Monday 22 January 2018

Derby win can give Reds lift-off

Brendan Rodgers hopes for history to repeat itself for Liverpool against Everton
Brendan Rodgers hopes for history to repeat itself for Liverpool against Everton

Brendan Rodgers hopes Saturday's Merseyside derby can provide the same injection of pace into Liverpool's season as last year's Anfield clash with Everton.

The 4-0 victory over their neighbours in January was the start of a run that brought Liverpool 37 points from a possible 39 and rocketed them to the top of the Barclays Premier League table.

They would almost certainly have ended their long wait for a league title but for a defeat by Chelsea that ended the sequence.

The Reds' hopes of exceeding or at least matching their achievements of last season have been dealt a blow by three losses in their first five league matches, making a good result in the derby even more important.

Boss Rodgers said: "We haven't made the best of starts this season but in the like-for-like games last season, we're only a point different.

"We still have positives from it. We've got young players that have been introduced into our team, which is what we look to achieve to try to help them and educate them to come through and play for the first team.

"We go into this game with a great opportunity to get a victory in a derby game, which we will hope can provide a platform for us to go on consistently, like it did last year."

Losing Luis Suarez has inevitably had a big effect, while Rodgers has had to expand his squad to cope with the extra demands of the Champions League.

Injuries have not helped either and, instead of the exhilarating football that blew teams away last season, Liverpool have stuttered, managing only seven goals in their five league games so far.

"At this moment, we're refocusing, reintroducing the principles into our game that have brought us the win ratio we've had in the last 18 months," said Rodgers.

"Probably the early part of the season, apart from the Tottenham game, we've moved away a little bit from that. Our game was based on a real fast, pressing game, really high intensity and the speed of our football.

"We put a lot of hard work into those first six to 12 months we were here, and a lot of those processes became natural. The consequence of that is winning.

"But when you introduce a raft of new players and you lose the core of players that were important, because that's obviously a factor, then it becomes a little bit broken. That's how our game has looked for a big part of the season.

"Where I'm fortunate is I have a group of players here that identify with that. We're all in this together and we just need to get back and focus on what has allowed us to win games consistently over the last 18 months to two years."

Rodgers remains hopeful striker Daniel Sturridge could return for the derby. Sturridge suffered a thigh injury on England duty earlier this month and will be given every chance to prove his fitness.

Midfielder Jordan Henderson (hip) and playmaker Philippe Coutinho (groin) are among a number of other players who could return.

Roberto Martinez insists Everton's defensive troubles are temporary because their class is permanent.

The Toffees have had no trouble finding the net so far this season but have already conceded 13 goals in five Premier League games, more than any other team.

That has been the principle reason they have managed just one win so far, making the short trip to Anfield even more important than normal.

Last season Everton had the third best defensive record in the division, which helped them to achieve a fifth-placed finish and their highest Premier League points tally.

Martinez's said of his side's leaky defence: "That's been an area that we've been quite poor and it's something we need to improve.

"Sometimes you get situations where when you are so good as a team at something that you could take it for granted and then you get a little bit of misfortune in one or two actions early in the season and the ball ends up in the back of the net, and all of a sudden it seems the confidence is not the same and you don't defend with the same intensity.

"You look at the experience we have in the team, we haven't made any major changes in those positions.

"Now what we want to do is make sure we have more focus, better concentration, better communication and just face that challenge of getting back the standards that we have as a team defensively.

"It's not something that we're aiming for, it's something that we have, and it's a big difference. But clearly conceding the amount of goals we've conceded is not something we want to accept.

"We'll always approach games to win games but it's important we don't become a team that concedes games cheaply."

Martinez will make late decisions on the fitness of influential duo Seamus Coleman and Steven Pienaar.

Full-back Coleman has missed the last two games with a head injury while midfielder Pienaar damaged a thigh in Everton's second game of the season.

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