Mersyside derby preview – from an Evertonian perspective

By Mike Deverell  @mikedeverellEQ  

This weekend’s Merseyside derby could be a make or break match for Everton’s season.

After only two wins all season and just one in the league, conceding 17 goals in 7 games, this could be a match that defines Martinez era Everton.  If we win it could turn things around and set us up nicely for the season. Suffer a heavy defeat and a wobble fast becomes a crisis.

Perhaps this is too dramatic, but derby matches have special significance for the fans and are remembered long after the season is finished. A good or bad performance in a derby can define a season and even a managerial era.

The FA Cup Semi Final against Liverpool in 2011 came to define the Moyes era for many fans. Everton went into the second half a goal up and having been much the better team, they then sat on their lead and hoped to see it out. A calamitous defensive mistake and a cracking headed goal and suddenly we had lost.

So near and yet so far, a phrase that with hindsight many fans would say sums up Moyes’ Everton perfectly.

This weekend’s match at Anfield is not such a big one off match but a worrying trend needs to be halted fast.

When Martinez took over some fans worried that we might play a bit like his Wigan side. Whilst we were likely to play more attractive football, said the sceptics, we would leave ourselves open at the back. These fears proved more than unfounded as although Everton played some great stuff and scored more than a few goals, they also only conceded 39 league goals all season.

There was just the one instance last season when Martinez’s Everton looks more like the worst moments of Martinez’s Wigan; the Anfield derby.

Forced into fielding some half fit players, notably in defence, Everton conceded early. Rather than then trying to keep it tight for 15 minutes to regain a foothold as a Moyes team would have done, Everton went naively chasing the game. Leaving themselves wide open at the back they found themselves three down before half time, and were lucky to only lose four nil in the end.

This appeared nothing more than a blip last year but since the start of this campaign has worryingly looked more like a trend. The team looks disorganised at the back, individuals keep making stupid mistakes and we keep being punished for it.

I wrote a few weeks ago about how a shambolic preseason may have affected Everton’s start. The recognised first eleven players didn’t play together once in preseason with our key Belgian players Lukaku and Mirallas not turning out for the team at all before the season began.

Defensively, the team looks like one which has not played together too much. The back line is being left exposed the midfield, and a lack of understanding between the defenders means if one makes an error no one else has been there to cover.

Momentum and confidence is everything in football. The confidence of the defenders and goalkeeper looks shot to pieces and we need some clean sheets to restore it.

At the moment, it seems if you get ahead against Everton you will win the game. The blues will go chasing the game and leave huge gaps at the back.

For this weekend’s derby I would like to see Martinez take a leaf from Moyes’ book for once. Keep things tight and don’t commit too many forward or we will play right into Liverpool’s hands and be looking at another thrashing.

Be solid, try and have some controlled possession, and Liverpool’s players have their own propensity for defensive mistakes which we can exploit.

Martinez has proven to be a fantastic manager over time but needs to be adaptable and occasionally pragmatic, rather than dogmatic.

Teams playing his favoured possession based style have recently been losing out to fast counter attacking sides. Witness Spain or Barcelona’s falls from grace and the rise of Germany and Atletico Madrid.

Everton have the capability to play this more counter attacking style and indeed have done so before. In last season’s game against Arsenal at Goodison Martinez engineered a three nil win by leaving Lukaku and Mirallas to counter with pace.

Perhaps this is the blueprint to win at Anfield; play three defensive minded midfielders with the hard working Naismith ahead, getting in Gerrard’s space when we don’t have the ball, and we may give ourselves a better chance.

However, right now Martinez may need to compromise on his principles and learn to win ugly. In derby matches, the result is all that matters.

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