With the exception of Dirk Kuyt – Liverpool‘s permanently sweaty, indefatigable forward that left in 2012 – Merseyside and the Netherlands haven’t exactly shared a natural affiliation.
Psychedelic scallies The Coral produced their third album there, which set the wheels in motion for their key creative spark Bill Ryder-Jones leaving the band; Colin “Smigger” Smith ran his meetings with Colombian cartels in Amsterdam, the lad worth a suspected £200 million through his cocaine dealings, according to the Guardian’s Mark Townsend, until he was shot in the Liverpool council estate of Speke – apparently by his Latin American associates.
But in Monday’s Merseyside derby between Everton and Liverpool, there could be an unfamiliar Dutch flavour drifting through Stanley Park. The Toffees, without a player in their history that’s been capped by the Netherlands, rest their new-found wealth and revised expectations on Totaalvoetbal student Ronald Koeman; the Reds, meanwhile, slyly weigh faith on Georginio Wijnaldum, their precious link between two lines of the midfield.
This is no product of narcotics while listening to a Mersey beat: the week’s curtain raiser could be a tactical tilt as Dutch as tulips, canals, and clogs.
Injuries and suspensions
Yannick Bolasie is expected to miss the rest of the season with an anterior cruciate ligament injury. Captain Phil Jagielka misses the tussle through suspension.
Liverpool’s injury problems are more widespread. Emre Can, Joel Matip, and Divock Origi face late fitness tests, while the match will likely come too soon for Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge.
Everton starting XI: Stekelenburg; Coleman, Williams, Funes Mori, Baines; McCarthy, Gueye; Valencia, Barkley, Lennon; Lukaku
Liverpool starting XI: Mignolet; Clyne, Klavan, Lovren, Milner; Lallana, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Mane, Origi, Firmino
What to watch
As the ruler of the home side and one who’s benefited through Johan Cruyff’s schooling, Koeman’s tendency will be to ask his players to put a foot on the ball and control proceedings. Against Jurgen Klopp’s persistent pressers, however, he’ll have to return to the methods pinned to his two-and-a-half years in England.
In his first season at Southampton, the focal point of his attack was Graziano Pelle – an Italian, but very much drilled in the Dutch ways – which sacrificed some of Koeman’s inclination for fluidity. Shane Long, Sadio Mane, and Dusan Tadic brought versatility, and Pelle’s education helped, but ultimately the Saints played to their target man’s 6-foot-4 height.
In a similar vein, Everton is built around Romelu Lukaku‘s strengths, rather than a shared team philosophy.
Liverpool’s high press and attack-first principles mean the two centre-halves can be left fending for themselves on counter-attacks. So Everton quickly distributing balls from the back to the widemen, and the flank wanderers then promptly releasing Lukaku against a depleted backline or stretching them by carrying the ball down the line, could be the route to success.
Ultimately, Everton could take the points while playing like an away side.
The biggest Liverpool talking point has been goalkeepers. If you believe Manchester United‘s former bothersome brothers Gary and Phil Neville, Loris Karius is the kind of doorman that would let drunken teenagers into the most exclusive of clubs. He’s not that bad, but the similarly dopey Simon Mignolet will mind between the sticks.
Instead, arguably the Reds’ most important player is like a nanny knitting vigorously ahead of the festive season. One who threads the lines more thickly than your most vulgar Christmas jumper. Step forward, Wijnaldum.
The ex-Newcastle United man’s work this season has gone largely unheralded, but without him there would be a gulf between the limited attributes of Jordan Henderson and the adventurous, advanced movement of Adam Lallana in the three-man midfield. Wijnaldum’s body shape when receiving the ball is perfect, allowing Liverpool to pass in triangles as it makes its way up the pitch, while protecting the ball from any encroaching opposition.
When he is under the cosh from an adversary, he can turn his way from trouble in a second, and recycle possession across the middle of the park to retain the tempo that’s so important to Klopp’s game plan.
Without the adhesive of Wijnaldum, Liverpool would come unstuck. And against a team that will look to start immediate breakaways, his charging back to help a deep-lying contingent potentially lacking Matip – who wasn't present for each of the Reds' two league losses this term – will be invaluable.
Copyright © 2016 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.