Everton visit Anfield this afternoon to take on Liverpool in the 220th Merseyside derby.
Two of, arguably, the biggest clubs in English football playing in one of the most often contested derbies. Everton go into this weekend’s derby knowing that if they win they will finish above Liverpool in the league for consecutive seasons for the first time in 76 years.
But can they make it across the finish line - and if they don’t, what is it that is stopping them?
Since David Moyes took over at Goodison Park, he has never won at Anfield. In fact he has only beaten Liverpool four times in 23 meetings in all competitions (It isn’t just him, the overall derby record is Liverpool 88, Everton 66, with 65 draws).
But in that time he has crafted a talented, resilient and potent squad of players capable of beating every other team in the league. So why have Everton not been able to beat Liverpool more often?
Recently Everton have gone into the derby on better form than Liverpool, yet still they crumble. One of the best, or worst depending on which side of the park you look at it from, examples of this was the FA Cup semi-final in 2012 when Everton lost 2-1.
Going into the game, Everton were on a five-match unbeaten run that included four wins, whereas Liverpool had only won twice in the last eight games and their first and second-choice goalkeepers were unavailable for the semi-final. Everton took the lead but the task was too great and they shrunk and shrunk until they lost, gifting possession, goals and ultimately the game to Liverpool.
As is the case with most derbies recently, there is a cause for optimism within the blue half of Merseyside before the game, one that makes the pain of losing it even more acute.
This season Everton have been a far more consistent team than Liverpool and, indeed, have only spent one week behind them in the league table. The optimism surrounding their form was heightened to elation for many Evertonians when Luis Suarez went to take a chunk out of Branislav Ivanovic’s arm, meaning the Uruguayan was likely to be penalised and would therefore miss the derby.
Liverpool’s best player missing the derby, surely Liverpool wouldn’t be able to cope without him? Soon, however, reality bit as a Suarez-less Liverpool wiped the floor with Newcastle United at St James’ Park 6-0 - and the fear set in yet again for Evertonians.
But what is it about these two teams and Everton’s frequent disappearing act in derby games? Psychological weight and a long, closely linked history, that’s what.
There is much to be said about the two teams on Merseyside and how closely they are linked. One begot the other and, like a mother and her child, the two have never been completely separated, the one keeping a watchful eye on the other from less than a mile away across Stanley Park.
This proximity has often been a positive, particularly when the teams mourned together, regardless of colour, the loss of 96 Liverpudlian brothers and sisters at Hillsborough. But the clubs have also been inextricably linked in less fortunate circumstances, when Everton, boasting possibly the best team in the club’s history, and all English clubs were banned from European competition, after Liverpool’s involvement in the Heysel disaster, for five years.
That ban meant, ultimately, the dissolution of that Everton squad. A squad so good that they would have been in European competition for, at least, the next four seasons had the ban not been in place. Nobody can predict the future, of course, but what could that team have gone on to achieve and in their wake what might Everton Football Club have become?
This is the great problem at Everton. This is the great anger. The club were stripped of their best opportunity and their best and brightest players by a tragedy so closely linked to their “child” that nothing can be done or said about it.
The hurt unsaid becomes a weight never lost and so Everton Football Club is doomed, like Sisyphus, to drag their psychological rock up the mountain to the precipice of success over their neighbours only to see it roll back down, to where they have to start again from scratch.
Everton won the league at Anfield before Liverpool existed so why should they always feel like the underdogs? If Everton were the sole executors of their past, things might be different. The psychological weight of being hobbled by their neighbours and then to see them become a powerful force in football seems too much to slough off.
But if Everton win this weekend might they final tip the balance? Could it be the moment when the historical and psychological weight is lifted? Sunday, 1:30pm. A date with destiny for both Everton and Liverpool.
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