The Derby Innit
Some may say the fact that I was only alerted to the fact that yesterday that the match is on Saturday, not Sunday, and that I only realised this morning that my 'plan' for watching it wont actually be possible as my mum hasn't got the channel its on bodes ill for a preview.....
Of course its on BT Sport isn't it this time? Here we are, nearly in December and it seems only yesterday Michael Owen was whipping us into a pre-season fever of anticipation on their talk-of-the-town advertising thunderclap......"Cant wait...played in a few of those over the years" he said, and so he did:
"Can't wait..." and even as he said it, you knew he really could. I know the impression has been allowed to creep into this site's football coverage at times that its not the be-all-and-end-all(!), but seriously has there ever been a more lifeless, limp, lacking in insight excuse for a pundit? Not one person signed up for the channel on hearing that "wor Mickey" was on board did they, so why pay him to phone in half-hearted blandishments when he'd rather be somewhere else? The first game of the season, Liverpool - Stoke, was a match where he probably was one of the best placed people to provide an at least different angel, but he offered nothing but platitudes - he's not even a horrible person, he just isn't arsed but seems to think he is obliged to stay in football. Neither him nor BT will be particularly bothered though, given they're now buying up the rights to a panoply of soccertainment.
So, this will be their first chance of probably many to do a simultaneously hugely overwrought yet totally underwhelming 'ONE CITY. TWO TRIBES. ONLY...ONE...WINNER!' intro segment. Will they have their own end-of-season compilation splicing all the worst bits of these together and use them to buttress out any footage of the actual games and lure you into watching it none the less on the 27th December? If they do then they really have joined the Premiership party.
Despite all the above ennui and whining, and as touched on in other places (http://thisisnotfootball.co.uk/2013/11/20/liverpool-preview/) the slightly less intense build up to these games of late, we're not at the stage where turning up a day late is an option. Not least because this is by most standards a stand-alone intriguing game - 2nd vs 5th and two young, confident, strong-minded managers in charge. Both Rogers and Martinez (over a shorter period) have shown a genuine willingness to follow, not just talk about, a long-term plan.
To me, Liverpool getting shut of Carroll last season when they had no-one else really to play upfront with Suarez was one of the best moves by a manager in the last few seasons - it would have been far easier to keep him there, lash him on if it was 0-1 and maybe get a few more short-term points. But what Rogers did was actually pretty clever, instead preferring to keep going with his style, safe under the cover of a narrative that said he'd been screwed over in the window meant he wouldn't take too much flak in the short-term. Then in January the chance came up to sign a much better forward in Sturridge, and because the team hadn't been half of the time playing in a different style, they were ready to slot someone like that in and it didn't take long for the better player to settle in and the whole situation to make sense.
I think Martinez has done similarly after quickly assessing that the combination of getting both Barkley & McCarthy in the team at the expense of Fellaini will be best in the long-run, even if we might have dropped a bit in the here-and-now (you could easily have seen Fellaini nicking a goal in the Palace game if we'd pushed him up in the last ten). Weirdly, the fact that we've started better than I think most expected has presented a dilemma I think, in that if we'd thrown in a few more goals and dropped a few more points, the likes of Stones, Deulefou and Robles might have had more time in lower-expectations environment.
In fact even Osman has ended up starting two games at Barkley's expense recently, something that shouldn't really continue for long (especially as it hasn't worked).
Not really scraped that grimey ol' barrel of 'Greatest Wins Over Liverpool' too fervently with the People's Club branded brillo pad to come up with this one, but it was a classic as it happened, so would be perverse to implicitly downgrade it now, nearly 20 years on. This match is a sepia-tinged encapsulation of 90s football, the antithesis of the the slight detachment I feel now - I felt like I would cry if Neil Ruddock had equalised late in this highly-charged November encounter.
Everton were bottom, had won something like three games in their last thirty and were engaged in a bizaree attempt to make themelves even worse: imagine coming 17th, but with a striker who scored 21 in the season, and thinking 'I know, lets get rid of him', then 'lets swap him, at a loss, for a left back!', then 'but it needs to be a left-back who everyone already hates, is shit, and would be 3rd or 4th choice in that position if he came...'. That was the Walker doctrine.
So, a lot of creit to Peter Johnson who acted correctly, thought this slow suicide had to stop and pulled the plug on the Norwich Nostradumus and brought in Joe Royle in time for this Monday night main event.
Benefit-fraud trendsetter Tommy Smith predicted in the Echo "at least 3-0 to Liverpool" which on form was fair - under Roy Evans they had a similar team to now in some ways: attractive to watch, strikers who you didn't want to give a chance too, and a neat but occasionally lightweight midfield, and crucially, you never quite thought they were going to win anything (although if Liverpool were to beat us on Saturday, they'd look good for a real tilt at something this year).
