When Everton visited Anfield in the league last season, a wreck of a side facing a rampant Liverpool, damage limitation dominated the Blue outlook.
The 2017/18 campaign was (hopefully) a nadir for Everton in the modern-era, a low that we will one day look back on with shaken-headed disbelief. It was a calamitous season that left the club ill-equipped to face Liverpool on that December afternoon.
When you look at the side that trotted out onto the pitch, a side whose limitations are perhaps best illustrated by the back four of Kenny, Martina, Williams and Holgate, you can appreciate why our collective psyche was consumed by fear.
All talk of breaking that unwanted record, of finally laying the demon of Anfield to rest, of puncturing their seemingly impermeable smugness was set aside. The trip across the park was something to be got through with hopefully as little pain as possible.
As it was, implausibly, Allardyce’s men came away with a point. The performance was wretched, the outcome nerve jangling and any sense of pride almost entirely absent. Everton got away with it. We knew it, they knew it, anyone watching knew it.
What we as fans took from that game was an almost perverse pleasure that an Everton side so irredeemably shite had, against the odds, come away with a point. The fury that was etched on the faces of Klopp, his players and any other Reds that peaked above the parapet, only fuelled our deviant joy.
Frustratingly, as the club’s long, unwanted record across the park has elongated, taking occasional snide satisfaction from results has become part of our Derby experience. Although it might have been warranted last year, that perverse pleasure is symptomatic of an approach by Blues to the Anfield Derby that is probably best defined as taking what we can get, no matter how meagre.
It’s there in our relief of getting a point, of thanking the footballing Gods that we haven’t suffered a repeat of the Martinez years, of palpable joy if we add another number to their injury list. As fans, we are looking for positives and finding them in places that are often unworthy of a club of Everton’s stature.
Introducing the Everton Mishmash!
We shouldn’t be doing this. Although last season’s Anfield Derby was one of those times when it was probably advisable to close your eyes and hope for the best, such a mismatch between the two clubs is rare. That particular fixture represented something of a perfect storm, or a perfect shitstorm to give it it’s proper title. Normally, the sides are much more of an equal match.
During the course of the past two decades, and notably since Everton’s resurrection under Moyes, the gap between the two clubs has never been consistent and nor has it always existed in Liverpool’s favour. On numerous occasions, Everton have matched Liverpool player-for-player and enjoyed better form going into the game. As a result, Everton could, and should, have won more games and taken more points.
But we haven’t. And so, over time, a narrative has been spun around this fixture, in part created by the length of that winless streak but also by a media machine slavish in their devotion to Liverpool, that when mixed with our own naturally pessimistic outlook, has slowly reforged how we as fans approach the annual trip to the heart of darkness.
There is absolutely no reason why Everton should expect to lose this fixture, why the club should not expect to outplay Liverpool, why supporters should be grateful for scraps from the table. It is simply a game, like any other, against a side that Everton have the capabilities to beat. And yet, in our minds it has become something else, a near insurmountable obstacle.
There’s a school of thought which suggests that Everton start the season on -3 points, so ingrained is the certainty that Liverpool away will end in defeat. Big clubs, and that’s what we want Everton to become again, do not think like this. When Liverpool go to Old Trafford, they know they are in for a game but winning is on the table. They don’t come away grateful that they haven’t been battered, proud of squeaking an unearned point or made up if Pogba was carted off on a stretcher.
That’s the mentality that us Blues need to develop with regard to this game. Pessimism is understandable. And not just because of how long it has been since the club has won there. Pessimism is also a comfort. It protects us from future harm by preparing us for the worst, mentally conditioning our hearts and minds to the misery that is yet to come.
But it’s doing us a disservice. Everton can win there. And Everton will win there. And if we lose, then we try again next time around. By fearing the worst and taking what we can get from the experience, however meagre, they’ve beaten us before a ball has been kicked.
I’ve succumbed to the allure of pessimism in the past and greeted full time with relief because we have emerged unscathed. But I’ve had enough. I’m sick of thinking small and letting them enjoy all the optimism. We can win on Sunday because, with the exception of aberrations like last season, we’ve always been able to.
There’s nothing special about Liverpool and there’s nothing unique about Anfield. I’m not going to close my eyes and prepare for the worst, I’m going to open them and expect the best.