For so many years, Everton supporters have learned to fear the name ‘Gerrard’ in the build up to the Merseyside derby. But on the brink of the 221st meeting between the two sides, there is a name that might strike up a little more excitement for those of a blue persuasion.
Gerard Deulofeu’s summer arrival on Merseyside from Barcelona was accompanied by a host of anticipation and excitement. The La Masia graduate was linked with a host of Europe’s top clubs, but in the end — convinced by fellow Catalan Roberto Martinez — he chose to join Everton on a season-long loan.
So far, he has been used sparingly, as his manager has looked to ease him into the robust nature of English football. But talk has gathered pace that Deulofeu might make his first start for the Toffees this weekend in the derby game. This was fueled further as Martinez hinted that the Spanish U21 international is be ready to make his Premier League bow.
It would be a bold decision from the Everton boss, but all things considered, the time seems right to unleash this prodigious talent on Liverpool and the Premier League.
Make no mistake, Deulofeu is a supremely gifted player. He is very, very highly thought of in Catalonia, with many expecting him to line-up on the right side of a Barcelona attacking triumvirate containing Lionel Messi and Neymar. But at nineteen years old, he has much to learn, and the Spanish giants hope he can do a large portion of that in the blue of Everton.
Looking ahead to Saturday’s game, questions linger about whether Deulofeu is ready to make his first Premier League start in arguably the most ferocious fixture in English football. From Everton’s point of view, it would be a gamble, but one that could bear fruit.
The team have made an encouraging start under Martinez, but from an attacking perspective, they have occasionally looked one-dimensional and predictable. Kevin Mirallas, the man who offered such a direct, dynamic threat last season, has had a poor start to the campaign and as such, Everton’s attacking forays have been sometimes been one-paced and ponderous.
The natural replacement for Mirallas is the Barcelona loanee, and in the snippets we’ve seen of Deulofeu in an Everton shirt, particularly in the Carling Cup against Fulham, he certainly has what it takes to spruce up the Toffees’ front line.
He is a player who exudes Blaugrana class and conviction, and that is why Evertonians should feel excitement, not apprehension, if his name is on the team sheet come Saturday lunchtime. Yes, he is raw and will probably make mistakes. But he has that x-factor that has been so noticeably absent in Everton’s attacking play as of late.
What type of player is he? Well, his Barcelona background would naturally lead to comparisons with Lionel Messi. But Deulofeu has a skill-set much more equivalent to one Cristiano Ronaldo. Mainly scintillating pace from a standing start, an ability to stroll past his man and a rocket of a shot.
Mentally, there is no doubting he has it in him too. He is a wholly confident young man; always wanting the ball and persistently looking to make things happen.
And just like a lot of the great players, he has a bit of a cheeky streak. The story goes that after running the opposition ragged in a game for Barcelona B, he told an opposition player to ‘come by the dressing room and I’ll sign you an autograph’. He later apologized and was subsequently disciplined by the club.
Whilst this is another indicator that Deulofeu still has much to learn, it is easy to see why Martinez has spoken of throwing in a player of this confidence at the deep end. And these certainly aren’t hollow words from the Everton boss. He has already showcased a huge trust in the young players in this squad which is compounded by the fact that the Toffees side on Saturday could contain Deulofeu (19), Ross Barkley (19), James McCarthy (23) and Romelu Lukaku (20).
Deulofeu came to Everton to toughen up, improve his decision making and become more of a team player; we’ve already seen signs he is growing in those areas. Martinez introduced him against Spurs, helping nullify the rampaging Jan Vertonghen before giving the Belgian a few problems himself. In brief cameos against Crystal Palace and Newcastle he has given a laboring Everton attack extra impetus too.
The derby is of course a much more high-profile and high-pressure encounter. But it is often a case of he who dares wins in these fixtures. For years under the tenure of David Moyes, Liverpool were by far the bolder, more ambitious side in these games and have been rewarded with an excellent recent record against the Toffees.
Playing someone like Deulofeu, which would be a gamble no doubt, would be a real statement of intent from the Everton boss. One that will reassure Evertonians that under this new regime, the Blues have no fear going up against the Reds.
Perhaps it’ll be ‘Gerard’ rather than ‘Gerrard’ making the headlines come Saturday afternoon? Evertonians will certainly be hoping so.
I’ll be at this one, so be sure to look out for my column on Tuesday; giving you a thorough insight into Merseyside Derby day through the eyes of a supporter.
Follow me on Twitter: @MattJFootball