Merseyside Derby Preview: Can Everton overcome 14 year drought or will Liverpool continue its dominance?

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When Everton take the trip across Stanley Park to face Liverpool on Sunday it will mark the 220th meeting between the two Merseyside clubs. For Everton, the encounter presents an opportunity to remain on pace for a crack at European football and the chance to break a 14 year winless streak at Anfield. For Liverpool, the match offers a chance to extend their derby dominance and provide further evidence that there’s life after Luis Suarez.

Everton enter the match having lost only once in their last nine Premier League outings. That loss came two weeks ago at the hands of a rejuvenated Sunderland side, buoyed by their peppery new manager, Paulo Di Canio. The Toffees collected themselves well after the defeat, returning home to Goodison Park where they thoroughly outplayed a lackluster Fulham side for a 1-0 victory.

While Everton have done well to persevere through difficult circumstances, scoring goals has become an issue having only found the back of the net twice in the last three matches. It hasn’t been for lack of chances – the Toffees have had 49 cracks at goal during the stint – rather the failure to capitalize. Nikica Jelavic is the primary culprit, having scored only eight times in 42 appearances this season and only once since Christmas. For a man who scored 11 times in 16 games over the second half of last season after moving to Goodison Park, it’s a sizeable drought.

But the burden not only falls on Jelavic. Highly touted players like Marouane Fellaini (1 goal in his last 8 league matches), Kevin Mirallas (goal-less in his last 4 league matches), Victor Anichebe (1 goal in his last 8 league matches) and Leon Osman (1 goal in his last 7 league matches) all need to raise their offensive output if the Blues are to stay on par for a Top 5 finish. Currently 6th in the table, the Toffees are three points behind 5th place Tottenham (who have a game in hand), five points behind 4th place Arsenal and six points behind 3rd place Chelsea (also, with a game in hand). In other words, Sunday’s match presents a must-win scenario if David Moyes’ side are to keep their European dreams alive.

The problem is that winning at Anfield is easier said than done for Everton. It’s been 14 years (September 1999) since Kevin Campbell’s solitary strike saw the Blues taste victory at Anfield. The dry spell represents a major blemish on Moyes’ Goodison Park resume leaving the Scot desperate to record his first win in front of the Kop in what could end up being his final Merseyside derby.

Liverpool, however, aren’t a sentimental group and won’t look to be doing the Everton gaffer any favors as they seek to right a season gone wrong. The arrival of Brendan Rodgers, an ever evolving roster of players, and a season filled with highs and lows surrounding enigmatic striker Luis Suarez has left the Reds 7th in the table, five points adrift of their Merseyside brothers.

Despite the drama, the Reds have grown a more consistent side of late and enter the match on a five game league unbeaten streak. Last week Rodgers’ side tore apart Newcastle in a 6-0 thrashing at St. James’ Park. In Liverpool’s best display this season, the club put aside Suarez’ bite-gate controversy to show they are much more than a single striker threat. January arrival Philippe Coutinho, playing in an increasingly free-range role behind Daniel Sturridge, was the star once again as he devoured the plethora of space Newcastle afforded him. Sturridge and Jordan Henderson each notched braces in the match, deserved coups for two players who have grown by leaps and bounds during the 2012-13 season.

Having played themselves out of European qualification, the only realistic aim for Steven Gerrard’s side is to overtake Everton in the table and to continue inflicting derby pain. Since the captain’s first derby in April 1999, Liverpool have played 28 Merseyside contests in the league, winning 16 and losing only four times.

For Stevie G, Sunday may not carry the significance of derby’s past but it nevertheless presents an opportunity to hand Jamie Carragher a final Merseyside victory and Kopites a psychological edge over their blue neighbors.

“That’s why the derby is so special,” Gerrard said. “It isn’t about the points or about what you could achieve. It’s not about where you are in the table. It’s about having those bragging rights in the city.”

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.