a sense of calm to the midfield possession play and could be crucial in changing the tempo of the game.

The Swansea Old Boys

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Stu Forster/Getty Images
 
 
 
As we look ahead at a new and freshened up Merseyside derby this weekend, it’s also time to pay tribute to Swansea City, for it was at the Liberty Stadium that both Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers made their names as up-and-coming managers.

Indeed, it was Martinez who implemented the aesthetically pleasing and now-famous passing style at Swansea, and Rodgers who continued that legacy and brought the Swans into the Premier League for the first time.

With their similar footballing philosophies of emphasizing technique and passing on the ground, Martinez and Rodgers share one other unique trait: Both were linked with the Anfield hot seat in the summer of 2012.

It was Rodgers who ended up receiving the offer, of course, which potentially makes Saturday a chance for Martinez to settle a personal score with his predecessor at Swansea. It’s already been referenced in the South Wales Evening Post.

The Daily Mail tells us that Martinez has never beaten Rodgers in the league, with the latter winning four and drawing one of their five meetings. Let’s see where the record stands at the end of the 90 minutes.

Referees—and the Fat Lady

Suffice it to say that the men with the whistles have been at the center of the past two Merseyside derbies.

For Liverpool fans, this fixture last year should’ve yielded all three points to the Reds—Luis Suarez’s would-be winner was wrongly chalked off for offside in injury time—while Everton fans will have been incensed at Sylvain Distin’s own ruled-out effort in the reverse fixture in May.

And it’s not only the ruled-out goals: Since the start of the Premier League, the Merseyside derby has seen more red cards than any other matchup, making the referee a central figure in such matchups. According to the Mirror, Phil Dowd will be officiating the 221st derby.

There’s also the small matter of luck. Lady Luck will look to make her presence felt in a pivotal game like this, but that’s the subject of a totally different analysis.

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.