Preparations from the Everton side for Saturday’s Merseyside derby have been dominated by comments from Phil Jagielka, Sylvain Distin’s contractual situation and concerns over the fitness of the Toffees’ talismanic midfielder, Tim Cahill.
Jagielka said earlier this week that Everton would have to abandon the defensive mindset they took to Manchester City last weekend and come out fighting when Liverpool come to Goodison Park, and the fitness of Cahill may be intertwined with the chances of that happening. An injury picked up in a challenge with Vincent Kompany however threatens to rule Cahill out of the match.
Louis Saha returned to the Everton fold at the Etihad Stadium but even if the Frenchman was to start against the Reds, David Moyes is likely to believe Everton’s chances are only increased if Cahill is there to support the striker, despite a section of the supporters who would prefer to see Cahill dropped and one of Everton’s few forwards chosen instead. Lacking a goal since December 2010 Cahill has still been a handful for opposing defences this season, and his makeshift partnership with Leon Osman has produced one of the hardest-working strike duos the Premier League is likely to see this campaign.
Selecting Saha would certainly be a statement of attacking intent from the manager, one that would prove popular with the Everton faithful, but the combative nature of the game means Cahill is always an effective presence, even if he does not get on the score sheet. Saha did however look lively during his second-half substitute appearance a week ago against Manchester City, and any discontent between the manager and the player of Saha’s exclusion from consecutive squads appears well and truly settled.
The future of Saha’s compatriot Distin is less sure. With the centre-back’s contract expiring next summer negotiations are underway between the club and the player’s representative, and Press stories saying Everton had only offered the 33-year-old a year’s extension while Distin was holding out for two years have been denied by the former Portsmouth player. Like so much around Everton already this season, the club’s precarious finances play a part in this saga too – Everton’s wage bill needs to be reduced, while at the same time, should Distin leave on a free transfer, there might not be funds available to replace an integral part of a solid Blues back four.
Distin and Jagielka will have to be particularly alert against Liverpool, be it facing the disparate threats of gargantuan Andy Carroll or the fleet-footed Luis Suarez. The identity of Kenny Dalglish’s XI is even more difficult to predict than that of Moyes’, with the added question of whether Steven Gerrard will be included from the off, from the substitutes’ bench or not at all. With so little hint as to what Dalglish has planned Everton, with far fewer options than their red-shirted cousins, are better off focusing only on their own camp, ensuring they are both mentally and physically prepared for what is always a gruelling, destructive and controversial encounter.
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