Well, now this really needs to work.
David Moyes made a mighty gamble by capitulating the Merseyside derby before kickoff, and now fans expect that gamble to pay off. By resting key players against Liverpool in preparation for their weekend FA Cup tie, Moyes boldly proclaimed to Everton Nation that hardware, not bragging rights or table movement, comes first.
While a 3-0 loss to their more established crosstown rivals is a hard pill for Evertonians to swallow, in my mind Moyes’ move was acceptable. The head man proved how serious he is about earning Everton’s first trophy since 1995; now his team has to back him up.
Advancing past Sunderland in Saturday’s quarterfinal will be easier said than done. No doubt the motivation will be there for Everton, but can that translate to a winning performance? The two sides took a point apiece when they met in late December, but things have changed since then.
Everton are stronger up front now then they were, with Nikica Jelavic and Denis Stracqualursi providing key goals against top-tier Premiership opposition. Steven Pienaar is cup-tied after returning on loan from Tottenham, but Royston Drenthe still mans the midfield. With that attacking edge, a 1-1 draw might not be in the cards.
By contrast, Sunderland will be short-handed this time around. In punishment for their red cards against northern rival Newcastle, both Lee Cattermole and Stephane Sessegnon will miss the weekend match. Without their captain or leading goal scorer, who will step up for the Black Cats?
As for the elements that remain on both sides, keep an eye on these six battles going into the weekend fixture.