James McCarthy
Everton midfielder James McCarthy will miss the Merseyside derby because of an injury [Getty]

Everton's hopes of closing the gap on Liverpool for a top four spot has taken a massive blow after James McCarthy has been ruled out through injury ahead of the Merseyside derby on Saturday, according to the Guardian.

The midfielder, who was already suffering from a hamstring injury, suffered another setback, which should keep him out of the squad for two more weeks.

It will be a major reversal for Roberto Martinez, who has not been able to play his star midfielder since November and needed his industry and experience to stem the Liverpool attack.

Liverpool have been on a good run in the league, winning their last two games, with their only loss in the last five coming against Chelsea in the second leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final at Stamford Bridge.

The return of Daniel Sturridge has come at a kind time for Brendan Rodgers, who is currently four points off a top four spot and needs his team to click, if they have to overthrow the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham, Southampton and Manchester United for the coveted Champions League spot.

The Reds failed to qualify for the knockout stages this season, losing out to Real Madrid and Basel in the groups and will continue their journey in Europe through the Europa League which starts later in the month.

Their hopes of winning a trophy have increased after they managed to see off Bolton Wanderers in an FA Cup fourth round replay, with Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho scoring in the dying minutes of the game to ensure qualification.

However, the win is likely to take a major toll on them, especially with Liverpool having played almost twice the number of games that Everton did over the last month.

The Toffees will be looking to work on the fatigue factor and make sure that their Merseyside rivals do not get a moment's rest, as they press to seize the initiative and close the gap at the top.