Could Merseyside derby history repeat itself?


Saturday is 10 years to the day since Everton’s last win over Liverpool – a time when the mood was very different at both Merseyside clubs.

This weekend’s game is a mouthwatering match-up between the unbeaten Premier League leaders and the all-conquering defending champions, still reeling after losing 7-2 at Aston Villa last time out.

The size of that scoreline was shocking – but a decade ago, any defeat was hardly a surprise for either side. On the morning of 17 October 2010, they were both in the bottom four after losing three of their opening seven league games.

18th is the lowest position Liverpool have been in going into a Premier League Merseyside derby

It was the Reds who were suffering the greatest crisis – as well as lying in the relegation zone, they were seemingly at war with themselves. Back then, no-one was proclaiming them as the best team in the world, least of all their own supporters.

Going into the derby at Goodison Park, Liverpool had made their worst start to a season since 1953. They had not only lost at home to Blackpool in their previous match, they had been totally outplayed and booed off the pitch at full-time.

On top of that, they had just suffered a humiliating penalty shootout defeat at Anfield by League Two minnows Northampton in the League Cup, manager Roy Hodgson was receiving abuse from fans just three months after taking charge, and there were also protests against owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, as John W Henry attempted to push through his takeover before the derby.

No wonder Everton fancied their chances.

‘It was a great time to go and win the derby’

Graphic showing the Everton team the last time they beat Liverpool: Howard, Neville, Jagielka, Distin, Baines, Coleman, Heitinga, Arteta, Osman, Cahill, Yakubu
This was Osman’s 13th Merseyside derby for Everton and he went into the game with a record of three wins, three draws and six defeats against the Reds

“I just remember thinking that they were there for the taking,” former Everton midfielder Leon Osman told BBC Sport.

“Without even looking back on everything that was going on with Liverpool then, when I first think back to this game, I just remember that we were very confident. But when you consider what was happening off the pitch, no wonder we thought it was a great time to go and win the derby.

“We had a much better recent record against them then, of course. Our poor record at Anfield was starting to become a thing because it had been 10 years since we had won there – but there was no stigma about us playing them at Goodison Park. Our record there in my time was actually pretty good.

Graphic showing the Liverpool team the last time they lost to Everton: Reina, Skrtel, Carragher, Kyrgiakos, Konchesky, Lucas, Meireles, Rodriguez, Gerrard, Cole, Torres

“Before this game, they were struggling and, although we were under par too, we had not got the results our performances at the start of the season had deserved.

“The feeling in our dressing room before the game was that we were going to win and, right from the first whistle, we were on top. Even before we went ahead, it felt like: ‘We have got this.'”

That instinct was proved right. Goals either side of half-time from Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta gave Everton a comfortable victory, with Toffees fans celebrating by chanting “going down” to their rivals at the final whistle.

Snapshot showing bottom of the PL on 18 October 2010 after the Merseyside derby: 15th Sunderland, 16th Blackburn, 17th Birmingham, 18th Wolves, 19th Liverpool & 20th West Ham
Defeat at Goodison left Liverpool with their lowest points total after eight games of any Premier League season. They have never been lower than 19th after more than three games have been played. Hodgson left in January, after seven wins from 20 league matches, with the club 12th, four points above the relegation zone. He was replaced by Kenny Dalglish and the Reds finished 6th, one place above Everton.

Everton on top – for a change

There will be no supporters to do any singing inside Goodison on Saturday and Osman is unsure how that will affect the game this time.

“We will only know afterwards,” he explained. “Yes, we had a derby there behind closed doors in June [which finished 0-0], but that was the very first game for both teams when the Premier League restarted.

“Everyone was a yard or two off the pace and the players were feeling their way back into it, so I don’t think that it gives us much idea of what is to come on Saturday.

Osman, shown here up against Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso, played in a total of 21 Merseyside derbies, finishing with an overall record of four wins, seven draws and 10 defeats
Osman, shown here up against Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso, played 433 games for Everton between 2003 and 2016, including 21 Merseyside derbies where he had an overall record of four wins, seven draws and 10 defeats

“Normally as a player you feed off your fans, even more so in a game like this.

“That is what is going to be weird this time because in the derbies I played in the crowd dictated the crazy pace of those games with their hunger for the team to succeed.

“That is probably why this fixture has seen so many red cards.”

Graphic showing there have been 21 red cards in 56 Premier League Merseyside derbies
Liverpool goalkeeper Sander Westerveld and Everton striker Francis Jeffers were sent off for this clash during Everton’s last win at Anfield, in September 1999, and a young Steven Gerrard joined them in being shown red before the end of the game. The derby has seen the most red cards of any fixture during the Premier League era – 14 for Everton and seven for Liverpool. In terms of results, Liverpool have won 24 games, Everton nine, with 23 draws.

While it will still feel strange to see a Merseyside derby without fans, it is even rarer for one to take place with the Toffees top of the table.

Saturday will be the first time it has happened in the Premier League era, a time when Everton have seldom set the pace at any point – they have already spent more days at the summit this season (16 days) than in total over the previous 28 years (eight days). A win or a draw on Saturday would extend that stint.

Snapshot showing the top of the Premier League: 1st Everton, 2nd Aston Villa, 3rd Leicester, 4th Arsenal, 5th Liverpool & 6th Tottenham
Before this season, 16 teams had spent more days on top of the Premier League than Everton since 1992 – including Liverpool (789 days), but also Bolton (38), Sheffield Wednesday (25), Charlton (17) and Portsmouth (nine). The Toffees have been top in three previous Premier League seasons (for one day in 1993-94, three days in 2001-02 and four days in 2007-08), but never managed it later than August in any of those campaigns.
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Which team will make a statement with a win?

A superior league position has not often proved helpful for Everton in the past. They have been above Liverpool going into 13 out of 56 Premier League derbies, but have only won four of those.

Could things be different this time?

“I played against Liverpool a few times when we were above them and we didn’t always make the most of it,” Osman added. “We tried to overplay rather than competing properly.

“There is no danger of this Everton side not playing their own game, though. They don’t know any other way.

“They are a new team under Carlo Ancelotti but they have some quality players and style – and they also have a system that is working.

“Their mentality is not going to be affected by the club’s recent record in this fixture. A lot of their players have hardly been there for 10 minutes, let alone 10 years, so they are not going to be thinking about how long it has been since we last won a derby.

“Everton have started the season with seven wins out of seven, including four in the league. They will be thinking this game is an opportunity to put out a big statement. If they win, what a message that would send out – not only to everyone else watching, but to the squad themselves because of the inner belief they would get from that.”

The same could be said for Liverpool too, however. What better way to bounce back from such an astonishing defeat than by toppling their top-of-the-table neighbours?

“Of course Liverpool will have something to prove too,” Osman said. “They are the Premier League champions, the world champions and they have had an incredible past 18 months.

“I am sure Jurgen Klopp will tell his players what happened at Villa was a blip and not a problem – just go out now and show the world what you are all about and that you are still the best.

“They had a bad day against Villa but there is no way anyone at Everton will think they are there for the taking this time because of that.

“I am expecting a big reaction from them on Saturday and Everton will have to be ready for it.”

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