Everton v Liverpool - Premier League

Merseyside Derby: Liverpool and Everton set for biggest derby in decades

4 Comments

Two of England’s most-storied clubs play Tuesday in a derby that’s taken on much more significance the past few years. At least on a broad scale.

The Merseyside derby has always been a big deal to the people of Liverpool.

Just one point separates the rivals in the Premier League table. Less than one mile separates the two teams stadiums across Stanley Park, and they share one city.

But this derby is bigger than most. It will impact a top four Premier League spot that would seal Champions League qualification, a dream for both clubs (and would bring roughly $100 million in revenue).

With Liverpool boasting the deadly strike duo of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, many would say they’re the favorites at home against Everton’s young and exciting side led by ambitious manager Robert Martinez. So how did they get to this point?

This is the tale of one of the world’s most famous soccer cities and how its intertwining clubs define the people of Merseyside.

HISTORY OF ‘THE DERBY’

Until 1974, the county of Merseyside didn’t exist but then the boroughs of St Helens, Sefton, Wirrall, Knowsley and the city of Liverpool came together as one. The metro area now has a population of 1.38 million people and has three professional soccer teams. The two biggest teams are Liverpool and Everton; Tranmere play in England’s third-tier and are located across the River Mersey, toward Wales. People from this neck of the woods are known as ‘Scousers’ and their harsh Scouse accent is something you have to experience for yourself. Trust me, when you hear it spoken loud and proud by a Scouser you will know exactly what I mean.

Everton were founded in 1878 and were originally based at Anfield before being moved out after the clubs committee and John Houlding, club president and owner of the land at Anfield, couldn’t agree on a dispute. So Liverpool Football Club was born and moved onto the Anfield site in 1892, and the two have been rivals ever since.

(WATCH LIVE ON NBCSN, TUESDAY 3pm ET, ONLINE VIA LIVE EXTRA)

Today they’re both Premier League giants and since 1955 matches between the two have been referred to as the ‘Merseyside Derby.’ Before that it was simply known as ‘the derby’ around Liverpool.

source: Getty Images
Luis Suarez bends in an unstoppable free kick against Everton, in yet another pulsating Merseyside derby earlier this season.

Since the first match was played on Oct. 13, 1894, there have been 221 games played, with Liverpool winning 88, Everton taking 66 and 67 draws between the two.

Since 2009-10 both teams have had remarkably similar fortunes, as Liverpool have gained 277 points from 174 games, while Everton have earned 276 points from 174 games. This year Liverpool sit in fourth on 43 points, while Everton are in sixth place just one point behind with 42.

Great players such as Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush, Dixie Dean, Robbie Fowler and Graeme Sharp have graced this game with plenty of dazzling performances over the years, as Liverpool and Everton have always been embroiled in a titanic tussle for superiority in the city of Liverpool.

Dalglish was voted Liverpool’s best player of all time, as he won six league titles and three European Cups during the Reds heyday in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s. Around the Kop he is known as “King Kenny” and despite an unsuccessful period as manager of the club in 2011-12 when new American owner John W. Henry first arrived, Dalglish is still revered around Anfield and is currently working as a director for the club.

While Everton legend Graeme Sharp, who now works as a liaison officer between the club and its fans as well as various forms of media work in the city, was voted onto Everton’s “Greatest Ever Team” side after a glittering career that sees him second in the all-time scoring charts behind Dixie Dean. Dean scored the most league goals, 18, in derby history and a statue in his honor stands outside Goodison Park.

Both teams are immensely proud of their pasts, as you wander around the outside of both Anfield and Goodison you can see the admiration for their heritage as famous managers and players from a bygone era are honored. There’s a joke going around England at the moment that you can only have played for Liverpool if you’re a pundit on TV; with the likes of Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler, Mark Lawrenson, Alan Hansen, Phil Thompson and numerous others all on Sky, BBC or ITV in the UK.

(WATCH: ‘I Was There’ the fan experience of the Merseyside Derby)

source: Getty Images
Just 0.8 miles and a stroll across Stanley Park separates the stadiums of these two famous sides.

In recent years this fixture has been explosive. Twenty red cards have been dished out since the Premier League era began in 1992, more red cards than in any other PL fixture. A volatile and feisty atmosphere encapsulates both Goodison Park and Anfield on derby day, and on Tuesday, both teams square off after a 3-3 draw earlier in the season. Bragging rights are still up for grabs.

It will be intense. It’s perhaps the most significant contest between Liverpool and Everton in decades.

Liverpool midfielder Joe Allen played in the memorable draw at Goodison Park in November, as Everton had a lead snatched away from them late on by Liverpool’s Sturridge in front of their home fans. The diminutive Reds midfielder said this match is the one all of his teammates are looking forward to.

