Liverpool can move a step closer to title glory on Sunday evening, and Kevin Hatchard believes they'll clinch a narrow derby victory at Everton...
Everton v Liverpool Sunday 21 June, 19:00 Live on Sky Sports Premier League
Ancelotti chasing Europa League dream
Everton fans haven't had too many things to cheer in a difficult season, but at least they know their bitter Merseyside foes Liverpool can't clinch a long-awaited title at Goodison Park. Manchester City's midweek win over Arsenal spares Everton that particular indignity, although it seems inconceivable that Reds fans won't be able to crow about winning the league in homes and workplaces across Liverpool soon (all at an acceptable distance, of course).
Toffees' boss Carlo Ancelotti has Europa League qualification on his agenda, as he continues to sift through the wreckage of the Marco Silva era. The mathematics don't completely rule that out, and the Italian has publicly declared a UEL place to be a target, although Everton will have to find a consistency that has eluded them so far this term. They haven't strung three wins together at any stage, and have only managed back-to-back league successes twice.
They have however found some form at home, with a seven-match unbeaten run at Goodison heading into the hiatus. Indeed, their only home defeat in the last ten PL games on Merseyside was a 2-0 reverse against Norwich City. Ancelotti's men have conceded just eight goals across those ten matches. However, the ground will be largely empty, and it remains to be seen how that absence of tangible support will impact Everton's performance.
Everton have plenty of injury concerns to deal with, especially in the spine of the team. Centre-back Yerry Mina is out, as are midfield trio Morgan Schneiderlin, Fabian Delph and Jean-Philippe Gbamin. At least Andre Gomes has had time to fully recover from an horrific injury suffered earlier this term, and he should start.
Klopp relieved to be closing in on the title
Once UEFA declared that they wanted places in next season's Champions League and Europa League to be decided on "sporting merit" it was clear that the Premier League season was highly unlikely to be voided. Had it been, it would have been the cruellest cut for Liverpool, who not only have waited three long decades to be once again crowned champions of England, but who have also dominated the competition to a dizzying extent.
Liverpool boss Jürgen Klopp admits the thought of having the title wrenched away felt like a physical blow, and that the prospect of so much good work turning to dust was "really, really hard." Now his players have been given the green light to build on the best record of any club ever after 29 games in Europe's top five leagues, with 27 wins, a draw and a solitary defeat at Watford in the books.
With such lofty targets within reach, it would be easy to forget that there is plenty of local pride attached to Sunday's clash. Liverpool are unbeaten in 21 matches against Everton in all competitions, and they have already beaten them 5-2 in the league and 1-0 in the FA Cup.
Fleet-footed forward Mohamed Salah has been passed fit, with goalkeeper Alisson and rampaging left-back Andy Robertson also expected to feature after shaking off minor knocks. Roberto Firmino will hope to finally break his derby jinx - the Brazilian forward has failed to score in all nine of his clashes with Everton.
Liverpool to edge a close one
Given Everton's strong home record before the break, it's tempting to baulk at Liverpool's price of 1.62 for the outright win. However, Klopp's men are fully refreshed after a punishing schedule that had seen them win the Club World Cup, and they have won all but two of their Premier League matches. Ancelotti says Everton will need to play the perfect game to win, and I think he's right.
Everton will be shorn of their fans, and they are missing important players in defence and midfield. I think they'll put up a significant fight here, but will be edged out by the better team. You can back a Liverpool/Under 3.5 Goals double on the Sportsbook at an attractive [2.39].
If you're concerned that a rusty Liverpool may come up against a blue brick wall, you might just want to bank on an absence of goals, and back Under 2.5 Goals at 2.28. That bet has landed in five of the last seven Merseyside derbies.
Salah or Mane to make the breakthrough?
Mo Salah has racked up 20 goals in all competitions this term, and is 2.08to score at any time. Sadio Mane is 2.18, having scored 18 times, while Divock Origi (five goals in seven games against Everton) is trading at 2.86.
The hiatus came at a bad time for Everton striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin, as he had scored in five of his last seven games when the season was suspended. He is priced at 3.25.