Everton must relish underdogs tag in Merseyside Derby showdown against Liverpool

Liverpool v Everton - Premier League

Aside from the Merseyside Derby played at Anfield earlier in the season—when both teams involved were at an especially low ebb—Everton have gone into these ferocious contests boasting a degree of rightful expectation.

Last season, the Toffees were vying closely with Liverpool throughout the opening months of the campaign, but a 4-0 win for the Reds at Anfield proved to be the catalyst for their title charge. In the two seasons prior to the last, Everton actually finished above Liverpool in the Premier League table and subsequently should have gone into fixtures between the two with the requisite conviction to pick up a victory.

Nonetheless, the men in blue have instinctively wilted time after time at the sight those of those red shirts. Everton’s last win in a derby actually came in 2010 and that remains their only triumph in 17 matches against their nearest and not so dearest rivals. So perhaps a change in mentality for this fixture will bring a welcome turn of events.

After all, there’s no denying that the hosts are massive underdogs for this one. A diligent win over Crystal Palace last time out alleviated some concerns regarding a relegation scrap for Everton, but this is a team way short of the levels they showcased so often for such a sustained spell last season. By contrast, Brendan Rodgers’ side seem to have struck a wonderful balance as of late.

Logic dictates an easy Liverpool win, but on a few occasions this season, Everton have morphed into an unfamiliarly dangerous proposition against more illustrious opponents. Indeed, their 1-1 draw against Manchester City recently could have easily been a win, while their finest performance of the season so far came away against Wolfsburg—who recently hammered Bayern Munich 4-1—when they soaked up pressure and sprung with devastating incision on the break.

While it may not be a facet of Roberto Martinez’s management that is regularly referred to, some of this team’s best moments under his tutelage—think back to Arsenal and Manchester United last season—have come when Everton surrender possession and play on the counter. With the Reds flying high, you suspect the Catalan will deploy similar tactics on Saturday.

Naturally, there’ll be questions asked about whether this current Everton back-line can nullify the talents of Philippe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge, but, without wanting to jump the gun, there have been small signs of improvement recently in that respect.

Indeed, when the Toffees can pick Phil Jagielka and John Stones at the heart of their back four, typically they resemble a much cohesive outfit. The surprisingly commanding presence of Joel Robles in goal has also helped to take some pressure off the back four, especially when compared to the panic-stricken Tim Howard prior to his injury layoff.

The win at Palace means that this game represents something of a free swing for the Toffees too. Their league campaign looks to be meandering towards stagnant melancholy and as such, in terms of attainable European goals, they have nothing to lose if they were to falter in this one. On the flipside, their opponents from across Stanley Park are suddenly fancying their chances of a Champions League charge after a recent upturn in fortunes.

It’s not a great situation for the Toffees to be in and a willingness to relapse towards these “plucky little Everton” mantras may seem a little hypocritical of supporters who lambasted David Moyes for indulging in those kinds of self-preserving ideologies. But it’s not something that should make for a long-term ethos; rather in the immediacy, in this match, in a fixture that the team are long overdue a win, taking a step back may well be the best chance of victory.

The supporters should relish these kinds of circumstances too. Too often this season Goodison Park has been a hindrance to the men in blue, as a hotbed of angst and apprehension has sapped mercurial players of their capricious edge. But on Saturday evening, those supporters will be behind their team in unanimity, create a thunderous atmosphere and do their utmost to haul them to a positive result.

A win may change little for Everton in terms of their domestic hopes, but the momentum accrued from a potential derby win is like nectar for managers. With the Europa League set to get underway again in the coming weeks—a competition that could yet salvage something from the wreckage of the Toffees’ car crash of a campaign—three points against the Reds would transform the mood at the football club.

Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball

 

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