“The last few seasons the rivalry between Everton and Liverpool has become even more fierce especially in the league table,” Allen said. “That gives it even more excitement and build the game up even more. These are the sort of games that when the fixture list comes out, you look for them straightaway.”

ARE YOU A BLUE OR A RED? FAMILIES DIVIDED

When you stroll around the city of Liverpool, it’s sometimes difficult to see that there are two teams. In the commercial hub of the city I wandered past three huge Liverpool FC merchandise stores in a short space of time. No Everton club shops. There was also a huge sign of a Liver Bird near the bus station with the YNWA slogan, made famous by Liverpool’s fans who sign the famous “You’ll Never Walk Alone” anthem by Gerry and the Pacemakers before every single home game.

Despite Everton’s omission from the high street, in the streets and districts of Liverpool they are heavily supported. Known as ‘The People’s Club’ the blue half of Merseyside have had to put up with a lot over the years as their rivals have taken most of the limelight. In U.S. sports terms, think New York Yankees and New York Mets. Yankees fans have had bragging rights in the Big Apple for some time, but still Mets fans pop up and remind them about the few World Series titles they won, like a little brother poking his elder sibling in the ribs to remind him he shouldn’t be ignored.

Everton resemble the Mets. Liverpool, the Yankees.

source:
Reminders of both teams are strewn everywhere across the city’s streets.

“There’s households where one child has decided to support Everton. I know households were my friend is a Red but his Dad and his brother are Blues. They are both season ticket holders at Goodison Park and he’s a season ticket holder at Anfield,” explains James McKenna, spokesperson for Liverpool Supporters Group the ‘Spirit of Shankly.’ “The people you interact with for the other 363 days a year, they are your mates or work colleagues. You are from the same city and have the same attitudes I suppose. It is slightly different.”

In Liverpool, there’s a dichotomy that exists like nowhere else in England. Entire families are often split down the middle as to who they support. A father can support Liverpool, but his kids and wife cheer on Everton, and that extends to grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. Everyone has their reasons for choosing a side, but in this city the choice to support Everton or Liverpool is intensely intertwined.

The big question being: are you a Blue or a Red? It’s a question unique to Merseyside.

“I’ve known people from Sheffield and they couldn’t imagine the idea of being friendly with a Sheffield United or Wednesday fan,” McKenna said. “Glasgow is the same with Rangers and Celtic and it is almost like divided cities. On derby day it’s like that here but any other time I don’t really notice it.”

Everton boasts nine league titles and five FA Cups, making it one of the most successful teams in England over the past 50 years. But the last time they won a trophy was the 1995 FA Cup. Over the past two decades they’ve had to sit back and watch Liverpool fight for PL titles, win the Champions League and other European trophies and turn green with envy. Liverpool have won five Champions League titles (more than any British side), 18 league titles, seven FA Cups, eight League Cups and three UEFA Cups (plus countless other pieces of silverware). There’s a lot of envy from Everton fans as their illustrious red clad neighbors like to remind them of their dominance at every opportunity.

source: Getty Images
Families are split down the middle, as Liverpool and Everton fans often intertwine. That’s extremely unusual in the English soccer landscape.

“We’re always the top dogs on Merseyside,” said Richard Pedder, Chairman of Liverpool’s Merseyside Supporters Group, with an air of annoyance on his voice. “People disagree, but we are the top dogs and they won’t accept it. At the end of the day they’ve got to accept it. We will prove it on Tuesday.”

Often all of this ‘banter’ happens within the same household.

“The games come round twice a year, we have families who are mixed with Evertonians and Liverpudlians in the same household,” Pedder explains. “That can be rather strange if you’re not winning, one won’t talk to the other, this type of thing. We always look forward to this because this is our match. Manchester United are a big team but this is our local derby, it’s a city within a city.”

REGENERATION – CITY AND CLUBS BOTH RISE

Strolling through the center of Liverpool on a midweek afternoon, the bustling streets around Albert Docks are lined with sparkling new shops, restaurants, bars, hotels and snazzy apartments. This isn’t a place deserving of its reputation of being a harsh place and one where outsiders aren’t welcome.

I first visited Liverpool in 2001. On my recent return, it has changed. Chatting with locals over a coffee, they swooned over the new shopping districts, museums and dockland areas opened up when the city won the European Capital of Culture award in 2008.

That accolade brought a huge amount of funding to build the city back up even more. Britain’s decline during the ‘80s hit Liverpool particularly hard. In the North West of England Margaret Thatcher is not remembered fondly by many, as tough times saw Liverpool become a desperate place in the latter decades of the 20th century. Unions stood up against the regime and the industrial strongholds of England fell by the wayside.

source:
The Liver Buildings stand tall next to Liverpool’s famous docks.

