Derby games, we’re told, are different. They are matches apart. Fresh copies of form guides for the following week are ordered in advance to replace those thrown out of the proverbial window when local rivals meet. Passion, crunching tackles and bragging rights are all high on the agenda. Foreigners rarely understand (apparently local derbies don’t exist abroad). This is how a typical derby is portrayed, especially in Britain.
A stereotype it may be but for as long as most fans can remember that is how it has been when Merseyside’s Reds and Blues collide.
Until the last couple of seasons, Liverpool have been viewed very much as the superior team in terms of the quality of their players. Everton’s response, certainly in the last 11 years under David Moyes, has been to get stuck in, play at a frantic pace and disrupt the rhythm of their illustrious neighbours. Nine reds cards for the Goodison Park side in Merseyside Derbies during the Moyes era shows they most definitely didn’t hold back.
That is not to say that Liverpool were shy about getting involved in the more physical side of these games either, picking up four red cards themselves in that period. The difference though, was that the greater quality of their squad often meant they were in a situation where getting involved in a physical battle was less likely to improve their chances of winning the game. They were better suited to putting “heads over hearts” to paraphrase Rafa Benitez’s explanation for his decision to substitute captain Steven Gerrard with one particular match across Stanley Park poised at 1-1 with 20 minutes to play. Liverpool won 2-1.
Everton’s gradual improvement under Moyes coupled with Liverpool’s post-Benitez deterioration meant that in the past couple of seasons, the sides have been far more evenly matched. However, the squad assembled by the former Everton boss was still best suited to the intense, full-throttle approach they had been using for a number of years against the Anfield outfit.
However, with Moyes having gleefully made his way down the East Lancs road to join Manchester United, upsetting Blues’ left, right and centre with his comments along the way, Everton are likely to present an altogether different proposition for Liverpool on Saturday lunchtime.
Under new boss Roberto Martinez, the emphasis is on pressing, passing and keeping possession. The former is in line with their approach under the previous manager but the latter, in particular, is not something that has been associated with the Blues in recent years. The focus was on quick transitions and catching the opposition on the hop rather than the more patient and probing style seen so far this season.
It will be something new for Liverpool to try and deal with in a Merseyside Derby and the display against Fulham indicates that Brendan Rodgers’ team are looking to develop a more possession-based game once more.
In the early months of Rodgers’ tenure , this was very much the approach he encouraged his side to take before a post-Christmas shift to a more quick paced, counter-attacking system. The new season has seen various styles and systems used, but the words of the manager combined with the showings against both West Brom and Fulham suggest a quicker, more dynamic version of the pressing, possession game may well be the aim.
This could lead to an altogether different spectacle as both sides, whilst likely to try and press high up the pitch, are expected to see their best opportunity of winning being through controlling possession themselves rather than by turning the game into a scrappy affair and disturbing the rhythm of the opposition.
Of course, through pressing, each team will be aiming to disrupt the flow of the opposition but more in an attempt to allow themselves to gain control and play as opposed to simply wanting to stifle and perhaps sneak a goal from a set-piece.
There is still undoubtedly the possibility that, despite the preference of both Martinez and Rodgers to see their teams playing attractive, attacking football, one of them may allow pragmatism to overrule their footballing philosophy if they see an alternative method as giving them a greater chance of victory.
Equally, as much as both managers may send their sides out with the instructions to stay calm and composed, stick to the game-plan and so on, the atmosphere and the occasion has been known to get to countless players over the years. That both teams are at the top end of the Premier League table, separated by just three points, only adds to the anticipation and means a game filled with thunderous challenges and littered with yellow and red cards cannot be ruled out entirely.
What can be said, however, is that with two managers who favour technical skill over brute force, the chances of a game to make the purists proud is arguably more likely than at any time in recent memory.
The fierce rivalry and passion will still be there and in full evidence in the stands. No doubt it will remain on the pitch too, but how it manifests itself may be in stark contrast to years gone by.
Predicted LFC line-up: 4-2-2-2: Mignolet; Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Sakho; Gerrard, Lucas; Henderson, Coutinho; Sturridge, Suarez.
Predicted score: Everton 1-2 Liverpool (More likely a draw but I’ll be optimistic)
Over 2.5 goals: 5 of the last six LFC games have had 3 or more goals. To follow Sam and bet with BetVictor, Click Here
Suarez & Lukaku both to score: Suarez has scored in 3 of 4 games vs Everton. Lukaku scored in both games vs LFC last season for West Brom. To follow Sam and bet with BetVictor, Click Here
H-T Liverpool/ F-T Liverpool: The Reds have shown if they can get in front this season, more often than not they can stay ahead. To follow Sam and bet with BetVictor, Click Here
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