By Joe Strange
It wouldn’t be derby week if Everton weren’t in the midst of a mini injury crisis.
Seamus Coleman suffered a horrific broken leg on international duty against Wales, while James McCarthy didn’t even make the Republic of Ireland’s starting XI after a problem in the warm-up.
If that wasn’t enough, Ramiro Funes Mori was carried off on a stretcher with a knee injury during Argentina’s defeat by Bolivia. He will likely miss the rest of the season.
Ronald Koeman earlier confirmed Morgan Schneiderlin won’t be available for the trip to Anfield after picking up a calf problem in the win against Hull. Mo Besic – who can at least match the Frenchman for physicality – is not yet fit to return from a long-term knee injury.
All of that gives Ronald Koeman plenty to ponder. One thing’s for sure though, he won’t be able to name the starting XI he’d have liked to on Saturday lunchtime.
A version of 4-3-3 has been the Dutchman’s preferred formation in recent weeks, but will that work against Liverpool? And if he fancies returning to three at the back, is that even an option without Coleman and Funes Mori?
Here, we take a look at three possible teams – the one we expect to see, an alternative option and the one we hope lines up across the park.
EXPECTED XI: Robles, Holgate, Jagielka, Williams, Baines, Gueye, Barry, Davies, Barkley, Mirallas, Lukaku
For whatever reason, Koeman has decided to drop the 3-5-2 (or was it a 3-4-3?) that seemed to be working so well for a period.
The traditional back four is back in favour, making Mason Holgate the obvious replacement for Coleman on Saturday. He has performed well at right-back and has the confidence to get forward, despite central defence being his preferred position.
The rest of the back four and midfield pretty much picks itself if we assume Schneiderlin isn’t fit, even though Gareth Barry’s lack of pace is a concern given the energy Liverpool possess.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin looked lively against Hull and took his goal well, but his lack of experience should open the door to Kevin Mirallas, who impressed against West Brom and Tottenham.
SURPRISE XI: Robles, Holgate, Jagielka, Williams, Lennon, Baines, Barry, Gueye, Davies, Barkley, Lukaku
If Koeman does want to return to three at the back with two full-backs, then this XI seems like the most natural fit.
Holgate has looked at home on the right side of the back-three, although finding someone to play ahead of him is not so easy. Aaron Lennon may have struggled for playing time this year, but he remains a better fit for the role than Mirallas or Ademola Lookman.
Barry would sit deep, with Davies and Gueye pushing further forward. The width would come from Lennon and Leighton Baines, with lots of the attacking responsibility falling on the shoulders of Ross Barkley – who would play more centrally – and Romelu Lukaku.
IDEAL XI: Robles, Holgate, Jagielka, Williams, Baines, Schneiderin, Gueye, Barkley, Mirallas, Lukaku
In a perfect world we’d have Coleman starting and McCarthy and Funes Mori at least on the bench, but unfortunately that’s not going to happen.
Had Schneiderlin been fit, he would’ve been crucial to Everton’s chances of ending their 18-year misery at Anfield.