But through that struggle, both Liverpool and Everton Football Clubs were in enjoying their heyday.

One can sense renewed hope for the city and both their teams from the citizens of Merseyside.

“You go around the city… it’s quite fitting with the football I suppose because we’ve come out of that ‘80s slump and neglect and there’s been a renaissance,” McKenna said, as he struggled to wipe a proud smile off his face. “The city now is fantastic, growing all the time. It’s a lovely place to come. The Merseyside derby epitomizes that. That idea where we said about the fans of both teams getting on for 363 days, then the other two days they don’t, that shows the city’s spirit and passion. That’s shown in how it has dragged itself up and has grown again as a city and become a huge port and is improving all the time.”

Still, as McKenna, notes, there is plenty of improvement needed. The glistening city center papers over the cracks of the harsh council estates that line the road to Liverpool’s training ground, barely two miles from the swanky new developments. Dilapidated and boarded up buildings, scruffy looking corner shops and clapped out transit vans are all easily visible as plenty of areas in Liverpool still struggle with poverty. It is amongst the most deprived areas of the UK, as a study released in 2012 showed that five of the UK’s top 10 most deprived areas were in Liverpool. But with the city rebuilding itself and its soccer teams flourishing once again, that air of optimism can be felt on Merseyside.

(MORE: NBCSN’s Rebecca Lowe discusses the Merseyside divide – video)

During derby week, talk of the upcoming game dominates chatter in the cafes, pubs and shops as the Blue and Red halves of Liverpool get anxious. All roads point towards the docks, as museums honoring Liverpool’s most famous export, The Beatles, line the way as well as a fine array of art museums. The Liver Bird buildings hang over the city – the famous bird also happens to be Liverpool’s FC’s club symbol and adds to the inferiority complex felt by some Evertonians – adorning the very summit of vast limestone buildings that have welcomed travelers from across the globe to one of England’s finest ports.

source:
Rejuvenated since winning the 2008 European Capital of Culture, Liverpool’s image has altered considerably.

With all of this culture, commerce and tradition flowing, I wander past a newsstand that brags about Everton snapping up a young Irish soccer player ahead of Liverpool. In the air, there’s a sense of building anticipation. In a local bar I went to order a burger, every type of burger imaginable was named after a soccer player. I chose a ‘Gerrard burger’ named after Liverpool’s captain (I had to, right?) There’s a special buzz during derby week, as this soccer mad city is on edge.

Recently I went to watch Arsenal host Everton play at the Emirates Stadium in North London, and the traveling band of 4-5,000 Everton fans didn’t shut up for the entire 90 minutes. Blue smoke flares went off after Gerard Delfoeu scored a late equalizer, as the fans made one hell of a din which drowned out the songs of Arsenal’s 55,000 home fans. On the pitch, Everton dazzled and out passed Arsenal at their own game. That doesn’t happen often. That realization that Everton can actually outplay and beat Liverpool this season means an extra spice has been added to this clash.

Liverpool’s players pick up on that special vibe, and with the Reds at home in front of the famous Kop end on derby day, midfielder Allen knows he and his teammates have to put in a top performance. Add in that this particular derby gives both sides the chance to cement their place in the top four, and it should be a fiery cauldron of noise inside Anfield on Tuesday.

“In the week leading up to the game it is the talk of the city and the people,” Allen said with a ponderous glance into the middle distance, then a smirk on his face. “Everyone is hoping their team comes out on top and they will have the bragging rights that follow that. It adds to the intensity and the importance of the game. The derby and the rivalry is one thing but we’re competing for similar positions in the table, so it gives it that added spice. There’s certainly much more at case when that’s at stake. We realize the importance of the match both from the rivalry point of view, but from picking up points off each other.”

source: Getty Images
Liverpool midfielder Allen missed a great chance in the derby earlier this season. He expects another end-to-end clash at Anfield on Tuesday.

That’s what Liverpool’s players think, but what about the fans?

People who don’t even watch soccer or like it know a derby game is on the horizon, as it dominates discussion and is on the minds of every Merseyside citizen weeks in advance. Liverpool and Everton’s fans both get incredibly anxious way before a ball is kicked in anger.

“You talk to a lot of people and there’s a well-known illness that goes around Liverpool called ‘derby belly’ where everyone has this slight butterflies and nerves in them,” McKenna said. “It takes over your being. We both talk about football and matches we have coming up, then Everton and Liverpool fans then have a mutual thing to talk about. It just because a big discussion about who is playing for who. Then you say ‘we won’t talk about it…’ then you end up talking about it. It just dominates.”

