When Roberto Martinez was handed the fixture list for the upcoming season in June he will have glanced at the opening ten games and little doubt gulped rubbed his eyes and looked again in disbelief at what lay before him. The premier league organisers had done him no favours. Everton would have to cross swords with the entirety of last seasons top eight in the first ten fixtures of the campaign. If August and September were looking difficult then a more stringent examination of October and the gulp became a full on choke. If Manchester United at home swiftly followed by Arsenal at the Emirates wasn’t bad enough the Catalan would firstly have to devise a plan that would enable him to achieve something he is yet to do. Win a Merseyside Derby in what will be his fifth attempt.
With the constant replaying of a four nil drubbing still painfully lodged in the memory banks and a quiet and understated summer of transfer activity at Finch Farm compared to the customary hive of activity at Anfield surely this would be a task too far. Liverpool would be well ahead of us in the League table by then taking the Premier league by storm with their endless list of expensive recruits destroying all before them. A bead of sweat now running down the Catalans forehead and stinging his eyes a sudden rush of panic overcomes him as he slumps into his office swivel chair with his head in hands whimpering like a small child who’s just discovered their Parents were lying about Santa all along and the noises they heard on Christmas eve weren’t Rudolph and his band of reindeers on the roof but actually their clumsy oaf of a father falling over in the loft. Fast forward three months and the reality is somewhat different but as he heads into a defining moment in his Everton managerial career will the outcome be as Martinez might have first feared or are we about to witness the long overdue dismantling of the red half of Merseyside for the first time during Roberto Martinez tenure?
After a stirring comeback from two goals down at the Hawthorns against a Tony Pulis led West Brom on Monday night Everton head into the Merseyside derby in somewhat unfamiliar territory this weekend. At the start of the season few pundits would have predicted that Liverpool would trail Everton in the league table heading into the first derby of the season. But as a subsequence of several new faces once again arriving at Anfield during the summer months Liverpool are yet to settle into any real form and after picking up a couple of victories early on they have since stuttered. Everton on the other hand welcomed less new arrivals through the gates of Finch Farm during the transfer window. Roberto Martinez has always insisted continuity is the key to success for the Blues and on current evidence it seems he may be on to something.
The bulk of the squad has largely remained the same since very early on in the Catalans tenure. Promoting players from within remains an ethos Martinez is happy to work by at Everton and with the clubs finances being what they are then it’s just as well. The permanent signings of loan stars Romelu Lukaku, Gareth Barry, Gerard Deulofeu and Aaron Lennon have all contributed to the continuity in the squad and with the continued retention of of the most influential players like John Stones, Kevin Mirallas and James Mccarthy a clear blueprint begins to become apparent. Something else has become crystal clear in the opening weeks of the season. The Blues now possess a priceless commodity amongst their ranks, something that money alone simply can’t buy, namely character.
The second half comeback on Monday night was already the second occasion this campaign Everton have come from behind to overturn a two goal deficit and the fourth time this season they have claimed a result having trailed at half time. The victory at the Hawthorns was the first time since May 1994 in that infamous win over Wimbledon at Goodison Park the Blues have won a Premier League game having trailed by two goals and the first time away from the old Lady in a league fixture since Howard Kendall’s Champions beat Ipswich Town at Portman Road in November 1985. Young players with real ability now adorn the Blue of Everton. John Stones, Brendan Galloway, Gerard Deulofeu, Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku are now playing with consistency and growing in stature at the club, yet at 22 years of age, amazingly, Lukaku is the oldest of the group. Hugely important players like Seamus Coleman, Leighton Baines and at the Hawthorns at least, the majestic John Stones, are missing from the Everton rearguard yet in stark contrast to times gone by those who have replaced them can now be relied upon. At 21 years of age Tyias Browning has looked solid and dependable at right back in the absence of Seamus Coleman and at left back Brendan Galloway has been nothing short of outstanding and surely its only a matter of time before he follows in the footsteps of several fellow blues and gains full international recognition.
There is a definite sense that something special is beginning to take shape at the club now and confidence is high that the foundations Roberto Martinez has put in place during his first two seasons in charge at the club are about to bare fruit. A first win over Liverpool whilst at Everton then would be a huge tonic for the Catalan and another huge step towards the bright future he clearly believes in.
After three years as Liverpool manager Brendan Rogers is currently the bookies favourite to win the sack race. Intense media speculation and poor early season results have increased the pressure on the Northern Irishman and if reports are to be believed the Liverpool hierarchy are lining up Italian Carlo Ancelottito replace the current Reds boss. After a huge recruitment drive during his tenure it’s difficult to argue that Liverpool have made any notable progress during Rogers reign.
After spending just shy of £117 million in the summer of 2014 Liverpool splashed out another £80 million this summer in an effort to banish memories of a really poor campaign last season culminating in a harrowing 6-1 defeat at the Brittania Stadium to Stoke City on the last day of the season. In all the Liverpool board have backed Rogers to the tune of £313 million in the three years he has managed the club but those figures don’t tell the whole story. During his reign Rogers has lost arguably the three most influential players in the last ten years for Liverpool.
After a total of 737 games for the club Jamie Carragher decided enough was enough in the summer of 2013 and retired from football to pursue a career in the media taking up Sky televisions offer of a position as a pundit in tandem with old foe Gary Neville. In doing so he left a gaping whole in the heart of the Liverpool defense. Twelve months later arguably Liverpool’s only truly world class player moved on to Spanish giants Barcelona after a series of high profile incidents that left a bitter taste in the mouths of many opposition fans.
