We have ourselves a Merseyside Derby for the FA Cup match on Friday, and since the FA Cup is Everton’s best chance for silverware, we can expect them to play their hearts out. I believe that Everton will go with the same approach that earned them a draw against Chelsea, going with a 5-3-2 approach with a triangle in the middle, using two defensive midfielders. Defend first, and try to sneak in a goal if possible. Since Allardyce took over, Everton have averaged around only 7 shots per game.
I believe we will go with a 4-3-3. Karius; Robertson, Lovren, Matip, Gomez; Wijnaldum, Can, Milner; and finally Mane, Firmino, and Oxlade-Chamberlain. It is possible we see some of Solanke and the new signing Virgil Van Dijk.
In terms of setup defensively, I think it is best to force play in the middle, to their defensive midfielders. It is a midfield that can easily be overrun, especially by our pacey forwards and midfielders who it seems could run forever. Assuming the partnership for Everton is Baningime and Schneiderlin as the two defensive midfielders, it may be best to target and isolate Schneiderlin. His lack of pace will mean it is unlikely that he wins the ball back. Our outside forwards (Mane and the Ox) would stay between Everton’s fullbacks and the centerback next to the fullback, so that they are forced to play towards the middle. Then when play is in the middle, Firmino and our three center midfielders can attempt to win the ball. Perhaps a certain scenario like Schneiderlin receiving a pass facing his own goal would trigger the press. In transition, since our outside forwards are already between their defenders, they give us an outlet to play in the channels behind the Everton defense. Playing Mane on the same side as Ashley Williams could be useful as Mane will beat him with pace and Williams has not exactly had his best season so far.
Offensively if we assume that Firmino plays as the center forward, expect him to drop a bit to help with circulation and general possession. This would create an overload in the middle of the pitch along with the three CMs. Although the counter is Liverpool’s biggest strength offensively, circulation could be vital in this game because Everton may play a mid or low block defensively. Some simple circulation in an overloaded area of the pitch will hopefully draw out one of Everton’s centerbacks, leaving more room for Mane and the Ox to exploit. The overload will help with the gegenpressing as well, as the numerical superiority will help win the ball back quicker if we lose it. Mane and the Ox roam around the half spaces while the fullbacks provide width in line with the midfielders so that there is more space in the middle. This also makes it easier for them to transition back to defend should we lose the ball, as they will be close to the other defenders.
Even though we play at home and Everton have not looked so great this season, it is still a derby game. Since it is a knockout competition, they would like nothing more than to eliminate us from the FA Cup which obviously guarantees one less trophy for us. I expect a close match.