Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers will meet in a Merseyside derby for the first time on Saturday, an illustration of how far the men, with much in common, have progressed in their still young careers. The two 42-year-olds established their reputations at Swansea City with Martinez helping to start a revolution at the South Wales club, based on a possession-based philosophy that Rodgers continued to take them into the promised land of the Premier League.
Indeed, if things had gone differently, they could have been on different benches this weekend, with Martinez having been in talks for the Liverpool job last summer before Rodgers was appointed. After a difficult first season of transition where Rodgers had to primarily concern himself with repairing the damage inflicted by the previous regime, few Liverpool fans will now be questioning his appointment.
Liverpool lie second in the Premier League and will go top, at least temporarily, if they score a victory in Saturday’s early kickoff at Goodison Park. A defeat to leaders Arsenal earlier this month perhaps exposed the shortcomings that still exist in the squad, but Rodgers believes they are constantly improving.
"We're trying to build the squad here," Rodgers told Liverpool’s official website. "My history will always dictate that I go for players who are technically gifted and have got some personality.
"We brought in defenders [in the summer] because they're hard to come by, but we brought in one who could play in the team [Mamadou Sakho] and one with potential [Tiago Ilori].
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"The squad is slowly coming together -- we still need a few more windows to get it ideal -- but we're growing all the time."
Sakho enjoyed a dream night for his country on Tuesday, as his goal against Ukraine started France on their way to a victory that secured qualification for the World Cup. Talisman Luis Suarez booked his place in Brazil next year with Uruguay and was given the use of the private jet of Liverpool’s principal owner John W. Henry to get back to Merseyside form Montevideo as soon as possible. His strike partner Daniel Sturridge, is set to face a fitness test on an injury, however. Jose Enrique is out until January with a knee injury.
Everton fans are also likely to be happy that Martinez ended up on their side of Stanley Park. As expected, the Spaniard has significantly increased Everton’s share of ball possession, but he has also kept the solidity at the back that was a feature of David Moyes’ sides. Indeed, the only thing currently missing from the team is goals. Everton have had two successive goalless draws and Martinez has hinted they he could thrust 19-year-old creative duo Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu into the starting lineup, despite the magnitude of the fixture.
“Sometimes having knowhow helps and sometimes not knowing helps as well,” he said, according to Everton’s official website. "I think there are certain positions on the pitch where it is better to know what to expect. There are others where it is better to be fresh and raw to use that talent in your advantage.
"The creative positions are where you can take advantage of that fearless approach.
"Defensively, you need to be well aware, to anticipate and to control a fixture like this is where experience is welcome.
“It's finding the right mixture and the right time for every player to play a part.”
Where to watch: The Merseyside derby will kick off at 12.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the NBC Sports Network, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.