Luis Suarez is undoubtedly one of the top players in world football. His 82 goals in 133 games for Liverpool was just a chapter in a career that has so far yielded 250 goals in total. Ultimately it seems Suarez manouvered his move by putting the Anfield club in an impossible position.His bite on Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini during Uruguay’s final group game of the 2014 World cup earned him an instant 9 game ban from governing body FIFA. The biggest in World Cup history. On its own perhaps a barrier both Suarez and Liverpool may have overcome but it was by no means an isolated case. Suarez had bitten a player twice before. In 2010 he was given a seven game ban for biting PSV Eindhoven attacker Otman Bakkal whilst playing for Dutch club Ajax. Then in 2013 this time in the red of Liverpool he was banned for ten games for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic during a clash at Anfield with the West Londoners. On the 20th of December 2011 Suarez was also handed another eight game ban this time for racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra. In all including the FIFA ban the Uruguan had been banned for 34 games, almost an entire season, for non football related incidents. 27 of those were during his time at Anfield. Despite his disruptive behaviour his eventual sale was a huge loss to Rogers and even after a huge outlay on transfer fees he has never been adequately replaced.
Perhaps the biggest loss of all for Liverpool though came at the end of last season when Steven Gerrard moved on to a new challenge at L A Galaxy. The scouser was more than just a footballer for Liverpool. At his peak truly World class but even when past his best a true ambassador for the club. Arguably even more difficult to replace than Suarez. The burden of winning a first league title for 25 years now lies with a new generation at Anfield but in truth the current squad look some way short of getting anywhere near it. Even after the money Liverpool spent in the summer Rodgers still relies heavily on two players he already had at the club.
Daniel Sturridge has proved when fit to be a potent goalscorer.Keeping him fit though is proving troublesome. And when Philipe Coutinho plays well Liverpool are at their best. The little Brazilian wizard is the clubs most creative outlet and is a huge miss when not playing. It’s Liverpool’s defence that cause the most worry though. Carragher has never been truly replaced,Dejan Lovren hasn’t lived up to his billing and Mamadou Sakho has proved inconsistent although of the two he has convinced more. Behind them Simon Mingolet although a good shot stopper is prone to constant error. Brendon Rogers could well be living on borrowed time so a derby win at Goodison could buy him the time he needs. On the other hand if he were to lose there could well be a certain Italian ready to fill his shoes.
Daniel Sturridge made a goalscoring return for Liverpool last week and is certain to start for the Reds. Christian Benteke is a doubt with the hamstring injury he sustained against Norwich City two weeks ago. Roberto Firmino is definitely out with a back problem as are long term trio Jordan Henderson, Jon Flanagan and Dejan Lovren. Everton hope to be able to welcome back Muhammed Besic, Seamus Coleman and John Stones at the weekend but Leighton Baines, Steven Pienaar and Tony Hibbert are all long term absentees. Tom Cleverley is hopeful he will be available again for the Manchester United clash next weekend.
Roberto Martinez is quickly gaining a reputation as a tinker man with his selections. With Romelu Lukaku a certain starter it seems it’s between two from three who will start alongside him up front. Steven Naismith will be hoping to carry on his goalscoring heroics from his last performance at Goodison when he scored a hat trick against Champions Chelsea. Arouna Kone made a big impact from the bench on Monday night scoring the equaliser and Gerard Deulofeu provided two assists from out wide. Martinez will start Coleman and Stones if both are fit.
Predicted team 1. Howard 2. Coleman 3. Galloway 4. Jagielka 5. Stones 6. Barry 7. Deulofeu 8. Mccarthy 9. Lukaku 10. Barkley 11. Kone.
If recent form is relevant then Liverpool have the upper hand. Everton have not won a Merseyside derby since October 2010 when they ran out 2-0 victors at Goodison Park against Roy Hodgson’s struggling side thanks to goals from Tim Cahill and Mikel Artetta. Despite that Liverpool have only won one of the last six Merseyside derbies themselves with five of those games ending in a stalemate. That one victory being the 4-0 drubbing at Anfield in January 2014. That was Brendan Rogers only Merseyside derby victory to date but it’s still one more than Martinez has managed. Everton have only won three Goodison derbies since the turn of the Millenium, interestingly 1-0 2-0 and 3-0. What price a 4-0 win for the Blues on Sunday?
Both teams come into the game on the back of 3-2 victories. The win over Villa was Liverpool’s first win in 5. Everton have lost only once all season and will be looking for their fourth win of the campaign. With Benteke likely sidelined Daniel Sturridge will lead the line for Liverpool on the back of his two goals last weekend. For Everton Ross Barkley and Steven Naismith both have 4 goals each to their name this season but Lukaku leads the way with 6 in all. With the Old Lady rocking to it’s foundations come Sunday afternoon this could be a tasty one. Roberto Martinez will be looking to break his derby duck. Don’t bet against it.
Score Prediction Everton (5th) 2 v Liverpool (9th) 1.
Last three 28/10/12 Everton 2 v Liverpool 2; 5/5/13 Liverpool 1 v Everton 1; 23/11/13 Everton 3 v Liverpool 3.
Form Everton last six WLDWDW (11 pts) Liverpool last six WDLLDW (8pts)
Next up 17/10/15 Everton v Manchester United 3pm.