I love the Merseyside Derby. I also hate the Merseyside Derby. I feel I'm not alone in this sentiment and if you're confused by that statement, give me a few minutes to explain and hopefully it'll make sense.
So let's start over again.
I love the Merseyside Derby. I love the idea of derbies and rivalry games in every sport but there's just something extra special about football derbies. It really doesn't matter who is playing as long as there is a nice combination of history, spectacle and passion involved. Derbies stir the imagination and remind us of why sports are fun and special. They can also be insanely ugly and remind us of all that's wrong with people but thankfully the Merseyside Derby has been largely free of some of the darker potential of these types of games.
Saturday's latest meeting between Everton and Liverpool brings all the usual excitement and dread for Everton fans because it's both a big game in terms of the table and a big game in terms of bragging rights. Liverpool's overwhelming recent success compared to our beloved Blues has ratcheted up the pressure and value these games have for us because the Reds have been more successful overall for the better part of the last two decades.
At least they aren't winning league titles though.
It's because of those pressures that Everton fans tend to get wound up much tighter ahead of the Derby. We want badly to win these games because it gives us something to hold over Liverpool fans, a small victory that allows us to puff out our chest a little bit and walk a little taller. Losing the Derby hurts us deeper not just in terms of Everton losing a game but because it's yet another reminder of Liverpool's general dominance over Everton in terms of finances, trophies and the table (usually).
It's because of all of those reason that I hate the Merseyside Derby. I dread these games because I expect Everton to lose them based on the overwhelming evidence from the past seasons. So often my own hope and expectations have gotten far to high only to come crashing down under the hard truths of reality. I'm like Icarus refusing to listen to his father about flying too close to the moon and I don't think I'm alone amongst Everton fans in that feeling.
This year though could be different, there's a new hope based on the arrival of Roberto Martinez and the departure of David Moyes. Moyes did so many things right for Everton and he is value and influence over the club cannot be ignored. That said, the Scottish manager also frustrated Everton supporters to no end when it came to the Merseyside Derby. Yes there were successes and glorious moments but more often than not his teams played like crap and embarrassed themselves through poor play, overly aggressive behavior and cowardly tactics.
So often Everton would be the better team in terms of form going into these games only to get their heads figuratively smashed in by an inferior Liverpool side. That was frustrating and angered plenty of fans as they watched Everton, in their eyes, under achieve time after time against their city rivals.
Martinez's arrival provides new hope and the chance for change. Based on current form Liverpool should win on Saturday but Everton have the talent to win and it wouldn't be a surprise if they did.
For me tomorrow isn't about wins and losses though, it's about tactics and attitude. I want to see a team that doesn't tighten up against Liverpool and forget how to play their game. I want to see a team that doesn't just start fouling and giving referees a chance to control the outcome of the match. I want to see a team that plays with confidence and belief against their rivals.
This is a chance for Martinez to show he's changed how this team thinks about the Merseyside Derby, something that's been needing to happen for quite awhile. If that means a Liverpool victory tomorrow then so be it as long as we don't see an Everton team that's scared of it's own shadow.
A confident performance and a team that doesn't appear to be getting crushed by the weight of the moment would go a long way towards helping me to stop hating the Derby and just being able to enjoy the moment. So I guess what I'm trying to say is, help me Roberto, you're my only hope!