We set up with a completely re-vamped side ('no Samways or Burrows?! Well this isnt going to work....') and the first half went by without much happening, except Matt Jackson picking up an injury that meant he had to go off at the break. The game, atmosphere and whole trajectory of the rest of our season was set by what the new manager decided to do to deal with that. Only in such a new position and in such a nothing-to-lose situation would the reaction have been to go to a kind of 3-4-3 set up with Rideout coming on and going upfront to join the big names who had done absolutely nothing so far, Amokachi & Ferguson. Straight away the game opened up, Southall made a great save from McManaman then Ruddock hacked through Ferguson from behind, and as legend has it, prompted the on-loan number 9 to buck up his ideas quite dramatically.
I cant speak for anyone else obviously, and maybe some people did go in just for the caricature off sending-off, arrests & 'problems' (he infamously got 'done' for drink driving the day of this game), but personally, as someone who is unashamedly adoring of Duncan Ferguson, I don't think the whole package would have had the irresistible allure if he wasn't as good a player as he was when fit and up for it.
After an outstanding save by James off an Amokachi shot, what seems inevitable in hindsight but was a complete joyous shock at the time, happened, Hinchcliffe swung in the corner and Ferguson got it before the keeper and scored one of the most iconic goals of my 25 or so years watching Everton. The rst of the game was played in a cauldron of intensity, with Rob Jones nearly equalising and a great moment of intensity meeting farce as both Horne and Parkinson absolutely flattened McManaman at the same time whilst a streaker bobbed about in the background. In the last minute, Hinchliffe hoisted over another cross, James flapped the ball at Ferguson and it broke for Rideout who slid the ball in pat a lunge of despair by both the keeper and Phil Babb to secure an unlikely and unforgettable 2-0 win.
Was football better then? In many ways, not at all. From lots of aspects, yes completely. It was certainly more viscerally exciting and even though the Premier League was off and running, as was Sky, it was still ragged enough for mad games to pop up, people to be surprised - how massive was it though when Cole just went to Utd?? No rumours, no 'we understand blah blah blah' in the run up - and it was played out under looser parameters.
There was a shambolic side to it, a couple of weeks after this, there was some Wales game and the squad call-ups meant Southall, Horne and Dean Saunders just had to miss a very important league game for no logical reason as it clashed with Villa v Everton. Understandably, the higher stakes of today financially would mean there was relentless cry-arsing about this, all sorts of gobshites wheeled in to the studio to witter on about it - and the game would probably be rescheduled. That would make sense, but the way it would be done would suck a lot of the enjoyment out of the thing. Such is life I guess.
So how will it go this time? they clamour. Well, there is no indication at all that there'll be many goals: Everton's last two matches have been 0-0, as was the last game against Liverpool, and combined both teams have only let in 20 goals in 22 games so far this season.
That solidity translates to a pretty dull situation if you're someone who gets all hot under the collar about a bit of loose-lipped speculation regarding the line-up. Seven are absolutkley nailed on, defensively, with Lukaku bound to start up top. That leaves three places - I would go Barkley, Pienaar and Mirallas - none of which is remotely controversial.
In terms of predictions, what almost certainly wont happen is what happened last year (which I missed totally, being made promises about accessibility in the middle of the Lake District that were not kept) - if we go two down Liverpool have made a particular virtue of ramming home an advantage if they get ahead. And they're just a better team than twelve months ago: Brad Jones, Andre Wisdom, Nuri Sahin, Suso, Coates & Jonjo Shelvey aren't going to see much in the way of action on Saturday.
We've started iffily in our last three games too, so there's a clear danger in not beginning well. The 'new way' could help in that, as we'll be trying to pass from the off instead of coming out in tackles that may make the game look feisty when shown in a mini-montage going to the adverts or over the end credits but don't add much else except frustration and stop the game getting fully going. If Liverpool begin brightly though, the crowd will just have to stay with it and hope we hang on then grow into the game like v Tottenham.
The absolute critical area will be around the fringes our 18 yard box. I actually searched for just a generic new-fangled graphic photo to show I was talking about "stats and stuff" at this point, but it is actually of Suarez's touches this season so in theory pertinent to the mangled point I'm making. I dont worry too much about Liverpool's wide players and as good as they are, I dont see Suarez and Sturridge getting too much out of Distin and Jagilelka in the area from crosses or long-balls, but they and Coutinho are all incredibly dangerous in that space just a bit further back, so Barry and McCarthy are going to be vital and will most likely both get booked and give away a couple of cynical free-kicks.
At t'other end, I cant see that we've settled on a plan of how to get Lukaku involved regularly enough at all, and attacking-wise we haven't really 'clicked' apart from the first half v Newcastle and 2nd v Villa. Our best way to a goal will be a snap-shot from one of the midfield/support strikers.
So, finishing on a blindly optimistic partisan note, and realising I haven't actually said anything in the process of writing this that many people would disagree with - I'm calling a a flattering, fraught, far from fabulous, 1-0 win for Everton with Barkley getting the winner.