Club Focus – Everton – Blues prepare for Dalglish’s derby return as Moyes wrestles with two-striker conundrum

Everton renew hostilities with Kenny Dalglish on Sunday as the new Liverpool manager takes part in his first Merseyside derby since 1991. And while much has changed in football in the intervening 20 years, the importance of the fixture to both sets of fans has not diminished.

For all Liverpool’s troubles this season, Everton’s own campaign has been far from assured. Much like their red-shirted cousins, Everton stumbled from mediocre to mediocre result before Christmas, spending more time in the relegation zone than the top half of the table. But the two sides could barely go into the game on the back of more different recent results. Dalglish has played two and lost two since replacing Roy Hodgson, while Everton’s last two games have been convincing wins over Tottenham Hotspur and, in the FA Cup, Scunthorpe United. The derby game then becomes vital for both teams for reasons greater than bragging rights – Liverpool desperate to get their season back on track, Everton desperate to keep up their new found momentum.

Everton’s resurgence has come since David Moyes switched to a two-striker formation. The two games Everton have played with two forwards have reaped seven goals – even taking into account the weak nature of the Toffees’ cup opponents Scunthorpe, seven goals in two games is an impressive return. But the two victories have been a home fixture and an away trip to a team struggling in the Championship, and whether Moyes persists with a duo of Louis Saha and Jermaine Beckford against Liverpool at Anfield remains to be seen. The defensive woes that have plagued Liverpool – and specifically Daniel Agger – in recent games suggest Everton may find success by pressing Agger and co as much as possible, infinitely more doable with two forwards than one, but the temptation to insert an extra midfielder and stifle the game may prove too much for the Everton boss.

The Merseyside derby may be one of the highlights of each club’s respective fixture calendar, but the games are rarely memorable for anyone other than the victors. Indeed, perhaps the last derby clash that was a genuinely unforgettable game outside of the city was Dalglish’s last as Liverpool manager, the 4-4 FA Cup fifth round draw in February 1991. A 0-0 Anfield draw took the tie to a replay that Liverpool led four times only to be pegged back on each occasion. 24 hours after Tony Cottee’s extra time equaliser, Dalglish resigned, and Liverpool eventually lost a second replay 1-0.

Since then, there have been a handful of multi-goal games but more reckless red cards and dour draws than anything else, as not only does the formbook go out the window in this derby game but any semblance of decent football usually follows too. With Liverpool struggling and Everton not faring much better before a recent upturn, that disappointing trend looks set to continue, but if three points go to Goodison Park on Sunday evening, few in blue are likely to complain.

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