FAMOUS BATTLES

As I spoke at length with Liverpool and Everton fans about their favorite derby memories from over the years, I kept getting the same response. They’re all good.

But there was one game mentioned by most. Liverpool striker Ian Rush, who holds the record for the most goals scored in Merseyside derbies with 25, wrote himself into Merseyside folklore with a sublime display of finishing across Stanley Park. A famous 4-4 draw at Goodison Park in 1991 saw the ‘divine moustache’ score four times as Liverpool forced a replay in the FA Cup, ‘Rushy’ was a clinical striker who is a symbol of Liverpool’s domestic and European success. Whenever people of a certain age in England see a moustache, a dodgy perm or a brightly-colored shell suit, they think of the City of Liverpool in the ‘80’s and the players like Rush who helped the Reds win just about everything.

(MORE: Was Everton 3-3 Liverpool the best Merseyside derby in history? Here’s a few contenders…)

Other memorable games have occurred recently, as Liverpool and Everton met in the FA Cup semifinal in 2012 when a late Reds comeback, courtesy of goals from Suarez and Andy Carroll, broke the hearts of Toffees fans.

“We’ve had some fantastic derbies, with the Steven Gerrard hat trick (in 2012) and the Gary McAllister late winner at Goodison in 2003, Fowler scoring in derbies. But at Wembley, to win and get to the FA Cup final by beating Everton. They take the lead and they battered us in the first half, but Andy Carroll heads home while Marouane Fellaini is still trying to figure out where the ball is and that was that. We were just too busy going absolutely wild. Not only have you knocked Everton out of the cup, but in the semifinal, at Wembley. They felt terrible, we felt brilliant. Happy days.”

The Everton fans I spoke about recall the special day at Wembley, but pointed towards it being a “misery” and something you’d rather forget. Andy Carroll had a rather unforgettable time at Liverpool but he will forever be remembered for that late headed winner.

There have simply been too many tremendous battles over the years to list them all, as players are just one kick away from being forever etched into the rich tapestry of one of soccer’s greatest rivalries. Who will be the next hero on Tuesday?

AMERICANS ON THE MERSEY

Both clubs have had huge links with the United States, which remain present.

Liverpool are currently owned by Americans John W. Henry and Tom Werner. Their Fenway Sports Group have had a calming and progressive influence at Anfield since they took over the club from two other Americans in 2010; the previous two weren’t exactly crowd favorites.

As for Everton, their links with America are also strong as U.S. international Tim Howard is their starting goalkeeper, while in the past USMNT stars such as Joe Max-Moore, Brian McBride and Landon Donovan have all dazzled for the Toffees. There’s also a strong band of Toffees emerging in the U.S. too, as fans of the Blues have come together to create a fans network known as ‘Everton USA.’

source:
USMNT star Landon Donovan, left, excelled when on loan at Everton and the club has a strong link with the U.S.

Using social media, the Evertonian group now has 45 clubs across the USA as Americans gather together in bars from California, to Nebraska to Boston, to watch their beloved Blues play every Saturday.

The two men behind the network are Dermot O’Reilly and Dave Kurtz. They’ve been using the wonders of modern technology to help Evertonians supporting the club from thousands of miles away feel like they’re on Merseyside.

Looking ahead to the derby, O’Reilly has been lucky enough to attend games at both Anfield at Goodison while also traveling from Boston to London three years ago for the FA Cup semifinal between the two sides.

A derby, no matter the match location, is a unique atmosphere.

“It is hard to explain the intensity, you have to experience it yourself in the derby,” said O’Reilly, a Dublin native who began supported the Blues in his childhood to annoy his older brother who was a Liverpool fan. “It’s not always about singing in the ground, it’s about following everything that occurs. The kind of reactions you get at Anfield and Goodison to things happening on the pitch, it’s not just about tifos and banners. It’s about the will to win that game and get one over your rivals.”

Kurtz began supporting the Toffees in 2004 from Los Angeles, following Wayne Rooney’s wondergoal as a teenager vs. Arsenal. He is pretty blunt about Tuesday’s derby implications.

source: Getty Images
A young Everton fan takes in the sights in and around Goodison Park.

“It’s number one across the board. We’ve had these two games circled for a very long time,” Kurtz said. “This is life or death for all of us. A great goal in this derby will make you immortal forever. I will always love Dan Gosling, wherever he ended up, for taking down Liverpool a few years ago.”

Everton’s growing band of fans don’t stay state-side, either. About 50 members are making the pilgrimage to Merseyside to take in a few games this March. O’Reilly is delighted with how Everton are resembling their nickname as the ‘School of Science’ as Martinez’s innovative approach to management is flourishing and believes the only way is up for the Toffees.

Kurtz believes the future of the Merseyside derby and Everton is going only one way — up. Well, just as long as they finish above Liverpool in the PL.

