When Everton take the trip across Stanley Park to face Liverpool on Sunday it will mark the 220th meeting between the two Merseyside clubs. For Everton, the encounter presents an opportunity to remain on pace for a crack at European football and the chance to break a 14 year winless streak at Anfield. For Liverpool, the match offers a chance to extend their derby dominance and provide further evidence that there’s life after Luis Suarez.
Everton enter the match having lost only once in their last nine Premier League outings. That loss came two weeks ago at the hands of a rejuvenated Sunderland side, buoyed by their peppery new manager, Paulo Di Canio. The Toffees collected themselves well after the defeat, returning home to Goodison Park where they thoroughly outplayed a lackluster Fulham side for a 1-0 victory.
While Everton have done well to persevere through difficult circumstances, scoring goals has become an issue having only found the back of the net twice in the last three matches. It hasn’t been for lack of chances – the Toffees have had 49 cracks at goal during the stint – rather the failure to capitalize. Nikica Jelavic is the primary culprit, having scored only eight times in 42 appearances this season and only once since Christmas. For a man who scored 11 times in 16 games over the second half of last season after moving to Goodison Park, it’s a sizeable drought.
But the burden not only falls on Jelavic. Highly touted players like Marouane Fellaini (1 goal in his last 8 league matches), Kevin Mirallas (goal-less in his last 4 league matches), Victor Anichebe (1 goal in his last 8 league matches) and Leon Osman (1 goal in his last 7 league matches) all need to raise their offensive output if the Blues are to stay on par for a Top 5 finish. Currently 6th in the table, the Toffees are three points behind 5th place Tottenham (who have a game in hand), five points behind 4th place Arsenal and six points behind 3rd place Chelsea (also, with a game in hand). In other words, Sunday’s match presents a must-win scenario if David Moyes’ side are to keep their European dreams alive.
The problem is that winning at Anfield is easier said than done for Everton. It’s been 14 years (September 1999) since Kevin Campbell’s solitary strike saw the Blues taste victory at Anfield. The dry spell represents a major blemish on Moyes’ Goodison Park resume leaving the Scot desperate to record his first win in front of the Kop in what could end up being his final Merseyside derby.
Liverpool, however, aren’t a sentimental group and won’t look to be doing the Everton gaffer any favors as they seek to right a season gone wrong. The arrival of Brendan Rodgers, an ever evolving roster of players, and a season filled with highs and lows surrounding enigmatic striker Luis Suarez has left the Reds 7th in the table, five points adrift of their Merseyside brothers.
Despite the drama, the Reds have grown a more consistent side of late and enter the match on a five game league unbeaten streak. Last week Rodgers’ side tore apart Newcastle in a 6-0 thrashing at St. James’ Park. In Liverpool’s best display this season, the club put aside Suarez’ bite-gate controversy to show they are much more than a single striker threat. January arrival Philippe Coutinho, playing in an increasingly free-range role behind Daniel Sturridge, was the star once again as he devoured the plethora of space Newcastle afforded him. Sturridge and Jordan Henderson each notched braces in the match, deserved coups for two players who have grown by leaps and bounds during the 2012-13 season.
Having played themselves out of European qualification, the only realistic aim for Steven Gerrard’s side is to overtake Everton in the table and to continue inflicting derby pain. Since the captain’s first derby in April 1999, Liverpool have played 28 Merseyside contests in the league, winning 16 and losing only four times.
For Stevie G, Sunday may not carry the significance of derby’s past but it nevertheless presents an opportunity to hand Jamie Carragher a final Merseyside victory and Kopites a psychological edge over their blue neighbors.
“That’s why the derby is so special,” Gerrard said. “It isn’t about the points or about what you could achieve. It’s not about where you are in the table. It’s about having those bragging rights in the city.”