With Everton hosting some bunch of bastards tonight, here are a few talking points about the 90 agonising minutes of football we are set to witness. For more words, presented in a less formatted yet much funnier way, @thechicoazul’s article is right here.
1) …oh, shit.
Here we go again. 277 times we’ve done this before, and 115 times we’ve trudged away, our shoulders heavily laden with the dull crush of defeat. Of all the teams to make our ‘bogey’ side, why did it have to be them? These absolute scruffs. This group of immature banter merchants, meek daytrippers and sad balding knobheads clapping their telly, bound by the unshakeable belief that they are superior to us because they chose a team that’s won a lot of silverware. There’s no argument that the retort “HAHAHAHAHA 1995” or “FIVE TIMES LAD” can’t end. And Merseyside derbies bring them out in force, because deep in our scarred psyches is both the paralysing fear of losing and the paradoxical assumption that we’ll conspire to lose in the worst possible circumstances – again. They can smell the opportunity for great BANTER, despite the fact you’ve worked with them for a year and had no idea they were a Kopite.
Zero wins since 2010 tells its own story. We’ve only lost two of the last eight – but those defeats were by a 4-0 scoreline. The one positive is that we’ve won three of the six previous Monday night Premier League derbies. No amount of stats will ease that queasy feeling you’ve got in your stomach, the painful memories of previous heartbreaks, or that tiny flame of optimism that refuses to burn out in spite of it all.
And so, as one man said just weeks before being struck by a major dose of irony once said, we go again. Once more unto the breach, Blues.
2) The return of the Roar
A lot can be said about David Moyes’ time at Everton – and luckily, a lot has, so let’s not bother with it too much here. While Moyes’ Everton fell apart like cheap flatpack furniture away from home against the ‘big guns’, he could always count on the Goodison bear pit, especially under the lights. The tone shifted under Roberto Martinez, but there were big performances against Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United. Ronald Koeman wouldn’t have known what to expect on Tuesday night, with Goodison being so passive for most of this season, but when James McCarthy threw in the first big (and well-timed) tackle, the crowd became the twelfth man. Pundits started to talk about the intimidating Goodison atmosphere again.
It is in those big nights, with those passionate flashpoints, that the Goodison Roar splits the sky. Inspiring moments on the pitch awaken the crowd from a grumbling slumber, just as much as a chorus of vented fume acts as a stirring call to arms for the players. It’s when Goodison is truly nasty that the team follows suit, and together we make unforgettable Everton moments. There is no better time than a Merseyside derby under the lights for that noise to ring in both blue and red ears. It put Arsenal on the back foot, and it can do the same to Liverpool. If the players can give us a reason to roar, they can use that to propel themselves to victory. That’s the theory, anyway…
3) Target their strengths, not their weaknesses
One mistake we always make is to scan the Liverpool side for weaknesses. In the 2012 FA Cup semi-final, we rubbed our hands with glee seeing Brad Jones in the line-up, yet in 90 minutes he barely saw the ball. There are few Liverpool forwards, no matter how poor, who haven’t scored past us in the past couple of decades. So don’t waste your time on them – nullifying Liverpool’s best assets will serve us much better. Sadio Mane has blistering pace on his side and can cut inside to devastating effect, so if we keep him out wide by restricting the central options then his impact is reduced. Roberto Firmino is good at linking up with roving midfielders, but put a defensive midfielder between him and the play and he becomes isolated. James Milner is an unsung hero at left back, but the fact remains that he isn’t one. Get a quick winger to force him on to his left and he becomes more concerned with defending than helping the attack. Deal fearlessly with the more dangerous players, and the weaker ones have less to work with. Or the shite players put us to the sword. Everton, aren’t we?
4) Rom wasn’t built in a day
Still the debate rages on. Romelu Lukaku – priceless goal machine or lazy liability? Firstly, it’s worth remembering that he’s 23 and will be developing as a player for the next decade. Given how good he is already, that potential is scary. Secondly, he is a goalscorer by trade, and score goals he does. So what’s the problem? Perhaps we are expecting him to contribute to more phases of play than just the one. It depends what sort of striker we want him to be. A Jermain Defoe-type figure would be told to hit the penalty area and wait for the service to come. Just score goals lad. That’s all you’re there for. A target man, like Diego Costa, is expected to come deep, fight for the ball and create scoring opportunities for himself and the midfield.
So which one is Lukaku? He has the ability to do either. His positioning and movement are often poor, however, so he’s not likely to have too much luck being a poacher. Holding up the play is all well and good with his strength and explosive pace, but he needs players going beyond him, picking up the flick-ons and presenting chances to Lukaku. That is why Enner Valencia could yet be a key figure this season – on Tuesday, he acted as the second striker, and gave Lukaku a reason to move. Rather than constantly lambasting Lukaku, we could build the team around him. Though we may have had more natural finishers than him in recent times, we haven’t had a centre forward as accomplished as Romelu Lukaku in a long time, and that should be celebrated.
5) Call us Corbyn, because we’re thinking about Momentum
Going into home games against Arsenal and Liverpool off the back of a horrid run of form, most were predicting Everton’s struggles to continue. And yet the Gunners were put to the sword. Now the talk is of positive, upward momentum. Following the derby are trips to a Leicester side that will be missing a few key players through suspension, and a toothless Hull side, before returning to Goodison to take on Southampton. If we can take three points from this game, or even one, we can start heading back up the table after October and November’s travails saw us toppled from the European spots. That’s how we need to see this game; not as a desperate struggle to avoid humiliation, but a chance to build upon the foundations of the Arsenal victory and start a run of good form. It’s easier said than done, in this case. But this could be a turning point, as much as that’s said all too often now.
Dosed up on that heady mix of anticipation, fear and adrenaline, we take on the mortal enemy yet again. Can we end our poor run against them, furthering our own ambitions in the process? We’ll find out soon enough.
Up the Blues.