“Finishing ahead of Liverpool has to always be on my list,” Kurtz said. “For a transitional year, with a lot of loan players, Martinez couldn’t have done a better job. We have been playing beautiful football and to be honest I can’t wait to see what year two is and the players we plan to bring in. For Evertonians this season seems like a preview for at least five years of good football ahead for us.”

source: Getty Images
Bill Shankly was one of Liverpool’s greatest ever managers and helped set the foundation for decades of success. His statue now stands outside the Kop.

As for Liverpool, the future is looking bright after several turbulent years which saw American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett (former owners of the Dallas Stars, Texas Rangers and Montreal Canadiens between them) angered many fans with their outlandish remarks and broken promises in 2007, as outraged supporters demanded them to leave the club.

One group hell-bent on removing Hicks and Gillett started in 2008 in the Sanford Pub, the birthplace of Liverpool Football club back in 1892. Their aim was to remove the two controversial American businessmen. The ‘Spirit of Shankly’ became an iconic group in the struggle Liverpool’s fans faced to try and force their owners from doing anything they wanted to the club. Against all the odds, they succeeded as Hicks and Gillett walked away.

The fact that the group was named after legendary Scottish manager Bill Shankly, who delivered several European Cups and English league titles, shows how entrenched in history Liverpool’s fans are and how prestigious past glories are still remembered. Their rich history is a badge of honor, that they aren’t letting any owner or group of people strip away.

Spokesperson for ‘Spirit of Shankly’ James McKenna recalls the impact American owners have had on the club.

source: Getty Images
Liverpool’s American owner John Henry, far right, is joined by club legend Kenny Dalglish and Chief Executive Ian Ayre sat behind him.

“They are very different American owners” McKenna says with a puzzled look on his face.” I’ve got an Evertonian friend who laughs and says you were the only campaign group that was successful in getting rid of two American owners… to replace them with two more American owners!”

That joke of course refers to the Fenway Sports Group.

“If you look at the back record of Hicks and Gillett and how they acted in American sports compared to John Henry, they are very different,” McKenna said. “The view so far is that they’ve [Henry and FSG] moved the club forward an awful lot. We are now beginning to see what looks like a philosophy and an idea of how the club should be, with a young manager like Brendan Rodgers in charge and a clear idea of how we should play. For a lot of people it’s still a case of cautious optimism. We are progressing and we’ve closed that gap to the top four.”

UNITED AGAINST MANCHESTER

A loud roar went up from a large group of fans congregated in a sports bar. Everton were not playing, neither were Liverpool…. But Sunderland had just scored in the League Cup against Manchester United.

source: Getty Images
Can Suarez lead Liverpool to the top four at Everton’s expense?

That ascent toward the top four is being made that much sweeter by the sharp decline of Liverpool’s fierce rivals to the north: Man United.

Everywhere I walked around Liverpool I heard conversations about United’s demise. “I thought Christmas was over,” cried one cameraman at Liverpool’s training ground. “It’s the end of the January and United are still shocking… it’s the gift that keeps on giving!”

The messy aftermath of United’s loss to Sunderland continued, as an upset and drunken fan called 999 and spoke to a Police operator. He asked to be put through to Sir Alex Ferguson to discuss United’s demise.

Somebody amongst the assembled media, played the audio of that call and roars of laughter filled the air as the tribulations of Manchester United this season have been gleefully celebrated by Liverpudlians of all ages.

Despite the smugness of Liverpool’s fans, as United struggle to make it in the race for the top four after winning the Premier League title last season, this rivalry runs much deeper than on the soccer pitch.

source: Getty Images
two heavyweights of English soccer for so long, a rivalry match between Liverpool and Man United is till the highlight for some.

“It isn’t just football based but it is Liverpool and Manchester based,” McKenna said. “It is the divide between two big cities so close to each other that goes back to the industrial revolution and the ship canal, they were famous for cotton and we were a port. Manchester as the city has grown, there is almost a feeling from us that we want to poke and prod at them and show them that we are still here. Obviously we were both competing for honors and were the successful side in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, they then took over and dominated in the mid-‘90s.”

Still, the soccer savvy folk of Liverpool, of which there are many, know United will rise from the rubble and be a perennial powerhouse of English and European soccer once more. Fans of Liverpool are the most bitter towards United’s recent success, but Everton’s faithful aren’t far behind after the Red Devils poached Moyes as their manager and keep trying to nab the Toffees best players. That Liverpool vs. Manchester battle continues.

It always will.

But Liverpool and Everton fans are enjoying the demise of United, while it lasts.

