There often comes a point early in the season when supporters will look at their weekend fixture and think ‘wow, massive game for us this weekend’. With eight games gone, it’s not going to be far off for most. The very early days of the season have passed, supporters are less inclined to claim their side can ‘make up points up’ after a bad result early on. The table is taking shape and teams are starting to find themselves in familiar positions. It’s from this point on that things start to get very serious indeed.
Supporters from Newcastle and Sunderland will have experienced this feeling last week, as will United and Chelsea fans in the build up to their massive encounter. So too will the supporters of Everton and Liverpool, as Sunday’s Merseyside Derby looms large. A friendly between these two sides would still be a massive game to most on Merseyside, but the respective positions of each side in the table will add spice to what promises to be a fiery encounter.
Both will harbour ambitions and feel confident of a derby day victory. Everton because of their excellent early form and Liverpool because, well, they always seem to beat Everton!
There have not been many derby day memories to savour for Evertonian’s in recent years. For David Moyes, and all the good work he has done at Everton, he has never quite been able get the better of the side from across Stanley Park. The gap between the two sides is undoubtedly smaller now than when he started his tenure, some would say completely overturned. But Everton’s record against the Reds is certainly no better. Just 4 times in 23 encounters have Everton triumphed over Liverpool under Moyes, a stat that makes sorry reading for those of blue persuasion.
The game on Sunday presents David Moyes with a massive opportunity in many respects.
Form, it is often said, goes out of the window in derby games. Last season Liverpool won all three meetings, despite Everton coming out on top in the league table. But in the main, the team which is in the better form in the lead up to the game comes out on top. Going into Sunday’s match, Everton are undoubtedly the form team and many people’s favourites to triumph, a tag which has not been helpful to them in past encounters.
The Toffees have started this campaign uncharacteristically well. This upturn in form has coincided with David Moyes setting the side out to play a more attacking style. Usually renowned for keeping solid and trying to nick results, Everton’s football has been vibrant and expansive this campaign. Seamus Coleman’s move to right back is especially in keeping with this, as Moyes obviously feels the threat he offers going forward outweighs his defensive inabilities. This type of selection would not have taken place in seasons gone by.
For a manager who is defensive by nature, it will be a huge step mentally if he chooses another all-out attacking line up in a fixture in which he usually reverts to the comfort of his defensive familiarity. Everton haven’t really ‘gone at’ Liverpool in recent years, despite there being little to choose between the sides. It would be refreshing to see as Liverpool are, whilst confidence is on the up, probably at their most vulnerable they have been in Moyes’s tenure. The Reds have a new manager and a lot of young players, none of which have real experience of this type of white hot atmosphere. Moyes will be aware that the last manager to win their debut Merseyside derby was Roy Evans in 1994.
This fresh approach is in part down to the new faces that have come into the side. The likes of Mikel Arteta and Tim Cahill, who have suffered many a derby day heartbreak in the past, have departed. New signings Nikica Jelavic, Darron Gibson and Kevin Mirallas already impressing as their replacements. Whilst being favourites for this fixture has been a heavy burden for The Toffee’s in the past (look no further than last seasons FA Cup semi-final) the hope is that these new faces will bring about a change in psychology against their city rivals, helping those at along who have already suffered many a mental scar in this fixture. Everton have certainly looked a much more confident outfit this campaign.
And they should be confident, as the side looks to be a match for anyone in the league. Phil Jagielka is looking rock solid, Leighton Baines is the most in-form left back on the planet; Fellaini has been bossing defenders and midfielders aplenty, whilst Jelavic is one of the most lethal marksmen around. In 2012, only the Manchester clubs have amassed more points. For 12 months The Toffees have played a standard of football that would see them reach the Champions League at a canter. The Toffee’s have amassed 23 points more than Liverpool in this calendar year so far. Everton can beat Liverpool, whether they believe that they can is an entirely different matter.
It would be excellent to see David Moyes let the shackles off Everton for this game. If he does then we could see one of the most open Merseyside derbies in years. If Everton come out on top, then the mental barrier that the side and more importantly the manager will overcome could provide a massive springboard towards a very fruitful campaign.
What are your views heading into the game? Does Everton have what it takes mentally to get one over Liverpool?
Follow me on Twitter: @13mattj13
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