Derby day looms for Everton with points still desperately needed

Everton (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)
Everton (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images) /

With a due sense of doom and weariness here we go again as Everton travel the shortest distance of any away game to take on Liverpool at Anfield in the 241st Merseyside derby tomorrow.

This match could be a particularly historic one for all the wrong reasons as it might well be the last league derby for a very long time perhaps ever, if of course Everton do fall through the trap door and into the Championship at the end of the campaign.

That’s still a very real prospect of course with Burnley’s win over Southampton this week meaning the Toffees’ only have a one point lead over the Clarets having failed to take all three against Leicester City on Wednesday.

And, Burnley play Wolves before the derby so should they win that game as well the Blues’ will be in the bottom three as they face their old enemy. All this means Everton really do need something from the game. What chance of that though?!

Looking at the two teams the gulf between them is a true chasm and it’s only getting wider all the time.

In fact, as I’ve said before it reminds me very much of the early eighties when Liverpool were nearly always winning the prizes at home and in Europe and the Toffees’ were constantly struggling and flirting with relegation year in, year out.

However, in those days it was still possible to imagine Everton recovering relatively quickly if they could find the right manager and a settled and balanced side with enough top quality players.

This they eventually did under Howard Kendall going on to win two league titles and two cups in the middle years of that decade.

Today, climbing the mountain to becoming merely competitive in the Premier League let alone successful again, seems almost impossible.

Everton obviously have an awful lot of work to do to improve the team on the pitch while the club is in a real mess financially having squandered hundreds of millions of pounds over the past five years or so on a succession of players and managers.

And, the club’s main source of outside investment, Alisher Usmanov, who has been putting money in through various sponsorships etc, has now been frozen out because of his alledged links to Russian President Vladmir Putin.

So, even if relegation is avoided this season, in some ways the Blues’ problems are only just beginning.

Somehow, the board are going to have to find a way to finance a number of new signings if Frank Lampard – assuming he’s still the manager – is going to improve the team and prevent a repeat of this campaign happening again next season, while at the same time keep the new stadium deal afloat and avoid falling foul of FFP rules.

Anyway, those are the issues that will confront Everton this summer. First of all relegation has to be avoided.

The starkest problem with this team during the campaign has been it’s relentlessly abysmal efforts away from Goodison Park since the autumn days of September when they last claimed three points on the road.

In fact, the only consistent thing about this group of footballers has been their totally predictable collapses on their travels.

There have been some utterly disgraceful and embarrasing performances and results, while the total lack of commitment and determination on so many occasions from these players has been infuriating to witness.

On paper then, this match looks a forgone conclusion. Liverpool are in terrific form, having just put four past Manchester United in their last home game and are of course chasing an unpreccedented four trophies this season. It’s almost like some sort of horrendous nightmare you can’t wake up from.

Given all that, virtually no one is giving the Blues’ any chance of getting something from tomorrow’s game let alone winning it of course.

Last season, although it seems like a lifetime ago now, Everton did win the Anfield derby, their first triumph there since September 1999.

That win was masterminded by Carlo Ancelotti and was also helped by the absence of fans in grounds at the time, which was undeniably a factor in so many away results that season.

The Italian actually took four points off the neighbours in his two derbies, something very few Toffees’ managers acheived in two or three seasons in the recent past.

I know it’s wishful thinking but I wonder what might have happened this campaign had Ancelotti stayed and not left for Real Madrid last summer.

Certainly he had his critics, I among them at times, and while I’m not necessarily suggesting all would have been well and good had he remained as manager, surely it would have been a more preferable outcome to the fiasco and disaster of this season?

We would have been spared that awful slow and inexorable death by a thousand cuts of Rafa Benitez’s reign at the end of last year, and then the wasted weeks in January trying to find yet another manager when all the attention and effort should have been on strengthening the squad.

Wondering about how on earth Everton approach tomorrow’s match, I think perhaps Lampard should take a leaf out of Ancelotti’s book and adopt a very pragmatic gameplan rather than trying to be too ambitious against such a good side.

In fact, I’m almost tempted to say like Sam Allardyce set them up to do in his first derby when he took over from Ronald Koeman, put everyone behind the ball and just tackle and kick them for ninety minutes!

I never want the Toffees’ to play this way in an ideal world, but needs must and points, wherever and to be honest however they can be gained, are desperately needed.

If, by some miracle Everton held out and got a draw, what a boost for morale that would be with a massive away game at Watford coming up. And additionally, it would put a potentially significant dent in Liverpool’s title hopes too.

I suppose we just have to hope against all hope for something like this to happen. In truth though, even at my most optimistic I find it hard to see it and a three or four goal defeat seems inevitable.