Back on December 4th, in the dying embers of Marco Silva’s reign, a weakened Liverpool side ripped through a shambolic Everton backline, with the eventual 5-2 defeat the least that the ragged Blues deserved.
The result saw Everton drop into the relegation zone and Silva paid the price with his job 24 hours later.
Things were at a low ebb, but in a whirlwind few weeks the mood around the club has completely changed. First, we had the rip-roaring, ballboy hugging, Duncan Ferguson caretaker era to restore our pride. Then came the arrival of one of the game’s most successful managers with the promise to take us forward.
None of that guarantees a result on Sunday of course, there isn’t a tougher ground in the country to visit right now. But at least Everton head across Stanley Park with a feeling of optimism for the future.
The Manchester City result was a reality check, a reminder that Carlo Ancelotti is no miracle worker and the squad remains way behind those at the top of the table. However, the fatigue from a hectic Christmas schedule was there for all to see in the performance. Some of the players looked completely gassed out.
That’s no excuse of course but it does mitigate the result a little. One more last push at Anfield and then the schedule begins to calm down, with the new winter break also coming up next month.
It’s a tough ask, but if you told Evertonians leaving Anfield four weeks ago that Everton would end the month in 10th place and with Ancelotti in the dugout they wouldn’t have believed you.
Stranger things have happened
Everton’s struggles over the past few years have been made tougher to take because of the success across the park.
Jurgen Klopp has built a formidable side capable of winning both in England and in Europe. There was the Champions League last season of course, and now they look set to end their 30-year wait for a league title.
Klopp has clearly prioritised the league over domestic cup competitions and after a festive period that saw him make minimal changes to his side, his team selection on Sunday will be interesting.
Does he risk losing a derby but give his title-chasing first-teamers a rest? Or stick with a strong team to maximise their chances of victory but also risk injury? I suspect he will go for the former.
Liverpool 5-2 Everton December 4th, 2019 (match report)
Yeah, it was bad.
Man City (A) Lost 2-1
Newcastle (A) Won 2-1
Burnley H) Won 1-0
Arsenal (H) Drew 0-0
Leicester City (H - Carabao Cup) Drew 2-2 (lost 4-2 on penalties)
Sheff Utd (H) Won 2-0
Wolves (H) Won 1-0
Leicester (A) Won 4-0
Flamengo (N - Club World Cup final) Won 1-0 AET
Monterrey (N Club World Cup semi-final) Won 2-1
Morgan Schneiderlin is fit to return after three weeks out with a calf injury. Bernard is to be assessed after he was injured in the warm-up at Manchester City, though he was pictured training with the rest of the team on Friday.
Fabian Delph has picked up a knee problem but a scan has revealed no injury so he could be in contention.
What they said
Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti: “The best way to approach this game is to be focussed on what you are going to do on the pitch and nothing else. How you have to defend and how you have to attack.
“You have to produce a great performance, a normal performance is not enough against them. Everything has to be perfect – no mistakes, work hard, intensity – the game has to be complete.”
“Every derby is really important for supporters. I played games in Rome, Milan – I know how different these games are.
“We need to have confidence to play at our best, try to play our football and move on in a competition everyone knows how important it is.
“The last time I was involved in this competition I won it so hopefully that is good luck for us!”
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp: “Carlo Ancelotti is one of the smartest people I ever met and he would not have taken the job if he wouldn’t have had a good squad. We were always convinced that the Everton squad is good, it’s really, really good.
“There’s no favourite, there’s nothing, there’s just two teams that play each other. In this case, two teams from the same city, so it’s a derby, it’s a big one. But how I said, the only advantage is that it’s in our stadium, so let’s use that and give your everything. That’s the plan.”
This is probably the hardest draw we could have been given, so we have to be realistic. However, there is every chance Jurgen Klopp will field a weakened side in order to prioritise the league, handing Everton a wonderful opportunity. Even if we lost in the next round, a win at Anfield for the first time this century would do wonders for our confidence and belief going forward, further fuelling the hope that some good times are (at last) ahead.