x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

There's devil in the derby

Merseyside match between Everton and Liverpool stokes the fire.

Derby games are special in their capacity to level the playing field. The theory is that players get so wrapped up in the local pride and atmosphere of a game between two teams from the same city that they all become equals for 90 minutes and the game is more likely to be decided by luck than skill. An example of this is the Manchester derby. While United were winning Premier League titles on a regular basis in the 1990s and 2000s, City, in the days before Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, were definitely the poorer neighbours.

Yet City inflicted memorable derby defeats on United's expensively assembled teams - 4-1 in 2004, 3-1 in 2006, and a league double in 2008. Another by-product of the derby atmosphere is that it causes common sense to fly out the window and players to fly into tackles with reckless abandon, as if physically defending the honour of their half of the city. Take Sunday's Merseyside derby, for example, between Everton and Liverpool. Merseysiders would argue that this game trumps the Manchester match, or any local battles in London, Birmingham, Bristol or Sheffield for that matter, as England's premier derby game.

Yet in the era of multicultural football, one could expect that the simmering local tensions would not translate as readily to players from places such as Brazil, Spain and South Africa. In fact, Sunday's line-ups could contain as few as seven Englishmen and just five players from Liverpool. But that is not the case in Merseyside, where the term "red hot" applies to the atmosphere and the action, regardless of whether you are Steven Gerrard, born and bred in Liverpool, or Marouane Fellaini, born to Moroccan parents and raised in Belgium. The Everton midfielder was one of two players sent off in the last derby, the other being Liverpool's Sotirios Kyrgiakos from Greece.

In fact, there have been 19 red cards in this fixture, the most for any match-up in the Premier League. twoods@thenational.ae