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Sunday, 16 December, 2018

Liverpool magician Coutinho could break Everton resolve

Reds huge favourites for Anfield Merseyside derby

Philippe Coutinho celebrates with Liverpool mates Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane
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Premier League
Sky Sports Premier League & Main Event, 2.15pm Sunday

Sam Allardyce has been playing down Everton's chances of a good result at Liverpool and he may be proved right as the home side look worthy favourites even at long odds-on.

Fears of relegation were behind the Allardyce appointment but two straight wins (one under caretaker manager David Unsworth) have lifted the Toffees into the top half.

Talk of relegation has swiftly been replaced by hopes for a top-seven finish but Everton have not become a good team overnight and the Merseyside derby could deliver a harsh reality check.

Allardyce's first Premier League game in charge of the Toffees was a 2-0 success at Goodison Park over a Huddersfield team who haven't picked up any points since the international break.

It was a decent performance but the shot statistics (six for Everton and five for Huddersfield) don't suggest they dominated the Terriers and the Liverpool match will give a better barometer of where Everton stand.

Allardyce was the last visiting manager to win at Anfield, steering Crystal Palace to a 2-1 success in April this year, but it would be a remarkable achievement if he were to pull off something similar this weekend.

He has had a full week to train with his better players after excusing himself and the first team from Thursday's Europa League dead rubber away to Cypriot side Apollon.

Everton's reserves won 3-0 in Cyprus but it is unlikely that any of them will have played their way into the starting 11 for a match Allardyce is focusing all his energy on.

Tactically, he will set up Everton to be tough to beat and that means sitting deep and not exposing cumbersome centre-back Ashley Williams to the express pace of Liverpool forwards Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.

The challenge for Liverpool will be to pick holes in the blue wall. Patience may be required but Jurgen Klopp has an abundance of quality attacking options and his players will be full of confidence after sealing qualification to the Champions League knockout stage with a stunning 7-0 victory at home to Spartak Moscow on Wednesday.

It was the eighth time in the last nine matches that Liverpool had scored at least three goals and demonstrated how devastating they can be when given time and space to play.

Everton will look to make them work much harder for their goals and there are sure to be moments – especially set-pieces – when they can make the Liverpool defence feel uncomfortable.

However, in a game of attack versus defence, attack usually comes out on top and Philippe Coutinho – the hat-trick hero against Spartak – could be the man to set the ball rolling.

The Brazilian's accurate long-range shooting could be very handy in a contest in which Everton are likely to retreat to the edge of their penalty area, and he could be the man to take responsibility if Liverpool are awarded a penalty.

P Coutinho first goalscorer
1pt 6-1 bet365

Premier League standings

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Team news
Alberto Moreno (ankle) is ruled out and the left-back is likely to be replaced by James Milner. Jordan Henderson should return after being rested in midweek.

Phil Jagielka has returned to full fitness but faces a battle to displace Mason Holgate, who has played his part in two successive Premier League clean sheets. Leighton Baines, Ross Barkley, Ramiro Funes Mori and Seamus Coleman are injured.

Key stat
Philippe Coutinho has scored nine goals in his last 11 matches.

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Talk of relegation has swiftly been replaced by hopes for a top-seven finish but Everton have not become a good team overnight
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