“You’ve got to remember in the ’60’s, ‘70’s and ‘80’s Liverpool had an incredible time in music, football and I suppose in some ways this last 20 years has been Manchester’s time,” said Manchester United legend Gary Neville. “With bands like the Stone Roses and Oasis, United winning the league… it has been Manchester’s time. But the two cities have got a lot of similarities. Lots of spirit and fight, the honesty and integrity of the people and there’s a tribalness to it. Why shouldn’t there be?”

BACK TO THE FUTURE?

The Liverpool-Everton rivalry was right up there with the biggest in English soccer for over two decades as Liverpool marauded around the continent winning European Cups, while Everton tasted success on the domestic stage.

source: Getty Images
Will Liverpool and Everton be battling it out amongst the PL’s elite for years to come?

Statistically Liverpool is the most successful soccer city in England, with 27 league titles going to either Liverpool or Everton and not one top-flight campaign has taken place without one of Liverpool’s two sides being present. Winning has become an obsession, and a reality, on Merseyside for generations.

But since the early ‘90’s there have been no league championships for either side. Yes, Liverpool have won the Champions League, UEFA Cup and other trophies, but no champion of England has been crowned on Merseyside for almost 25 years.

Everton won the FA Cup in 1995, and then most years it was a struggle just to stay in the Premier League. Since the turn of the millennium and under the tutelage of Moyes they turned into a top 10 team, and only recently have both teams began to get back to the ‘80s heyday.

“Both Liverpool and Everton have got new managers in the last few year, they are both very positive,” Pedder said. “They’ve been astute in the signings they have signed. The future looks good for Liverpool and Everton.”

(MORE: Tim Howard on Everton vs. Liverpool – “We’ll be heroes if we win”)

As things stand after 22 games of the PL season, Liverpool occupy fourth place on 43 points, while Everton are in sixth place with 42 points. Both are battling it out for a Champions League berth that finishing in the top four brings and with young, ambitious managers in charge of vibrantly talented squads, soccer in Merseyside may be about to enter another heyday.

source: Getty Images
“Welcome to the most successful football city in the UK…”

Liverpool midfielder Allen, who spurned a glorious opportunity to score in Liverpool’s pulsating draw with Everton in November, knows better than most what the pressure cooker atmosphere of the derby is all about. Is he expecting a similar test vs. Everton under the floodlights at Anfield on Tuesday?

“I’m sure from a tempo point of view and the pace of the game it will be very similar, almost every derby game is,” Allen said. “I was impressed that Everton had the courage to fight back from a losing position but then so did we. That game had everything. Hopefully it will be as exciting, but that Liverpool come out on top and we win quite comfortably.”

More often than not, at least recently, Everton have come out on the losing side as they’ve recorded just two wins in the last 17 contests between the two famous English clubs.

As we keep hearing, this season the battle for Merseyside is tighter than it has ever been. Everton’s USMNT ‘keeper Tim Howard told me his thoughts on the rivalry before the last derby match.

These sentiments still ring true as the two giants of Merseyside lock horns on Tuesday with pride, and the potential to achieve their Champions League dreams, on the line.

“I think it will add something extra,” Howard said with a smile on his face. “I don’t think the derby ever needs extra motivation… but yeah I think both teams have been doing brilliantly. I think we’ve quietly crept in there and Liverpool have stayed quite near the top and we’re maybe one result from really getting to that top level. It will be a really good derby, in that regard.”

17-year-old Donnarumma could leave AC Milan over contract dispute

ROME, ITALY - FEBRUARY 13:  AC Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma gestures during the Serie A match between SS Lazio and AC Milan at Stadio Olimpico on February 13, 2017 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

AC Milan has developed a teenage sensation, but they might not be able to keep him.

Young goalkeeping sensation Gianluigi Donnarumma could find himself on the open market this summer after reports that his agent Mino Raiola has balked at AC Milan’s contract offer.

Donnarumma is just 17 years old and has been hailed as the successor to Gianluigi Buffon’s goalkeeping throne, earning the first-place job at one of Europe’s biggest clubs this season. However, according to Italian publication Calcio Mercato, Milan offered Donnarumma just $2.6 million a year, while Raiola is reportedly seeking twice that.

Milan’s caution is understandable given Donnarumma’s extremely youth at a position that usually sees players rise and fall at a later age, but the teenager has already become a sensation in Italy, and Railoa is looking to capitalize on his popularity.

However, it’s not just sensationalism that Raiola is hoping to pounce on. According to Squawka Statistics’ Performance Index, Donnarumma has performed as the second-best goalkeeper in Serie A this season behind Wojciech Szczesny. If AC Milan doesn’t wish to pay its young star, it’s likely that someone out there will – rather handsomely.

