While it might have been nicknamed the ‘friendly derby’, the Merseyside Derby continues to be hotly contested on the pitch especially. Senegalese teammates Idrissa Gueye and Sadio Mane are two countrymen who put their friendship on hold whenever Everton play Liverpool, and today will be no different.
Despite traveling together for international breaks and forging a bond while living on Merseyside, Gana told the Mail that when the derby approaches, all that is forgotten for a few days.
“We’re good friends, we’ll sometimes meet up for a chat. But one week before the derby, we stop talking. We don’t send messages and we don’t call. We play this game like we’re supporters.
“Sadio told me after our last international duty (vs Equatorial Guinea on November 17) not to call and I said OK. We can start talking again after the game. If we win, I’ll call him straight away!
“He scored the winning goal at Goodison (2016) and came to me afterwards. Hopefully it will be my turn to do that.”
Mane had come in for plenty of criticism from national team fans following a poor outing during the last break, and Gueye said he tried to lend his teammate some support.
“I tried to talk to him after the game but he just wanted to be by himself. I knew it was difficult for him. He is a big player and one of Senegal’s best players so people are expecting a lot from him.
“They see him doing very good things for Liverpool so they want him to do the same for the national team. It’s not the same team but they expect more and more from him.
“People in Senegal will be watching this game for sure. The last time, I tackled Sadio hard and received a lot of messages from home saying ‘Don’t injure him’.”
Gana played a prominent role in both draws against the Reds last season, and has had somewhat of a renaissance under Marco Silva and especially alongside Andre Gomes.
“I’ve never beaten Liverpool so hopefully this weekend. Last year we were in a little bit of trouble. We are a different team now and you can see we’re getting better each week. Our record at Anfield is not good (Everton haven’t won there since 1999) but it doesn’t add any pressure.
“He is a very good player. We know what we each have to do and we try to help each other. I usually play deep because Andre is a more forward player than me. Sometimes I have to control the game and see when it’s good to go forward or to stay. It’s a good balance with Andre.
“My job is not just about tackling. It’s about winning the ball but also giving it to a team-mate. If we don’t win the ball, it’s not a good tackle. The players on the bench help us too because they don’t give up on getting in the team.”