Merseyside duo ready to lock horns

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Steven Pienaar and Steven Gerrard: Clash last season

Steven Pienaar and Steven Gerrard: Clash last season

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FanZoners Richard Garnett and Richard Mellor discuss Saturday's Merseyside derby and how things are going for their clubs this season.

Everton and Liverpool lock horns this Saturday lunchtime at Goodison Park for the 221st Merseyside Derby with both teams riding high in the Premier League.

In the Blue corner, Richard Mellor assesses the home side's chances while in the red corner, Richard Garnett shares his thoughts from across Stanley Park.

Season so far

Rich M: No Everton fan could have predicted the ease in which Roberto Martinez has settled in following the 11-year reign of David Moyes.

The Spaniard has brought a far more entertaining style of football to Goodison and has overseen just one league defeat in his debut season.

The victories over Chelsea, Newcastle and West Ham have been most satisfying but the most testing period lies ahead, with three of the top five to play in the next few games.

Martinez's dealings in the transfer window won the majority of fans over, securing loan deals for Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku - two players that have run the show for the Blues this term.

The sale of Marouane Fellaini to Manchester United has long been forgotten and all eyes will now point to retaining Leighton Baines in January.

Rich G: Brendan Rodgers will be more than satisfied with his side's start to the season and is arguably exceeding expectation with Liverpool's second place standing in the Premier League - a vast improvement on recent campaigns that have been dogged with inconsistency.

The return from his strikers has been worth its wait in gold but the team's work ethic has been key to maintaining their position thus far. Saturday's duel with Everton marks a run of fixtures through to the end of the year that will test Liverpool's credentials to the limit.

Key player

Rich M: Without a doubt Lukaku has stolen the headlines at Everton this season.

He attributes his ruthless power and finishing to the likes of Didier Drogba and would struggle to pick a better forward to replicate.

The 20-year-old Belgian has already netted five goals in seven Premier League games and all hopes will be resting on the forward going into the Derby on Saturday.

Rich G: It might be fashionable to hate him, but since his return from suspension Luis Suarez has been completely irrepressible. Already top goal-scorer in the Premier League, despite affording his adversaries a five game head start, Suarez has been unplayable week in week out.

His strike partnership with Daniel Sturridge has kept the Kop purring with excitement and brought a dynamism to the forward line which had been conspicuous in its absence for far too long at Anfield.

Currently the best player in the Premier League, Everton will have their work cut out to shackle him.

Feared opponent

Rich M: The two Liverpool forwards are the most prolific partnership and should both be feared.

But Luis Suarez is the most talented player in the league and has scored in each of his two visits to Goodison, not forgetting his wrongly disallowed injury time goal last year.

With both Steven Gerrard and Philippe Coutinho at the heart of the Liverpool midfield, there will be plenty of chances for the Uruguayan to stamp his mark on yet another Merseyside clash.

Rich G: Despite tightening things up at the back this season, Liverpool remain susceptible from set pieces and balls into the box. Taking this into account, Leighton Baines possesses the artillery to cause the Reds serious problems if he isn't nullified.

Romalu Lukaku is sure to be a handful and will provide the Anfield rear guard with plenty to think about but if the supply can be cut off at its root he will be less effective. Snuff Baines out or face the consequences.

Favourite Derby memory

Rich M: There are plenty of good performances to choose from but the most satisfying would be when Danny Gosling scored a 118th minute winner in the FA Cup forth round.

A certain Andy van der Meyde swung in a cross to the back post and the young midfielder controlled brilliantly, wrong-footed two opposition defenders and curled a shot past Pepe Reina.

A Derby under the Goodison lights that few Blues fans can forget, even after Gosling wrecked his reputation with a switch to Newcastle following unsuccessful contract talks.

Rich G: Ah there are so many! Ian Rush's second goal at Wembley in the 1986 FA Cup final was a watershed moment for this Kopite, but there is no beating Gary McAlister's outrageous injury time 40 yard free kick at Goodison in 2001.

The goal and victory kick-started a run of wins which saw Liverpool achieve a famous cup treble and qualify for the Champions League. A goal that is still sung about by buoyant Liverpool fans today.

Score Prediction

Rich M: They say form goes out the window when Everton face Liverpool, but I'm going to have to stick with the statistics.

Everton are unbeaten at home this season and anything less than a win will be a disappointment - a nervy 1-0 home victory is my prediction.

Rich G: Everton are more like swaggering matadors than dogs of war these days and will present a completely different proposition to Liverpool unlike any witnessed in the last twenty years, but with the trio of Coutinho, Sturridge and Suarez ticking over like a well oiled machine I'm backing Rodgers to leave Woodison with a 2-1 victory.

By Richard Mellor and Richard Garnett. Follow Richard G on Twitter at @garnster - and don't forget to follow @FanZone too!

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