Everton fans are a little down after the season we had last year but Roberto Martinez has started to steady the ship.
The 1-0 at Crystal Palace was welcome – only our sixth of the season – and that’s three league games undefeated after four straight losses. It’s time to kick on now though.
Aaron Lennon (below) could be an inspired (loan) signing for us. We needed someone else on the right-hand side with pace.
Even if he doesn’t start on Saturday he’d be great to introduce as an impact sub. Fans love tricky flankers who take defenders on and get crosses into the box – he’s a proper old-fashioned winger.
Commitment to the cause
Lennon is a confidence player to me so he’s going to need plenty of game time. Sometimes he’ll be brilliant – other times things won’t come off for him.
If Martinez puts his trust in him – Lennon needs to make sure he rewards it. This is his opportunity to get a permanent move in the summer rather than being a bit player at Spurs.
He’ll get the fans on his side very quickly if he puts in a performance in a Merseyside Derby and shows his commitment to Everton’s cause.
Put ’em under pressure
There’s always pressure going into this clash – and this year’s no different.
Joe Royle’s first game in charge was the 1994 derby – on the back of an international break. We were bottom of the league but we still managed to win 2-0 (my 35th Merseyside Derby out of 41) and won the FA Cup in the same season.
We had a game plan and hassled and harried them all over the park. And that’s exactly what we’ve got to do against Liverpool on Saturday (5.30pm).
We need to make it a proper ‘blood and thunder’ affair and not give them a minute to settle on the ball. Liverpool’s strength is their possession football so we need to force Simon Mignolet to kick it out rather than allow him to play it short and let them build from the back with their passing game.
Our players need to harry and hassle and upset their rhythm from the first minute to the last. Romelu Lukaku (below) got the winner against the Eagles last weekend and can have a big influence on this game.
The Belgian international needs to bully their defenders. He’s got to be aggressive and use his strength like Didier Drogba in his prime and rattle the red defence.
But Liverpool are making up for lost time and did well to beat Bolton on Wednesday night. Daniel Sturridge is back and scoring for them after injury. He’s matured since he arrived at Anfield. I wasn’t sure if he’d be a good fit initially.
Raheem Sterling (below) has been carrying the side for a lot of the season so far with Mario Ballotelli and Rickie Lambert not working out as hoped.
Brendan Rodgers did the right thing to give him a mid-season break. He’s only 20 and has already played a lot for the club. I don’t know what all the fuss was about.
Ok, maybe sunning yourself on the beach when your team is struggling is bad PR but that’s they way football is now. Professional footballers can jet off at the drop of a hat.
Howard Kendall just eased off training if he thought anyone was feeling the effects of a long, hard season. Or maybe you got the off day off. The principle was the same though.
Sterling and Philippe Coutinho are a threat and Steven Gerrard (below) won’t want his last derby game to end in defeat.
Personally, I hope Ballotelli starts the game for them – I’ve seen dust move quicker.
There’s no point in asking him to press the ball – it’s just not in his game plan. It would have been like asking Gary Lineker to fill in at centre-half. It’s just not going to happen.
How’s it going to go?
There’s a lot of frustration this year in both clubs and this could get quite tasty with bragging rights up for grabs. I fancy someone to get a red card.
Everton’s Gareth Barry and Liverpool’s Lucas Leiva look likely candidates because of the role they play. The have to get their tackles in so any mis-timed or nasty ones could see either getting an early bath. If Ballotelli plays you’re bound to get a reaction from him at some stage.
Both sides would probably take a draw and not lose face – but I’m going for Everton to shade it 2-1 at 10/1.