Marquee matchup: Can Everton end its Anfield curse?

It has been 37 matches and nearly 18 years since Everton declared victory at Anfield. Kevin Campbell, whose nine goals in eight games on loan from Trabzonspor during the 1998-99 season saved the Toffees from relegation, scored the only goal on that September day.

Subsequent Everton teams tried and failed to snag three points from across Stanley Park, but this year could be different. Ronald Koeman’s side has produced a league-high 15 goal-scorers this season – none more dominant than Romelu Lukaku, whose 21 tallies lead the English top flight. Everton is very much in the ascendancy, having won eight of its past 12 league matches.

Liverpool has entertained supporters in equal measure, and it’s in the biggest matches that the Reds tend to show their class. They are unbeaten in 14 fixtures against teams currently in the top 10 of the Premier League, and they have lost just one league contest at home so far.

Something has to give in Saturday’s lunchtime Merseyside derby.

Can Everton end a painful curse and revive hopes of qualifying for the Champions League? Here is how the two rivals sit in the table:

# Matches played Team Points
2 28 Tottenham 59
3 28 Manchester City 57
4 29 Liverpool 56
5 27 Manchester United 52
6 27 Arsenal 50
7 29 Everton 50

Injuries and suspensions

Koeman has every reason to feel upset after the latest international break. In the space of only a few days, Everton lost defenders Seamus Coleman and Ramiro Funes Mori to season-ending injuries. The pair suffered a broken leg and injured knee, respectively, while representing the Republic of Ireland and Argentina.

James McCarthy tweaked a pre-existing hamstring problem during the break as well – something that angered Koeman. And January signing Morgan Schneiderlin couldn’t recover from a calf ailment in time to make himself available for the marquee clash.

Related: Koeman fumes over O’Neill’s failure to protect McCarthy

Liverpool can commiserate with its neighbour. Jurgen Klopp lost Adam Lallana for a month because of a thigh injury he suffered in a World Cup qualifier with England. Daniel Sturridge returned to training for the first time in five weeks Thursday, but he is still not fully recovered from a hip concern. Meanwhile, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho are expected to start after flying back from Brazil.

Projected lineups

Liverpool starting XI: Mignolet; Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Moreno; WIjnaldum, Milner, Can; Mane, Firmino, Coutinho

Everton starting XI: Robles; Holgate, Jagielka, Williams, Baines; Davies, Gueye, Barry; Barkley, Lukaku, Lookman

What to watch

Injuries unfortunately could shape this contest. The loss of Lallana is arguably the biggest for either side – an emergency that could force Klopp to reshuffle his squad and lift James Milner into midfield. That would necessitate starting the untrustworthy Alberto Moreno, and he would then become Liverpool’s clear weak spot in the left-back position.

Klopp may also opt to play Divock Origi up front and drop Philippe Coutinho into midfield, or hand young Ben Woodburn a starting role. But whatever the German’s decision, it is the left side that Everton should target.

Winger Ross Barkley and midfielder Tom Davies can easily swap positions and disorient the men marking them. Davies’s overlapping runs put opposing defenders in compromising positions, and his confidence going forward is one reason why Koeman has decided to start the 18-year-old in nine of 10 games in 2017.

And if Liverpool does the expected and dominates possession at Anfield, the Everton counter-attack could do lots of damage. After all, Klopp’s men play some breathtaking football themselves; it is actually when they have the ball that they look the most vulnerable.

With Lukaku’s ability to participate in link-up play and infiltrate wider positions, Everton can strike quickly and stun Liverpool, which has lost games this season – namely against Burnley and Swansea City – despite the benefit of possession.