Sep 262014

Who will play at right-back?

All Blues fans will be desperate to see Seamus Coleman line up in defence at Anfield.

He is so vital to the way Everton play and the head injury which has kept out out of the last two games has been a costly one.

John Stones filled in for Coleman against Crystal Palace and looked unconvincing, adding more weight to the argument that the 20-year-old centre-back should only be pressed into service at full-back in an absolute emergency.

Tony Hibbert came in for his first start of the season against Swansea City in the Capital One Cup in midweek and was given a torrid time by Jefferson Montero, meaning it is Stones who remains the leading contender to fill in for Coleman if he fails to recover.

Attack is the best form of defence for the marauding Irishman, who scored six Premier League goals last season while creating 45 chances for teammates (the third-best figure for an Everton player). No wonder he was voted in the PFA Team of the Year and named Everton’s player of the season.

With Coleman and Leighton Baines attacking down the flanks, the Blues are able to put teams under greater pressure while Gareth Barry and James McCarthy drop anchor in midfield and ensure the defence is not too exposed.

With the notably exception of last season’s Anfield horror show, it worked to perfection last season. But the balance been quite right this term, partially because Coleman has missed three of Everton’s seven matches.

Stones and Hibbert simply don’t offer the same cutting edge. McCarthy would be another option at right-back, but his services are required in midfield.

In short, Coleman’s return can’t come soon enough.

Andy Johnson salutes the crowd after heading in Everton's third goal VIEW GALLERY  

Is history repeating itself?

The Blues are long overdue a win at Anfield. Their last one came 15 years ago – on September 27, 1999 – when Kevin Campbell’s predatory early goal stunned the Kop and handed Everton a 1-0 victory.

The date of this year’s Anfield clash – September 27 – left Roberto Martinez musing about fate and omens in his Finch Farm press conference on Thursday.

After seeing his side lose 3-2 to Crystal Palace at Goodison twice in the space of a few months in almost identical circumstances, the Everton boss was hoping the gods might smile on his team this time round.

“The defeat against Palace, there was something spooky about it,” said the Catalan. “The last time we beat Liverpool at Anfield was September 27 so I hope the spookiness carries on at the weekend.”

Those accusing the Blues boss of clutching at straws should remember it was only a throwaway remark made in jest.

What Martinez knows is that he has inherited a team which almost seems to have a mental block when it comes to winning at Anfield. They have lost eight of their 16 games there since 1999, and were on the receiving end of a 4-0 hiding last season.

Martinez masterminded a first Everton win at Old Trafford in 21 years last season. He’ll be hoping it’s a case of second time lucky when he tries to put his team’s Anfield hoodoo to rest.

Who will provide the firepower?

Romelu Lukaku’s inclusion is pretty much a given. Steven Naismith’s fine form means he should start. Kevin Mirallas should get the nod too.

So that’s three of the (usual) four attacking slots accounted for. Who fills the other two is up for debate.

Samuel Eto’o has proved his undoubted class in his appearances to date, but showed against Crystal Palace that he is not a natural wide attacker. So might he be saved as an impact sub?

Steven Pienaar would slot nicely into a supporting cast of three behind Lukaku, lining up on the left with Naismith in the middle and Mirallas starting on the right, but the South African is struggling with a quad injury and may not be risked from the start.

Aiden McGeady, Christian Atsu and Bryan Oviedo are in the reckoning should Pienaar not make it, but Martinez has let no clues slip as to who he might select.

And given his tendency to spring tactical surprises in big games, he could opt for an entirely different formation.

Everyone – including Brendan Rodgers – will be kept guessing until 11.45pm on Saturday when the teams are revealed.

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