By Andy Jones.
Over the past several years Evertonians have watched as their city rivals have claimed English, European and World titles, and often bragging rights too, as the feisty derby itself has been a one-sided affair.
Everton have failed to win a Merseyside derby since October 2010, and in the 22 games played since (league and cup) they have drawn 11 and lost 11.
But this season there is something in the air that suggests the blue side of Merseyside is a force to be reckoned with once again.
Ancelotti vs Klopp
Carlo Ancelotti and Jürgen Klopp have battled each other eight times in their managerial careers with both managers notching up three wins each between the two Premier League winning coaches.
Ancelotti’s Napoli managed to get the upper hand over Klopp’s Liverpool in recent years as the clubs faced each other in consecutive Champions League group stages in the 2018/19 and 19/20 campaigns.
Liverpool reached the final in each of those seasons despite losing to the Italians In Naples in the group stages.
A narrow victory for the Reds in the FA Cup – in what was Ancelotti’s first derby – was followed up by a tight 0-0 draw as the two sides faced off at the start of Project Restart.
Everton held the champions-elect on that occasion, and signs of Ancelotti’s work was starting to come through.
Now as reigning Premier League champions, Liverpool are watching their neighbours across Stanley Park make some noise too, with an impressive 100% winning start to their own campaign.
The hugely successful Ancelotti is overseeing a renaissance on the blue side of the city, with a plethora of new signings coming in during the summer transfer window.
Liverpool Need Clean Slate
Klopp’s men started the season with three back-to-back victories against Leeds, Chelsea and Arsenal, but a shocking 7-2 thumping at the hands of Aston Villa raised questions over the Reds high defensive line.
Virgil van Dijk had arguably his worst performance in a Liverpool shirt at Villa Park as Jack Grealish and Ollie Watkins ran rings round the usually colossal Dutchmen.
Liverpool played that game without several of their first-team players; Allison, Jordan Henderson, Sadio Mane and new signing Thiago Alcantara who were all absent in the humiliating defeat, but their absence hardly left the Anfield club in a dire situation.
No one is suggesting the champions are about to fall off a cliff edge, but with their city rivals in such fine form, this may well be the toughest derby yet for Klopp’s men.
Liverpool’s issue so far this season has not been their intensity or lack of firepower. Mohammed Salah has been in great form and with the return of his strike partner Mane, alongside the stellar start to Diogo Jota’s Liverpool career, goals should not be a problem.
The problem seems to lie in defence.
Van Dijk has barely put a foot wrong in the past two and a half years, his leadership and calmness has been vital to Liverpool’s recent success, but this season has seen the Dutch international make several mistakes — most notably against Villa.
Liverpool play with an extremely high line and it was exposed in broad daylight against Dean Smith’s side, and with Everton up next it might be time for a re-think.
The new rule on offside means the flag stays down for longer and it seems to be affecting the way Liverpool defend.
The high line they adopt is designed to catch the opposition forwards offside and nipping any attack in the bud, but teams may be starting to work out how to beat Liverpool and they will need to tighten up if they want to get anything out of this weekend’s derby.
Everton – The New Milan?
Ancelotti had recently compared the free-scoring Dominic Calvert-Lewin to the famous Pipo Inzaghi and now with a South American playmaker slotting in behind him in the form of James Rodriguez, you could be excused to think its a re-creation of Ancelotti’s AC Milan side in the early noughties.
Kaka and Inzaghi tore up Seria A and the Champions League during Ancelotti’s tenure at the Italian club and Evertonians will be hoping he can recreate elements of that great side with Rodriguez and Calvert-Lewin at the heart of it.
Calvert-Lewin is breathing down the neck of England captain Harry Kane with a scintillating start to the campaign, the Sheffield born striker has netted two hat-tricks so far this term notching up nine goals in his first six appearances.
Likewise, new signing Rodriguez has been receiving praise from all over, as his style of play and finesse is helping to unlock Premier League defences – taking Everton to heights not seen since the late 1980s when the club was competing for titles against their city rivals.
The good form of centre-back pairing Yerry Mina and Michael Keane is giving Ancelotti’s side a good base from which to build, and so far they look in much better form than their counterparts at Anfield.
Joined by two attacking full-backs and the dynamism and athleticism injected into the midfield by Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure, pundits and fans alike are excited by what this Everton side can do this season. Excited voices are claiming the Toffees could even go all the way and win the league.
While that seems a stretch after just four games in, you wouldn’t put it past Ancelotti to deliver his second Premier League title.
The Italian steered Chelsea to league success in 2010 and has won three Champions Leagues. He is a serial winner and the aspirations at Goodison Park may be to get the club into the top four but a victory this weekend would put them six points clear of Liverpool and talk of titles might stick around.
Goals Goals Goals!!!
This Saturday’s lunchtime serving of Premier League football has all the markings of a classic, two teams with bundles of attacking intent, both sides have been involved in high scoring games so far this campaign.
Liverpool have conceded 11 and scored 11 goals whilst Everton have scored one more with 12, but crucially the Toffees have only conceded 5.
Some positive news for Klopp sees the return to training for Thiago and Mane following their positive coronavirus tests, and captain Henderson got some vital minutes for England over the international break and should return to the squad.
Defender Joel Matip has also resumed training this week but the Cameroonian has not had any game time so far and is well short of match fitness.
Mason Holgate is Everton’s only real injury concern ahead of this weekend’s clash and a full strength squad should help to reassure Ancelotti that his side can nullify any threat posed by Liverpool’s famous attacking trio.
This game has goals written all over it, a score draw in the realms of 3-3 would please the neutrals and all the signs point to what may be one of the best Merseyside derbies we have seen in decades, as two giants of the English game go face to face in what could still prove a title decider come May.
Saturday 17th October – 12:30 pm
Venue: Goodison Park
Everton: Pickford; Coleman, Mina, Kean, Digne; Doucoure, Allan, Bernard; Richarlison, Rodriguez, Calvert-Lewin
Liverpool: Adrian; Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho, Van Dijk, Robertson; Thiago, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Mane, Firmino, Salah