Ahead of Wednesday’s Merseyside derby, neither Liverpool nor neighbors Everton will be particularly eager to reminisce about the last time they faced off. For Liverpool, the reasons are obvious. The 1-1 draw at Goodison Park last October was the denouement of the Brendan Rodgers era, which had gone from early excitement to a baffling lack of clarity and loss of hope.
For Everton, the mood was very different approaching the visit of their rivals. An encouraging start to the season saw them beat champions Chelsea—back when that still felt like an accomplishment—and come back from two goals down to beat West Brom. A win over Liverpool would have taken Everton third and further promoted a feeling that things were rosier on the blue half of Merseyside than the red.
Such optimism must now seem like a painfully long time ago. Fast forward to this month and manager Roberto Martinez has now been the target of banners calling for his time in charge to be brought to an end in successive weekends. Events took an even more dramatic turn in Saturday’s home draw with Southampton when a fan stormed the pitch in an attempt to make his protestations toward Martinez personally.
While such extreme methods are clearly a step too far and the speed with which Martinez has been turned on has been swift, it is easy to understand the frustration of Everton fans. There is a strong argument that Everton have their strongest squad in the Premier League era. With players of the quality, and youth, of Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley, Gerard Deulofeu and John Stones make the team capable of playing thrilling football. And with the club also recently selling 49.9 percent of its stake to a billionaire promising fresh investment, plenty of the pieces appear to be in place for success.
And yet since that draw with Liverpool last October, Everton have won just six times in 25 league games, and only three times at home. Saturday’s draw with Southampton means Martinez’s side will finish with the worst home record for any Everton side in top-flight history. The club go into the Merseyside derby in 11th position and far closer to the relegation zone than the top four. Even the prospect of an FA Cup semifinal against Manchester United has done little to assuage the supporters’ dissatisfaction. Martinez must surely be entering a crucial few days for his future.
It would be fair to say that Liverpool have very different feelings toward their manager right now, and, indeed very different feelings than they held toward Rodgers last October. Rodgers’ final home game in charge had been a dismal home draw with Swiss side Sion in the Europa League, played in front of a lifeless crowd featuring more than 5,000 empty seats.
The scene could not have contrasted greater with the most recent match played at Anfield. Last Thursday a full house roared their side onto a thrilling and remarkable fight back from 2-0 and 3-1 down to beat one of Europe’s top sides, Borussia Dortmund, 4-3 and reach the Europa League semifinals. Manager Jurgen Klopp, who arrived in Merseyside in the days after the last Merseyside derby, is both thriving off and energizing the famed Liverpool support.
As with Everton, the Premier League season has been a disappointment for Liverpool. Currently eighth, nine points off the top four, Klopp’s side will not be qualifying for the Champions League through their league position this season. Yet, with a Champions League place still very much on offer through winning the Europa League and Klopp having created a mood of excitement and optimism, that currently is where the similarities between the two Merseyside clubs end.
Liverpool: Klopp made 10 changes to his lineup for Sunday’s win over Bournemouth, but is likely to restore the likes of Simon Mignolet, Philippe Coutinho, James Milner and Dejan Lovren to his side for the derby. Divock Origi, meanwhile, is expected to be fit despite suffering a back problem during his substitute appearance on Sunday.
Everton: Defenders Phil Jagielka and Seamus Coleman have both been ruled out through injury, while Aaron Lennon, Leighton Baines and Tom Cleverley all face late fitness tests. James McCarthy will be back available after suspension.
Prediction: For both clubs, the result is largely immaterial in terms of their league position. Yet the significance of the rivalry dictates that it retains importance for both clubs and managers. Klopp has rested players in the Premier League of late, with the focus clearly shifting to the Europa League, but he will not want a loss to Everton on his resume, particularly with the potential it would have to halt momentum built up by three straight victories. For Martinez, meanwhile, a loss would only add yet another black mark on his end-of-season review.
With both teams porous at the back, there should be goals. But everything points toward Liverpool, with just one defeat in their last 10 home matches, coming out on top.
Predicted score: Liverpool 2-1 Everton