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Koeman seeks to eradicate the fear factor as Everton head to Anfield

The Everton boss calls for a change in attitude as the Toffees look to break their 18-year Anfield hoodoo

Liverpool v Everton - Premier League Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,

Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,

Silence the pianos and with muffled drum

Bring out the Toffees, and let the Kopites come.

Ok I may be a little melodramatic going all WH Auden on you but I can forgive any Evertonian who feels a sense of dread going into this Saturday’s Merseyside derby at Anfield.

It is a fixture that has brought nothing but misery and humiliation over 18 long years (bar the odd respectable draw).

I’ve given up trying to come up with new reasons to be optimistic going into this fixture; because no matter how well or poorly we have been playing in the recent past, games against Liverpool - particularly at Anfield - never seem to go well.

You can throw as many statistics, coincidences or lucky omens at me as you like; nothing is going to convince me that a trip to Anfield will bring anything other than disappointment.

Kevin Campbell was the hero when Everton last won at Anfield way back in 1999

No one has picked up more points than Everton since the last derby and we have the league’s top goalscorer fit and firing. I should be confident, but I’m not.

It is a horrible attitude to have, I admit that, but I’m not the only one.

This inferiority complex has enveloped the fanbase and with good reason. We are sick and tired of having our hopes built up only to be let down spectacularly on the day.

We saw it in the previous derby at Goodison in December. After a bright start Everton quickly ran out of gas and began to sink deeper and deeper in the second half.

There was only ever going to be one winner and when it came – in the 94th minute – there was an air of grim resignation rather than anger.

Since their last victory at Anfield in 1999 Everton have beaten Liverpool just four times in 18 years, losing 19.

Is it any wonder we don’t get our hopes up any more?

I guess I have to dig out some optimism from somewhere and I have found it in the words of our manager going into this game:

“It’s a new season. A new game. A new manager by Everton.

“I don’t know why. I heard in the last two seasons they were too afraid to play against Liverpool. Why you need to be afraid, I don’t understand that.”

The Dutchman is a serial winner and has the requisite attitude to go with it. He won’t cower in the face of Jurgen Klopp and he will make sure his players don’t either.

There will be no knives brought to this gunfight on Saturday.

He may not get a result this time around (lets face it, recent history tells us he won’t) but I least get the impression Everton’s approach and mindset going into this game will be different.

We have been worn down by successive failures and so to shield ourselves from further disappointment we always cross Stanley Park expecting the worst.

That appeared to seep into the minds of some of the players, certainly under David Moyes and probably under Roberto Martinez too.

Their performance in the 4-0 defeat last April was one of the most pitiful displays I have ever seen from an Everton team. 8-0 would have flattered us.

Two years previously we also capitulated 4-0 despite being well on our way to a record Premier League points haul that season.

Liverpool v Everton - Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Or who could forget when Moyes rested a load of first-team players in 2012 ahead of an FA Cup quarter-final with Sunderland and Steven Gerrard promptly helped himself to a hat-trick.

Everton would only lose two more games before the end of that season. Unfortunately one of those was against, you guessed it, Liverpool at Wembley.

Things have changed a lot since then and the hope is that the new faces in the side and on the touchline will not be weighed down by the failures of the past, even if those in the away section are.

The opposition

When Sadio Mane tapped home a stoppage-time winner at Goodison last December Liverpool were in second place, just six points behind leaders Chelsea.

Everton meanwhile were 14 points behind in ninth and seemingly an irrelevance.

Since then, however, the two clubs’ fortunes have diverged dramatically.

Everton have lost just once in the Premier League since that derby defeat, collecting 27 points from 12 matches to sit top of the 2017 form table.

Liverpool v Wolverhampton Wanderers - The Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round
Championship side Wolves knocked Liverpool out of the FA Cup during a disastrous January for Klopp’s side
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Liverpool meanwhile endured a rotten start to the year, crashing out of both cup competitions while suffering damaging league defeats to Swansea, Hull and Leicester.

As a result the Reds have slipped to fourth, 13 points behind Chelsea and just six ahead of Everton.

It has torpedoed any hopes of challenging for the title, making those Reds who lauded Liverpool’s rise to the top of the table in October look a little foolish.

By simply looking at Liverpool’s results it appears their problem is obvious. Against the top sides their high-pressing style is able to get results, meaning they top the ‘top seven’ mini-league.

Against the bottom seven, however, the story is very different.

Liverpool’s league defeats have come against Burnley, Swansea, Bournemouth and Hull, as well as an FA Cup defeat at home to Wolves.

Everton have aspirations to become a permanent member of the Premier League elite. But they may have to play like one of the division’s strugglers in order to snatch a result.

Team news

If Everton’s recent form has got you excited for this one, then look away now.

Just when things were going so well the Toffees have been robbed of four first-team players simultaneously going into this weekend’s game.

Morgan Schneiderlin has failed in his race to be fit after suffering a calf injury against Hull a fortnight ago.

Seamus Coleman is out for the season after suffering that horrific leg break against Wales. Glass legs James McCarthy picked up yet another hamstring injury in the warm-up to that game, much to the anger of Ronald Koeman.

To finish things off, Ramiro Funes Mori was stretchered off with a knee injury playing for Argentina and will likely miss the rest of the season.

It leaves Everton’s defensive resources stretched to the limit, with Mason Holgate likely to come in a right-back alongside Ashley Williams, Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines.

With Schneiderlin and McCarthy out does Koeman risk playing Gareth Barry in the midst of Liverpool’s pacy attack?

Barry struggled to keep up against Tottenham at the start of March while his half-time introduction in the Goodison derby meant Everton couldn’t match the tempo of their first half display.

Republic of Ireland v Wales - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images

Thankfully Koeman’s forward options are more plentiful, with Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley and Kevin Mirallas coming through the international break unscathed.

Liverpool have injury problems of their own with Adam Lallana and captain Jordan Henderson both ruled out.

Daniel Sturridge is also absent but Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino are available after the international break.

Final word

The law of averages dictates that Everton’s dreadful run at Anfield will end some time, so why not now?

The gap between the sides is probably as narrow as it has ever been since the 1980s.

They are a still a very good team, but they certainly aren’t a vintage Liverpool side even when compared to just a few years ago.

There is simply no excuse for the kind of mental disintegration we witnessed last April.

Koeman wants to build a side capable of competing with the big boys and much of that is down to mental attitude as it is physical ability.

With Old Trafford looming just three days after Saturday’s game, the Dutchman will likely find out a lot about both in the next few days.

Predicted starting XI: Robles, Holgate, Williams, Jagielka, Baines, Gueye, Barry, Davies, Mirallas, Barkley, Lukaku.