Premier League money could be enticing for both the player and his agent who has already made a fortune negotiating big-money deals for the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba, Mario Balotelli, and plenty others. Manchester City could be after a young goalkeeper to challenge the struggling Claudio Bravo, while the Manchester United sticks could be left vacant if David De Gea ever makes his way to Spain as is annually rumored.

Either way, Donnarumma deserves to be paid, based both on his fantastic performances this season at the San Siro and the subsequent popularity he has gained as the successor to one of the games great goalkeepers.

Europa League: Spurs sent packing, Ajax advances, Gladbach comes back

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 23:  Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur reacts during the UEFA Europa  League Round of 32 second leg match between Tottenham Hotspur and KAA Gent at Wembley Stadium on February 23, 2017 in London, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Tottenham Hotspur was sent home in the Europa League Round of 32 after a 2-2 draw with Belgian side Gent at Wembley Stadium, leaving them down 3-2 on aggregate.

Christian Eriksen and Victor Wanyama scored for Spurs, but the road back was too long after Dele Alli was sent off in the 39th minute for a horrible challenge on Brecht Dejaegere that left the referee with no choice but to show the English international the first straight red card of his career.

With Spurs down to 10 men for the majority of the match, they were still able to press forward and pummel the Gent penalty area, but they wasted chances and were open on the counter, and that’s how they struck. With Spurs leading 2-1 and pressing for the third they needed to advance, Jeremy Prebert followed up his goal in the first leg with one in the second, punishing Spurs for throwing men forward to settle things in the 82nd minute.

Elsewhere, Ajax advanced thanks to a goal from Nick Viergever who bagged the only score of either leg in the 49th minute after Legia Warsaw goalkeeper Arkadiusz Malarz spilled an initial shot from Amin Younes. The Dutch side is through to the Round of 16 for the second time in the last three years.

Fiorentina held a 1-0 lead over Borussia Monchengladbach after the first leg, and they scored twice in the first half of the second leg, but the German side shattered that with a remarkable comeback. Finding themselves down 3-0, Gladbach scored four times in 16 minutes to put themselves into the Round of 16 on a 4-3 aggregate score. Lars Stindl was the man of the hour, as he scored a hat-trick, including one from the penalty spot to start the comeback. The incredible stunt was completed by an Andreas Christensen header in the 60th minute, and Gladbach held on from there to advance.

AS Roma eased into the Round of 16 thanks to their huge first-leg advantage, falling 1-0 to Villareal but still advancing 4-1 on aggregate.

Anderlecht clung on to a Round of 16 place in thrilling fashion despite falling 3-1 to Zenit St. Petersburg, moving on thanks to an away goal after a 3-3 aggregate draw. 24-year-old Swede Isaac Kiese Thelin scored in the 90th minute in Russia to give Anderlecht the away goal it needed.

Lyon obliterated Dutch side AZ Alkmaar 7-1 en route to a huge 11-2 aggregate victory. Nabil Fekir scored a hat-trick, while Maxwel Cornet, Sergi Darder, Houssem Aouar, Mouctar Diakhaby all bagged goals as well to put the French club through with ease.

Cypriot club Apoel Nicosia earned a come-from-behind berth in the Round of 16 despite being reduced to 10 men with a half-hour to go. After a 3-2 defeat in Spain, they scored two at home to beat Athletic Bilbao 2-0 and advance 4-3 on aggregate. Pieros Soteriou and Giannis Gianniotas scored before the hour mark, and while Soteriou was sent off for a second yellow in the 65th minute, Apoel held on for the slim win as Athletic needed two more to advance.

Celta Vigo completed a comeback over Ukranian giants Shakhtar Donetsk. Down 1-0 after the first leg in Spain, Celta hit the road and seemed on its way out until Iago Aspas hit from the penalty spot in injury time, forcing extra time where they scored again via Gustavo Cabral which saw them through.

The Round of 16 draw will be Friday at 7 a.m. ET, while the matches begin on March 9th.

RESULTS(team in bold advances)

Tottenham 2-2 KAA Gent
AS Roma 0-1 Villareal
Fiorentina 2-4 Borussia Monchengladbach
Ajax 1-0 Legia Warsaw
Zenit St. Petersburg 3-1 Anderlecht
Shakhtar Donetsk 0-2 Celta Vigo (AET)
Lyon 7-1 AZ Alkmaar
Osmanlispor 0-3 Olympiakos
Apoel Nicosia 
2-0 Athletic Bilbao
FC Copenhagen 0-0 Ludogorets
Racing Genk 1-0 Astra Giurgiu
Sparta Prague 1-1 FC Rostov
Besiktas 
2-1 Hapoel Be’er Sheva

How Twitter reacted to Leicester City firing Claudio Ranieri

SEVILLE, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22:  Claudio Ranieri, manager of Leicester City reacts on the touchline during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Sevilla FC and Leicester City at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on February 22, 2017 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Claudio Ranieri was fired by Leicester City on Thursday, just a point above the relegation zone a season removed from one of the most improbable title runs in sports history.

