Once More to Mordor
When next the two Merseyside giants meet this month it will be exactly 15 years since the "Kevin Campbell derby", Everton's last win at Anfield. Is this the year the hoodoo that has existed since is finally laid to rest?
23 September 2014
As if January's mauling at the hands of Liverpool wasn't painful enough, that defeat confirmed that Everton are now in their longest sequence without a win on that lot's home turf in the history of the Merseyside derby. When next the two teams meet later this month it will be exactly 15 years since Kevin Campbell's fourth-minute strike – not to mention the outstanding defensive stand that defended it – earned the Blues their last victory at Anfield.
What has passed in between has been a mixture of harsh losses, shameful capitulations and hard-fought, gritty draws, mostly played out against the backdrop of a galling inequity in the two clubs' wealth and spending power. Though Brendan Rogers continues, bafflingly, to argue that Liverpool are struggling against vastly superior budgets at other clubs (his club has the fourth-highest net spend in all of Europe this summer), that gulf in financial resources still exists, of course, but Everton will travel to Mordor this month as well-equipped in terms of personnel to end that 15-year wait as they ever have been.
Greater parity in terms of talent on the pitch only goes so far, though. The Blues faced some of the worst Liverpool teams in a generation during David Moyes's rein, beat them soundly on a couple of occasions at Goodison Park and yet failed to record a win at Anfield at any point in over a decade of trying. And there have been plenty of times when the venue was immaterial; Everton have lost nine times at home in the derby since the turn of the century. Three of them pre-dated the more stable Moyes era but then he failed to win on any of the home grounds of the former "Sky Four". So, while it's an unfathomable and unforgivable record, it speaks to something more deep-rooted than just an economic mis-match between two clubs who once dominated the footballing landscape in England during those glory days of the mid-1980s.
Longest Merseyside Derby Sequences
The good thing is that Everton's problem has been diagnosed and was done so quickly by Roberto Martinez. No longer would the Blues be taking "knives to a gun-fight"; instead, they would go eye-to-eye with the best in the League and the result was an end to 21 years of hurt at Old Trafford, a pulsating draw at The Emirates, a hugely unfortunate defeat at Stamford Bridge and home victories against all three of those clubs at Goodison.
While he came within a couple of agonising minutes of beating Liverpool at home last November, the one aberration in the Catalan's first season in charge, of course, was that 4-0 hammering at Anfield. It was an evening, though, where, even with the best will in the world, he could not have gone toe-to-toe with a rampant reds side who would end up winning 11 matches in a row before slipping crucially – and hilariously – with defeat at home to Chelsea and then, decisively, on the night of Crystanbul.
Everton's problem on 28 January was not so much one of psychology as a cruel confluence of factors that ended with a patched-up team being ripped open by Rogers' much-vaunted attack. Ross Barkley made a premature and ill-advised return from a fractured foot that evening, Phil Jagielka, too, was rushed back to action too early and a clearly unfit Antolin Alcaraz was thrust into only his fourth start after missing the previous three games with "muscle fatigue".
With Seamus Coleman out injured, John Stones deputised at right back and, together with a defence that was generally deployed with far too high a line, endured a torrid evening against Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez. Everton would finish the match having had 60% of the possession – an indication that there was no shortage of heart or desire – but were comprehensively beaten, not helped by Romelu Lukaku's departure from the fray with damaged ankle ligaments.
We've had some bad luck with injuries already this fledgeling season but you can only hope that Martinez won't face such adversity on the next trip across the Park. That will hopefully allow the manager to focus all of his energies on mentally preparing his men to tighten up that leaky defence, finally lay that Anfield hoodoo to rest and give Evertonians some bragging rights to crow about.
The blessed absence of Suarez, who scored in four of six derbies in his time with Liverpool, will certainly help, as will the suspected absence of Sturridge who may not recover from a thigh injury in time. While Martinez will want to focus on his own players, he will surely have January's miscalculation in the back of his mind and he will know that if he can get the mix right at the back, his team has the firepower to hurt the reds on their own patch.
We seem to say it every season, but surely this is the year...