Everton go into this weekend’s Merseyside derby with Liverpool as the form team, and many observers’ favourites to take the victory in what is the biggest test to face David Moyes’ side since the opening game of the season against Manchester United.
That was also largely the case when the teams last met, in April, in the FA Cup semi-final. Everton had scored 12 goals in the five goals prior to the Wembley date, winning four of the five fixtures, including a commanding 4-0 win over Sunderland in the game immediately before the semi-final.
Liverpool meanwhile had won only once in five games before Wembley, scraping a 3-2 win over Blackburn Rovers in the game immediately before the semi-final and seeing two goalkeepers suspended, leaving third choice Brad Jones as Kenny Dalglish’s only option between the posts. Liverpool were also a point and a place behind Everton in the league table, so those who backed Everton had good reason.
Everton fans will need little reminding how the match actually transpired. Aside from the ludicrous scheduling of the match, which saw around 80,000 bleary-eyed supporters make the long journey from the North West to the capital for a lunchtime kick-off, the early going went well. Everton held a lead at half-time and appeared well placed for a second FA Cup final appearance in three years.
Sylvain Distin’s underhit backpass in many ways summed up Everton’s second-half performance. Sloppy and out of character, the Frenchman rarely makes those kinds of mistakes and Everton are rarely so insipid under Moyes. But he did, and they were, and what became Everton’s most important game of the season came and went in a haze of disappointment.
These are the ghosts Everton are carrying in to Sunday. The accusation that Everton freeze when faced with a challenge that they can win dogged the team after the loss to Liverpool in April. It is too early in the season to say this is the biggest game Everton will face but despite Liverpool’s early struggles, it is the most daunting for all the usual reasons of a Merseyside derby.
Everton go into the match definitely missing one vital player and possibly two more, Steven Pienaar absent through suspension and question marks still hanging over Darron Gibson and Marouane Fellaini. That in itself only makes the match more challenging, but by the same token would make victory more glorious. It might not make defeat more excusable, however, at least not to the more vociferous sections of Goodison Park.
Derbies are the games where rational thought tends to go out the window, in the stands and on the pitch. If Pienaar, Fellaini and Gibson are missing the match will be difficult enough without the red mist descending and an Everton player leaving the field early. Jack Rodwell was sent off a year ago, albeit wrongly, so the referee needs to be at the top of his game too. Indeed, many factors need to fall into place for Everton to right the wrong of Wembley.
See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Everton