Anfield is a place that doesn’t stir up many happy memories for Evertonians. Fourteen years have ticked by since the blue half of Merseyside last tasted victory at the home of their arch rivals; Kevin Campbell scored in a 1-0 win back in 1999.
For 11 of these 14 long years, Everton have been under the stewardship of David Moyes. Sunday’s clash could well represent his final Merseyside derby, with the Glaswegian’s future still seemingly undecided. For Moyes, it looks to be now or never if he stands to write his name into derby folklore and it’s certainly about time Everton put to bed their Anfield hoodoo.
When it comes to derby day temperament, Everton and Moyes have been found wanting time and time again. Undeniably, there is a change in mentality when the team walks out onto that Anfield pitch.
So often Everton have gone into these games in great form, playing attractive and brash football, only for it all to fall apart at the hands of their red neighbours. Before the baying Kop, Everton resemble a team gripped by fear and crippled with self-doubt.
It’s time for Moyes and the players to abandon the negative reflex that hinders Everton in these games. The way in which Everton have approached Merseyside derbies in the past reeks of a lingering inferiority complex. But in recent years, Everton have taken significant strides that should have long dispelled this.
Everton have evolved into a very decent side; capable of playing eye-catching football and beating some of the countries top outfits. This season they have triumphed over Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United.
But perhaps most significantly in the build-up to this particular game, The Toffees finished above their rivals last year, and this season they sit five points clear of the Anfield outfit with three games to play. Everton have been the better team on Merseyside for a while now. To be unapologetically cliched, the table doesn’t lie.
So, why so much fear?
For some reason, despite all the positive steps this Everton team have made under Moyes, when it comes to playing Liverpool, they panic. Having had the misfortune of going to watch Everton play at Anfield over the last five years or so, there is not one occasion that Everton have performed well. Not once.
Back in 2010, Liverpool actually played with 10 men for an hour, but still managed to emerge as 1-0 winners. Comparatively, Everton failed to register a single chance of note against a depleted Liverpool side.
Even at Wembley for last season's FA Cup Semifinal, an Everton team in red-hot form meekly surrendered a 1-0 lead against a Liverpool side bereft of any form whatsoever.
For some unbeknown reason, the very sight of those red shirts is enough for Everton to revert back to a style reminiscent of Moyes’s first few years in charge. Tactics in which Everton resort to long ball tactics and recoil into a negative, defensive shape. What many would now consider their natural game—a much more fluent and patient style—has not been showcased at Anfield as of yet.
Put bluntly, it’s time for Everton to get over this hoodoo. What are they so scared of, really? Liverpool have made strides under Rodgers, but they are by no means the finished article. And without Suarez, the Reds will be missing their talisman, chief creator and main goal scoring threat.
Not to mention, Anfield is not the impregnable fortress it once was. Swansea, West Brom and Aston Villa have all won comfortably there this season.
Everton must make the short trip across Stanley Park looking to follow suit. With their superior league standing in mind, it would prove to be a huge disappointment if Everton went to Anfield, shut up shop and played for a draw.
Especially when in Leighton Baines, Marouane Fellaini and Kevin Mirallas—to name but a few—there is a host of top class talent. Certainly enough to go away and beat a side that sits five points below them in the Premier League table. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?
With Suarez absent, there is a fantastic chance for the Toffees to get at this Liverpool team. The opportunity is there for Everton to cement their place as the regions premier side; beating Liverpool would give them an unassailable eight point advantage over their red neighbours.
Whether or not they have the mental strength to put in a performance and seize it? Well, that remains another matter entirely.
What game-plan will Everton employ to win at Anfield? Keep an eye out for my tactical preview on Friday.
I will be at Anfield on Sunday. Look out for my piece on Monday, in which I will try and give better insight to the whole Derby Day experience.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments section or on Twitter: @MattJFootball