So here we go Everton are just two days away from their first game back after the Premier League restart, as they host Liverpool in the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park on Sunday.
Of course the big question is can Everton put a dent, however temporarily, in Liverpool’s seemingly inevitable capture of the Premier League title?
Well at least we’ve been spared the potential horror of having to witness the kopites winning that title at Goodison Park after Manchester City beat Arsenal on Wednesday night.
Looking at the two teams on paper, there isn’t much to be hopeful about to be honest. It’s obvious the Toffees are well short of their neighbours’ quality at the moment.
The Blues recent derby record is also atrocious and the last time Everton beat Liverpool in the league, was way back in 2010. Ten years ago, so another win is long overdue.
And of course, as always lady luck has done her usual disappearing act when it comes to the Blues cause, as Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti grapples with a long list of injury issues.
Given the disparity in pure footballing ability and season-long form between the two teams, are there any reasons for Evertonians to be optimistic as the game on Sunday looms?
Well first of all Liverpool’s form had begun to wobble just before the pandemic lockdown. First of all they had lost a supposedly routine away Premier League game at Watford 3-0.
This defeat stopped them achieving a record 19 wins in a row. Then they were pleasantly bundled out of the Champions League by Athletico Madrid, at Anfield!
The Watford match was particularly revealing as the Hornets exposed the one major weakness I think this Liverpool team has.
That flaw is the converse of perhaps the greatest strength of the team; the tactical approach and contribution of the two overlapping full-backs.
Both Andrew Robertson and Tent Alexander-Arnold are superb attacking players who provide exceptional width and creativity overlapping on the flanks.
In Liverpool’s system, the two of them are a really important part of the teams play, operating basically as wingers and sitting in a very advanced position and enabling the midfield and forwards to tuck in and press the opposition very high up the pitch.
That though does leave big gaps behind the two full-backs and because neither are the best defensively, this puts more pressure on the Reds central defenders and goalkeeper.
Most of the time this doesn’t matter as Liverpool are totally dominating opponents, and with the quality they now have at the back in Virgil van Dijk and Allison in goal, they can get away with the occasional chance created against them, more often than not.
Watford though were able to fully exploit the space behind Robertson and Alexander-Arnold with their wingers and using the width they had counter-attacked extremely well, crucially took their chances and so defeated the league leaders. Their physicality was also a factor.
Can Everton exploit this Reds weakness as effectively on Sunday?
With all the injuries the Blues are struggling with this is a tall order. Even with a fully fit squad to choice from, would Ancelotti have the wide attacking talent to accomplish this?
His choices, Theo Walcott, Alex Iwobi, Bernard and Richarlison are all talented, especially the two Brazilian players.
However too often, some of these players, (especially the ex-Arsenal pair), have often under-performed and produced some very erratic and inconsistent performances.
Walcott might not be available because of injury, so that might force Ancelotti’s hand. One possible solution is to play Richarlison on the left to exploit Alexander-Arnold’s lack of defensive ability. But that would also mean breaking up a strong, developing strike partnership with Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
On the other flank, perhaps there is a short-term solution playing Djibril Sidibe on the right, as Ancelotti did in his very first game in charge. More on that in another post.
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So what, if any, other possible factors could have helped the Toffees get one over on their often tediously arrogant neighbours?
One factor that won’t be present is the crucial thing of a load raucous home crowd to spur on the players to produce the best.
Although the game will be at the grand old lady, the Goodison regulars won’t be there to provide their important vocal support. That has proved important in recent derby games at Goodison Park.
There is one other factor that might be important. That is the possibility that after three months enforced stasis they might be a little rusty and key players could be out of form.
True that can also apply to Everton too and the Blues certainly looked dreadful in their last game before the lockdown at Chelsea, but perhaps if Liverpool are below par it could just offer a rare chance to claim a long overdue derby win.