COMMENT By Matt Farr
Everton and Liverpool go head-to-head in an eagerly-anticipated Merseyside derby clash on Monday night, the first of the season, but who makes their combined XI?
Everton attacking-midfielder Ross Barkley would miss out, with fellow England international Adam Lallana a must-have considering his recent form.
The 28-year-old has become a brand new figure this season, having developed a keen eye for goal. Since netting his first international goal in September, Lallana has scored six goals in 15 appearances, and has also contributed six assists.
Barkley, meanwhile, has struggled for consistency and has had little influence in Everton’s attack this season. He found himself dropped to the bench at the start of the month, only to return to the line-up following the season-ending injury to Yannick Bolasie.
The 23-year-old has contributed just three goals and two assists from 16 games in all competitions.
Roberto Firmino of Liverpool would also fail to make the cut, with team-mates Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane the preferred choices. Coutinho has been Liverpool’s star this season and Mane has seven goals and seven assists. They get the nod ahead of Everton’s Bolasie and Gerard Deulofeu.
Here is the rest of our best combined XI:
The goalkeeper spot is a bit of an issue. Both Loris Karius and Maarten Stekelenburg – who have been the first-choice goalkeepers this campaign – have made a number of errors.
However, it is the experienced 34-year-old Stekelenburg that takes the no.1 jersey, on the basis that he has been a little more convincing in goal than the youngster.
The full-backs are one of the toughest areas to decide. James Milner has performed well as Liverpool’s makeshift left-back, but you cannot look past Leighton Baines.
The 32-year-old is out of contract this summer, but his performances this season could earn him an extended stay at Goodison Park.
As for the right-back, Nathaniel Clyne narrowly pips Seamus Coleman. Both offer a great deal in the final-third, but Clyne has been a little more consistent defensively.
In the heart of the defence there’s an Everton-Liverpool partnership. Neither side have been particularly strong in the position as of yet, but there have been some standout performers.
Joel Matip has been Liverpool’s best defender, despite the Reds conceding 20 goals from 16 games this season. Having only joined in the summer, he has already become their defensive leader and looks extremely competent at the back.
Meanwhile, Ashley Williams beats Phil Jagielka. Again, Everton have not been great defensively, but he is probably the best of the remaining options for both sides.
In central-midfield, it is another Everton-Liverpool pairing. Jordan Henderson is the first of the two, and the Liverpool captain has contributed four assists and one goal so far this season.
His midfield partner is Everton’s best player this season, and one of the most underrated summer signings this year, Idrissa Gueye.
He performed well despite Aston Villa’s relegation last season, but he has continued to excel as a ball-winning midfielder and is one of the first names on Ronald Koeman’s team-sheet. Everton could have been in a lot more trouble if they didn’t have Gueye this season.
While Everton have quality forward players of their own, the three-man attacking-midfield is pure Liverpool. Joining Lallana and Mane is Brazilian playmaker Philippe Coutinho.
Before suffering an injury, the 24-year-old contributed six goals and six assists from just 14 games. He is expected back in early January, and the club will welcome him back with open arms.
The lone striker role was another straight shoot-out – this time between Divock Origi and Romelu Lukaku. Origi has been in superb goalscoring form of late, with seven goals in 17 appearances, but Lukaku has nine goals and four assists from 16 appearances – and that’s why the latter makes the selection.
We all know what the Belgian striker is capable of, and he has already netted one hat-trick this season – in a 3-0 win over Sunderland on September 12.
Altogether, it’s a fairly even affair for both sides, with Everton contributing five players to Liverpool’s six, and we can expect a similarly tight affair when the pair lock horns on the pitch.
In other Everton news, here is more on Leighton Baines’ new contract talks.