x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Everton and Liverpool meet in a clash of equals in some ways

There are plenty of similarities in the way the derby rivals play the beautiful game, writes Richard Jolly.

Brendan Rodgers, left, and Roberto Martinez are both young and have similar footballing philosophies. Paul Ellis / AFP
Brendan Rodgers, left, and Roberto Martinez are both young and have similar footballing philosophies. Paul Ellis / AFP

Local rivals are often portrayed as opposites, and not merely by supporters who are desperate to despise their neighbours as much as they love their own side. Sometimes, however, that is simply impossible. They are mirror images of each other.

Everton and Liverpool may be loath to admit it, but there are times when they have looked two halves of the same whole. In the 1960s and 1980s, it was because they were evenly matched teams contesting trophies. Now it is more a matter of a shared philosophy.

In Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers, they have managers who are kindred spirits, implementing a similar ethos on either side of Stanley Park. Passing is of paramount importance to both. Their preferred Merseybeat is a gentle tip-tap, the sound of a short passing game, rather than the heavy metal of long-ball football.

“I would be in the same bottle as Roberto,” Rodgers said. “We have that inherent belief in dominating the ball, controlling the game with the football rather than without it, and looking to play attractive, attacking football.”

Both coaches are 40, have both managed Swansea and there is a distinct Spanish influence to their style of play. They are part of the new breed of managers, purists in a pragmatic trade.

That, it seems, was what Liverpool wanted when they sacked Kenny Dalglish last year. Like Rodgers, Martinez was interviewed by in America by the owner John W Henry. Perhaps, had he left Wigan for Anfield then instead of going to Goodison Park 12 months later, James McCarthy would be plying his trade in the Liverpool midfield now. Instead he, too, is an Evertonian.

Yet if the personnel are different, the policy is the same. “Our ideas will be very similar,” Rodgers said. “I think both of us will always accept that if a player makes a mistake trying to pass the ball; we will take the blame for that. We’re asking them to be brave and have the courage to play.”

Nevertheless, for those sceptical of evangelical managers’ emphasis on retaining the ball, it led to early season witticisms that this would be the first Merseyside derby not to feature a shot on goal.

Instead, confounding their critics and rather than practising sterile domination, both recognise that potency gives possession another edge. Everton were given another dimension when Martinez borrowed Romelu Lukaku from Chelsea. Many of his Wigan teams featured goal-shy strikers; the Belgian is the first world-class centre-forward he has recruited.

Liverpool, meanwhile, have two of the Premier League’s joint top scorers in the shape of Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez, who each have eight, as does Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero.

Indeed, only four other teams have scored more goals than the Anfield attackers have mustered between them, even though the Uruguayan missed the first five league games. Both add incision.

“The idea, when you’re in possession, is to penetrate and to be aggressive in your game,” Rodgers said. “We had more than 30 shots on goal against Fulham. We had nearly 70 per cent of the ball and scored four goals. So it doesn’t take the intensity out of it by having the football.”

The chances are that Martinez would concur. And yet for all the similarities, there is a significant difference. Liverpool are the moneyed neighbours, Everton the experts at making comparatively limited resources go a long way. Typically, they were in the black for their summer dealings while, as usual, the red half of Merseyside were in the red.

It makes Everton’s recent overachievement all the more admirable. They have finished above Liverpool in the past two seasons, the first time that has happened when both have been in the same division since the 1930s. Now Liverpool arrive at Goodison Park three points ahead of their rivals, a lead that would be doubled with victory.

Yet Everton have suffered only one league defeat at home since March 2012; Goodison has become English football’s most feared fortress, albeit a place where Liverpool have won on seven of their past 12 visits.

And much as they are united by lofty footballing ideals, they are separated by derby results: in David Moyes’s long reign, Everton were faulted for their caution and struggled to beat Liverpool.

Martinez is altogether bolder and braver.

It all suggests two managers who share much else will not be content to split the points.

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