While there’s been noise of the possibility for weeks, the decision still uncorked plenty of emotions from people in England and around the world. Just as the title did less than a year ago, people had strong feelings about Leicester’s choice to remove its best-ever manager.

Some suggested that winning the Premier League is now a tainted award, with the last two managers to win (Mourinho, Ranieri) both fired during the following season. Others expressed rage towards Leicester City for treating a legend of the game so harshly so soon after his incredible accomplishment.

[ MORE: Firing Claudio Ranieri was the correct decision ]

Some still suggested that the decision was correct, and still does not take away from what last season brought the Premier League history books.

See the most notable takes on what remains a controversial move by the Foxes:

Claudio Ranieri dug his own grave at Leicester City

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 13:  Christian Fuchs of Leicester City reacts during the Premier League match between AFC Bournemouth and Leicester City at the Vitality Stadium on December 13, 2016 in Bournemouth, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Getty Images
1 Comment

Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri admitted last week that he’s been too loyal to his title-winning players who aren’t performing up to standards this season. He followed that up by handing starting spots to out-of-form Christian Fuchs, Jamie Vardy, and Wes Morgan in the Champions League loss to Sevilla.

Now Ranieri has been sacked. It’s a sad story, but it’s easy to see why.

Should the eventual replacement truly hope to salvage Leicester City’s Premier League status, he must do what Ranieri failed to, and what he will be better equipped to do: put aside loyalties built from overachieving last season and and sit both Fuchs and Morgan, two critical players from last season’s incredible run who have sorely underperformed since. Just against Sevilla on Wednesday, Morgan gave away a blatant penalty with an ugly, petulant hack at Joaquin Correa’s legs, while Fuchs completely misjudged a cross en route to Pablo Sarabia’s opening goal.

Both have been equally as miserable in Premier League play. Morgan, the Leicester City captain, has looked every bit of his 33 years old, lumbering around the pitch unable to keep up with attackers slicing through the box. His successful tackle percentage is just 33%, and his pass accuracy is 69%, a shambolic combination for a defender. Fuchs, meanwhile, has been just as bad. Turning 31 himself in April, Fuchs was one of the worst players on the pitch in the 3-0 loss to Manchester United, and was yanked at halftime in the 2-0 loss to Swansea as he continued to struggle.

It’s surprising that Ranieri had kept faith in the two players after his comments on loyalty. One of the truest managers to his word in European soccer, the Italian said two weeks ago, “I could be [too loyal], could be. It is difficult when you achieve something so good, you want to give them one chance, two chances, three chances. Maybe now, it is too much. Of course I must change something because it is not possible to continue in this way.” He never backed up his words.

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Ranieri had started his two aging defenders time and time again hoping they will recapture last season’s lightning. That’s flat out not happening. Just prior to Ranieri’s comments on loyalty, I wrote about how the failing defense was most responsible for this season’s struggles. Since that moment, despite both the obvious shortcomings of which were written and the manager’s statement on failing loyalty, nothing has changed.

Now, after they struggled again midweek, the two must sit immediately to avoid the otherwise inevitable. The last time Christian Fuchs started the game on the bench was the last time Leicester City won in the league, when young Ben Chilwell started at left-back and the Foxes shut out West Ham. Wes Morgan hasn’t sat a single minute in Premier League play, but he was rested for an FA Cup win over Derby County plus the subsequent loss to Millwall.

No, the manager can’t step out on the field and perform. He must be judged by the players he puts on the pitch, his tactics on the field, and his man-management off the pitch. Ranieri will always have last season, but he never left the title run behind. With Fuchs and Morgan – and to an extend Vardy as well – failing to perform to the standards of a Premier League team, Ranieri failed to leave last season in context and base his decisions in the present on what stared him right in the face.

Obviously this won’t solve the problem up front, with the Foxes still goalless in league play since Islam Slimani‘s winner against West Ham an appalling 610 minutes ago. The midfield is being overrun, the attack can’t deliver a competent cross, and set pieces appear to be the only time Leicester looks dangerous. Still, if the Foxes are to give themselves a chance of survival, now it’s up to the new manager to do what is right.

Claudio Ranieri will always be remembered for what he was able to achieve rather than what he was not. There’s plenty that isn’t his fault: the full makeup of the squad, the sale of N'Golo Kante, the failure by the board to truly spend the newfound coffers wisely. The end to the Italian’s Leicester City story is a sad, harsh one, but he only has himself to blame.