Anfield Scars still Remain for Everton, Who’d give a Fair bit to Derail Liverpool Title Chances
Anfield, December 2nd. The game looked up. The game was up. Into the final bits of stoppage time, in a Merseyside derby in which Everton had gone toe-to-toe with Liverpool. They didn’t cower, get beaten out of sight, or sat in extreme caution while their opponents dominated. They were brave at Anfield, and merited what looked like an inevitable draw, only the Reds goalkeeper Alisson denied Andre Gomes the chance to give them what would have probably been a first win at Anfield since Bill Clinton was the United States president.
Then one final launch into the box by Liverpool. The ball came out to Virgil van Dijk, who, a few weeks ago, thumped in a late equaliser for the Netherlands against Germany to send the Oranje to the Nation’s League semi-final. This time there was no such crisp hit, and his wayward effort was heading out of play. That was it. Except it wasn’t. Jordan Pickford, in Everton’s goal, made an ill-advised attempt to catch the ball, made a mess of the catch, and thus laid the ball on a plate for Divock Origi to head in a winner, sparking scenes like Jurgen Klopp running onto the pitch to celebrate with Alisson.
It was a true moment of disbelief, a moment of shock, and one that Everton haven’t really quite recovered from, in truth. Prior to that game, the Toffees were in sixth in the table, with five wins in seven games, and three league defeats all-season. Life under Marco Silva was as impressive as it looked vindicated.
But things haven’t gone well since that setback. That defeat at Anfield was their fourth of the season, but they’ve lost eight in the league since then, managing only four wins. Silva has come under a fair amount of pressure since that time, talk of an exit as similar as his at Watford was on the rise, the key personnel aren’t playing up to scratch, and up until Tuesday’s win at Cardiff, Everton were on a run of three successive league defeats.
Safe to say the Toffees were hurt by that Anfield heartbreaker, and have been scarred since. And three months on, this looks like the time for revenge, time to exorcise those ghosts of December, and get one over their neighbours for the first time in nine years. Silva, in the build-up to this game, spoke of Liverpool celebrating that ‘lucky goal like it was the final of the World Cup for them’, which means he, as he should, recognises what that game meant for them and what it means for his side.
There’s also an added incentive of derailing Liverpool’s title challenge. The Reds are top of the league, a point ahead of Manchester City, and Everton would give a fair bit to put a huge spanner in their rivals’ works. So, expect the fans, if not the team, to be fired up, and the Goodison Park atmosphere to be rather daunting. A win here could also get their season back on track, and act as a springboard for form to improve.
Liverpool arrive in this game in good stead, after their 5-0 thrashing of Watford in midweek, but the leaders have looked stoic at times of late, and have dropped nine points in their last eight games. Some of the fluidity and the solidity have been chipping away, and there’s a sense that they can be got at. They have a 29-year wait for the title to end, and emotions are already starting to play a (not-so-helpful) part, and Everton will hope to play on this come Sunday.
The Reds themselves will have an eye on what would be a galvanising win, the kind that amplifies belief that a side can really go all the way. Win at Goodison, and they would have gotten through a tough run (they drew at Old Trafford last Sunday) relatively unscathed. But a defeat could as well have calamitous consequences, which is what Everton are banking on.
Three months on from heartbreak, Everton have a chance to strike their own dagger at Liverpool hearts.
It’s also derby day at Wembley, with Spurs hosting Arsenal. The Gunners have the chance to do the double over their rivals, after beating them in December, for the first time since the 2013/14 season, and also close the gap between them to just a point. Spurs saw their title hopes just about evaporate with that hapless display at Chelsea on Wednesday, and probably can’t play any worse. They haven’t lost at ‘home’ to the Gunners in the league since 2014.
In more derby day, Fulham host Chelsea in the West London match-up, the Cottagers’ first game under former Chelsea midfielder Scott Parker, having recently sacked former Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri. The Blues, meanwhile, displayed togetherness in their win over Tottenham, just about putting talk of mutiny and crisis, following the Kepa League Cup debacle, to bed. Another win here will only increase the feel-good atmosphere brewing at the Chelsea camp.
Brighton have been on a downward slope since the turn of the year, the Seagulls still awaiting a first league win of 2019, and have slipped to 16th place as a result of five defeats in seven games. This may be the best or worst time for Chris Hughton’s side to face Huddersfield, who are either on a high after a long overdue win, or have recently won a game, so probably won’t win another until May.
A first game in charge of Leicester for Brendan Rodgers, at one of his former sides, with the Foxes travelling to face eight-placed Watford.
Bournemouth v Manchester City
Watford v Leicester
Fulham v Chelsea
Tottenham v Arsenal
Manchester United v Southampton
West Ham v Newcastle
Brighton v Huddersfield
Burnley v Crystal Palace
Wolves v Cardiff
Everton v Liverpool