Club Focus - Liverpool - Revitalised Reds hope to beat Derby day Blues
There are seemingly thousands of clichés attached to the Merseyside derby. They’ll get trotted out time and time again in the build up to each and every meeting of the Reds and Blues. Form will go out of the window, there will be ear-busting supporters, passions will run high, but rarely does the crux of the matter get discussed - there are three points to be won as Everton make the short hop across Stanley Park early on Saturday afternoon. These could prove three of the most important points of the season for both sides.
Victory would take Liverpool up to fourth place in the table for a few hours at least, but with Tottenham hosting Aston Villa late on Saturday afternoon, there’s a real chance that the Reds could emerge from the weekend with their aspirations of a top four place given a huge shot in the arm. It’s not what supporters would have been excited about when the season started in August, but it’s a stark improvement considering the many people who had written them off a month ago. The fact that it’s the neighbours who are the opposition in such a vital contest has only whetted the appetite further. But it is points that should take preference over bragging rights should victory be achieved on Saturday. Well, a little bragging could be excused.
Everton also arrive in good form. They have always been one of the division’s more resilient, hard-to-beat teams under David Moyes, but they’ve also regularly had extensive runs in which they haven’t been able to buy a win. They were in one such vein of form when the Reds went to Goodison Park in late November. Joseph Yobo deflected Javier Mascherano’s shot into his own net early on and the Blues proceeded to miss several good openings in their doomed challenge to get back into the game. The outcome was inevitable long before Dirk Kuyt added a second with ten minutes remaining.
Yet when Everton are good they can be very good. Unbeaten in the league in the last nine games, midfielder Tim Cahill - never too shy to air his views on the eve of a derby - has spoken of the momentum building within the squad. Moyes normally plays a very negative game at Anfield but this time he might dare to be different. The Blues have been more attacking in recent weeks, earning high-scoring draws at both Chelsea and Arsenal, so perhaps the Scot will think that he can outgun his local rivals. Nevertheless, that tactic could also lead to his downfall.
The Reds’ recent defensive meanness has seen just one goal conceded in the last six league games with - as discussed here earlier in the week - the unlikely figure of Sotirios Kyrgiakos rising to the fore in many of those displays. Even Liverpool defensive legend Tommy Smith has been proclaiming how important the big Greek will be in Saturday’s showdown, and he should relish the atmosphere and physicality of the occasion. If we recall, Kyrgiakos is a man who has played in Old Firm derbies and with both staff and players at the club queuing up to praise his attitude and qualities, the former Rangers man will head into the game high on confidence, while his leadership skills from the back could prove vital.
It is further forward where the match will be won though, and with both Kuyt and Steven Gerrard possessing good derby goalscoring records, the duo will remain the men most likely to fire the bullets that could win the game. They’ll have to wait until next season to be joined in attack by Milan Jovanovic, with Standard Liege’s free transfer Serbian international not scheduled to link up with the Reds until the summer. He’ll be an interesting signing if it comes off - although the deal has yet to be rubber stamped - and one that certainly represents value for money when you consider that Aston Villa offered £12m for his services a couple of years ago. A forward more in the hard-working Kuyt mode than the pacy and silky genre of Fernando Torres, he possesses a record of just less than a goal every other game since he arrived in Belgium in 2006, and will be the latest in a series of Bosman free transfer captures in the Rafael Benitez era. Some have worked out while others haven’t, but given the restrictions on his budget, the manager could have done a lot worse.
Liverpool now head into a period of matches that will determine whether or not they’ll be playing Champions League football next season. The most important one is this weekend, and between now and then you’ll be hearing plenty of derby banter. None will sound as sweet as the full time whistle if the winners come from the Red corner on Saturday afternoon.