Merseyside derby excites Steve Darby

Everton has had its best start to a season since 1894-1895 with seven consecutive wins – four Premier League matches and three League Cup ties.

It is top of the standings and will face crosstown neighbour Liverpool – which suffered a humiliating 7-2 defeat to Aston Villa two weeks ago – tomorrow (7.30pm in Malaysia).

Form normally goes out the window in derbies as the intense rivalry evens out the playing field, although it will be 10 years to the day since the Toffees last tasted victory against the Reds. It has lost 11 matches and drawn 10 in that time.

That 1-0 victory a decade ago came two days after New England Sports Ventures – now known as Fenway Sports Group (FSG) – completed its takeover of Liverpool.

That loss marked one of Liverpool’s lowest points in history, sending it 19th in the standings before FSG and Jurgen Klopp’s revolution made it reigning world and English champion.

Much-travelled football coach Steve Darby is now back home in Liverpool. He is looking forward to an exciting clash despite the tier-three lockdown in the city which came into effect on Wednesday.

“The mood around the city despite the lockdown (to curb Covid-19) is great,” said the former Johor, Perak and Kelantan coach.

“The Bitters (Everton fans) are certainly the noisier and more optimistic going into the match.

“When the form guide and unbeaten streak is that long, there is always the feeling that sooner or later it will end.

“Everton have made three excellent signings in James Rodríguez, Abdoulaye Doucoure and Allan while Dominic Calvert-Lewin has made a brilliant start to the season.”

Calvert-Lewin is the joint top scorer in the Premier League with Tottenham’s Son Heung-min on six goals each.

Darby, however, feels Everton’s attacking play has hidden its defensive frailties. Jordan Pickford is prone to mistakes between the posts and the centre of defence is slow.

This is something Carlo Ancelotti hopes to fix with the introduction of Ben Godfrey, a transfer deadline day signing from Norwich.

The young English defender has yet to make his debut due to injury but is now raring to go.

“This is possibly the best Everton side for the last 10 years. Liverpool will be happy (Sadio) Mane and Thiago Alcantara have recovered from Covid-19,” said Darby.

“Also Jordan Henderson is now also fit. He does so much unseen work in midfield. The match could be decided by the men in the middle.”

What of Ancelotti’s remarkable record against Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp?

The Italian has beaten the Reds seven times with four clubs – although he was on the receiving end of the ‘Miracle of Istanbul’ when Liverpool beat his AC Milan side on penalties to win the 2005 Champions League final.

He has beaten Klopp three times while suffering two defeats.

“I never believe in managers’ head-to-head records, as it all depends on what teams they are managing,” said Darby.

“While I said this could be Everton’s strongest side in a decade, many would say this is the weakest team Ancellotti has managed in his life!

“My heart wants Liverpool to win, but I always go with my brain.

“And my brain tells me Liverpool have too much class and will bounce back from that strange Villa result!”

Elsewhere, Manchester City hopes to put its poor form behind it when it hosts Arsenal on Sunday (12.30am).

City only has four points from three matches.

Manchester United, beaten 6-1 by Tottenham two weeks ago, will have a chance to bounce back when it travels to Newcastle, also on Sunday (3am).

Like its neighbour, United has also had a poor start, with two defeats from its opening three matches.

Fixtures (Malaysian time)

SATURDAY
Everton vs Liverpool (7.30pm)
Chelsea vs Southampton (10pm)

SUNDAY
Manchester City vs Arsenal (12.30am)
Newcastle vs Man United (3am)
Sheffield United vs Fulham (7pm)
Crystal Palace vs Brighton (9pm)
Tottenham vs West Ham (11.30pm)

MONDAY
Leicester vs Aston Villa (2.15am)

TUESDAY
West Brom vs Burnley (12.30am)
Leeds vs Wolves (3am)