It’s a big day for me. I start my new job tomorrow, my first ever ‘proper job’, I will no longer be a student, I will be entering the real world. But that’s not really why it’s a big day. Of course, that’s important, but there’s something else that happens before that. At 3am on Monday morning New Zealand time – that’s 3am on the morning I start my new job – Everton will line up against Liverpool at Anfield. That’s right; it’s Merseyside Derby Day.
And it’s a big one too, even by the scale of Merseyside Derbies. Both clubs are having poor seasons. They will line up tonight 12th and 13th in the Premier League table, level on points but Everton on top due to superior goal difference. Unfamiliar territory for both clubs in recent seasons, and so it’s not just bragging rights at stake. Both clubs need to get their seasons back on track, both will be looking to kickstart the New Year.
For Liverpool, it’s really been a case of simply not having been good enough. The Reds of Merseyside obviously set hihg standards for themselves (probably too high, it has to be said) but the last few years under Rafa Benitez saw the construction of a squad that really just isn’t upto challenging for Champions League football. Lots of money was spent by the Spaniard, most of it wasted, as was documented (somewhat gleefully I must admit) in various articles on this site.
The appointment of Roy Hodgson, one that I initially thought was sensible, did little to hault the influx of mediocrity at Anfield. The likes of Paul Konchesky and Christian Poulsen, as has been well documented by various pundits all season, simply aren’t of the quality that Liverpool need if they are to get anywhere near placating their demanding and ambitious fans, who still hanker for the glory days of the club’s past.
Indeed, it is this nostalgia that has seen Kenny Dalglish installed as manager at Liverpool after Hodgson’s departure. The man whose name was sung at every game of Hodgson’s reign finally gets a shot at the job he wanted in the summer, but he will be all to aware that he has but his legend status at Anfield on the line. Fail to produce the goods that the Anfield faithful expect, and it will sour their memories of the man they call “King” Kenny.
And it looks like a big job. While Liverpool have been taken over by the John Henry’s NESV, it is yet to be seen whether there are any significant funds available for Dalglish to use to add some much needed quality to the squad. It’s been strongly hinted that Henry will steer the club towards investing in youth – much needed when you consider the dearth of young players they’ve produced in recent seasons, can you name one? – but if Liverpool’s season is to turn around some action will be required immediately.
Of course, buying new players isn’t the only answer. Dalglish will also hope to get more out of the talent he currently has at his disposal. Fernando Torres has been a shadow of his former self for some time now – if Dalglish can cheer him up and get him firing again, he’ll win Liverpool plenty of matches between now and the end of the season. The same could be said for players like Joe Cole and Milan Jovanovic – they’ve got definite talent, but aren’t yet delivering.
Then there are the simple things, like playing players in their correct positions. Raul Meireles has been one of few positives for Liverpool this season, but he’s been played largely as a winger – bring him into the middle and he’ll get even better. Then there’s Ryan Babel, long played as a winger despite being one of the hottest striking talents in Europe when he burst onto the scene at the 2007 Under-21 European Championship. It sounds simple really, but something’s got to change for Liverpool.
On the other side of Stanley Park, there seem to be fewer concrete solutions to Everton’s disappointing season so far. Anyone who has seen Everton play this season will be able to hit upon one suggestion immediately – Moyes needs to find someone who can put the ball in the net. Yakubu and Saha haven’t been doing it, Beckford is taking some time to adjust to the Premier League and Anichebe and Vaughan haven’t really been tried.
The problem is money, as it often seems to be on the blue half of Merseyside. The world’s money men for some reason seem reluctant to invest in Everton and so Bill Kenwright constantly has to ask Moyes to work minor miracles with not much. It has to be said too, that Moyes’ record with buying strikers, not all of them cheap, isn’t exactly perfect – Beattie, Johnson, Yakubu and Saha haven’t exactly lit up Goodison, though none can be called failures either.
What we’ve lacked is that little extra financial clout to attract a real top-class player. While Yakubu and Johnson commanded reasonable transfer fees, they don’t earn huge wages. If we had the clout to pay such a fee and invest in a larger wage for a real top quality player, it could make all the difference. But this simply isn’t going to happen, Moyes knows as well as we all do that this transfer window will also see him have to scratch around in the loan market. Let’s hope he can work miracles once more.
What makes this all the more frustrating is that for much of the season Everton have actually played really rather well. The likes of Tim Cahil, Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman have been in sizzling form and the defence – after a wobbly start – have been their usual frugal selves. Everton tend to boss games, they have lots of possession and play attractive passing football, they even create plenty of chances. It’s just a case of finishing them off.
This has even been achieved with Mikel Arteta woefully off form. After signing a new contract in the summer, the influential Spaiard has yet to recapture the inspirational form that he has been blessed with throughout his time at Everton. He has shown glimpses certainly, and one has to think it’s only a matter of time, and indeed that could well be the catalyst that really ignites our season – especially alongside Mauraone Fellaini, who is quickly reaching the imperious level of performance he was turning in last season before his serious injury.
All in all, the situations on the two halves of Merseyside couldn’t really be much more different while both being somewhat miserable. Liverpool’s plight is entirely understandable, their playing staff just isn;t good enough and they’ve suffered from a lack of consistency both at managerial and boardroom level. For Everton though, things look rosy almost everywhere, they just lack that final piece of the puzzle which would propel them to the very upper echelons of the Premier League.
In that sense, you would have to think that Everton have a good chance in tonight’s Derby. But as ever, these matches must be approached with a sense of caution. It’s an old cliche that form goes out the window in such fixtures, but both clubs may be hoping that it is true tonight, and that they can find the sort of form that their respective fans had been expecting to see from them all season thus far, but which has been lacking.
All in all, it looks set to be a very intriguing Merseyside Derby. Both clubs don’t just really want a win, they both really need the win too. As I said, it’s a big day for me. And although I’m excited and nervous about starting my new job, I’m even more excited and nervous about the match, because ultimately, in the way in which football rules all of our lives, it – and not my job – will probably decide whether I have a good week or a terrible one.