LEWIS STEELE: Sean Dyche is plotting a heist at Fortress Anfield… Everton are riding on a carousel of chaos, but can they stun Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp?
- The Merseyside derby is a bitter rivalry, but the city’s two clubs remain united
- Sean Dyche will hope Everton’s chaos will not stop them from stunning Liverpool
- Listen to the latest episode of Mail Sport’s podcast ‘It’s All Kicking Off!’
As part of Jurgen Klopp’s programme notes on Saturday, he will pay tribute to one of Sean Dyche’s backroom staff at Everton. Physical performance coach Jack Dowling, a 30-year-old lifelong Evertonian, will run 26 marathons in 26 days to fundraise for his brother, a passionate Liverpool fan with cancer.
The Merseyside derby is a bitter rivalry but this city’s two clubs remain united like few others.
Everton always mark the Hillsborough disaster anniversary with poignancy, and Liverpool visited Bramley-Moore Dock when construction worker Michael Jones died at the Toffees’ new stadium. Aside from heart-warming dual community projects, however, the two clubs continue to move in opposite directions. While Liverpool look once more capable of a significant Premier League title push after a turgid last season, Everton are a carousel of chaos off the pitch.
No matter what the result is when Saturday comes, every week this season has been the same old story at Finch Farm. Rarely a day goes by when the club avoid a negative headline, usually about their controversial takeover or alleged breaches of profit and sustainability rules.
For Dyche, it must feel like Groundhog Day when he appears in front of the media every Thursday. Credit to him, he never replies with ‘no comment’ when most of the questions put his way are about off-field matters, but the coach often does not know the answers.
Sean Dyche does not always know the answers in his Thursday Everton press conferences
But the Toffees look to have turned a corner on the pitch after three wins in their last four
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The state of play is that Everton could face a points deduction if the Premier League find them guilty of breaching financial rules, with a transfer embargo or substantial fine also a potential punishment, following the hearing which started this week.
Questions over the legitimacy of 777 Partners, who have agreed to buy the club from Farhad Moshiri, remain. Everton’s Fan Advisory Board this week asked 777 for assurances that they have funding in place to support the acquisition and the new stadium.
Aside from all this, the Toffees seem to have turned a corner on the pitch with three wins in their last four in all competitions. Dyche often discusses changing the ‘noise’ around the team and it is starting to sound better. Positive results are beginning to match performances after several unlucky outings.
Only Tottenham have had more than Everton’s 133 shots this season and their non-penalty expected goals tally puts them above Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City. One stat to trump this, though, is that the Toffees have missed the most big chances in the league.
A major factor in Everton’s upturn in form has been the return of talisman Dominic Calvert-Lewin. He started just 30 of 76 league games across the last two full seasons but spent a summer working solely on fixing his body. That involved a trip to a renowned fitness clinic in Munich which he described as a ‘factory reset’.
Dyche has also been pivotal in Calvert-Lewin’s physical recovery, encouraging him not to play until he was truly fully fit. In previous years, the striker often rushed back early out of guilt, to help his team. Dyche himself had to retire prematurely due to returning too early from a serious back injury.
It also helps that Everton now have an adequate replacement up front, with £25million striker Beto impressing so far. Fellow new signing Jack Harrison has slotted in well, and defender Jarrad Branthwaite — who spent last year at PSV Eindhoven — has perhaps been their star man. Abdoulaye Doucoure is thriving in a No 10 role — he has conjured up an expected goals tally just behind that of Erling Haaland — and the industrious and versatile James Garner is playing well in the heart of midfield and chipped in with a goal against Bournemouth.
A major factor in Everton’s upturn in form has been the return of Dominic Calvert-Lewin
Across the city, Liverpool fans are hailing their energetic midfield with Dominik Szoboszlai
Dyche is known as a defensive manager but has got Everton ticking as a well-balanced attacking unit, despite their profligacy in front of goal.
However, you can spout all the statistics you like to shine a positive light on the Toffees, but one number will strike fear in the hearts of Evertonians.
In the last 25 league Merseyside derbies, Everton have won just once. They have won a solitary Premier League clash at Anfield this century — and that was behind closed doors during the pandemic. Fans are mentally damaged by trips across Stanley Park.
Klopp’s side have not lost a domestic match at home since October 29 last year when Leeds took three points at Anfield. Though this derby will have a subdued feel due to reduced capacity amid monumental delays to the Anfield Road End developments, the stadium is still a fortress.
The Kop is feeding off Liverpool’s new-look, energetic midfield starring Dominik Szoboszlai and Alexis Mac Allister. After losing 1,776 Premier League appearances in midfield exits this summer, that pair — plus the vastly under-rated Curtis Jones — have dazzled.
‘Liverpool 2.0’ is the phrase Klopp uses to define this second coming of his side. At times, they have looked like his first great team, who conquered Europe and ended a three-decade long league title drought.
At other times, they have stunk the place out with shoddy errors and poor defending.
‘We will try to show our real face more often than not,’ he said yesterday of his Jekyll and Hyde team, who have gone 1-0 down in seven of 11 games this season. They had come back to win the first five of those but have since faltered at Tottenham — no thanks to VAR — and Brighton.
Klopp declined to have another grumble at 12.30pm kick-offs, with this the 13th time in the German’s tenure that Liverpool have had the lunchtime start straight after an international break — more than twice as many as any other team has had in that period.
Jurgen Klopp did not complain about the 12.30pm kick-off despite the frequency of them
Liverpool’s liaison team have worked hard to learn from past mistakes in international breaks, which were highlighted at Wolves when Mac Allister was hooked at half-time, struggling just 72 hours after playing in the altitude of Bolivia.
This time, they have worked to reduce travel time and aid flight connections, with the club helping to book long-haul planes and sorting transfers when back in England. This will aid other South American stars Darwin Nunez and Luis Diaz, plus Japan captain Wataru Endo.
When Liverpool have dropped points in the past, Klopp hasn’t wasted any time in moaning about early kick-offs. But if recent history is any barometer, he will be toasting another win over their bitter rivals on Saturday night.
For Liverpool, another title race beckons. Over the park, turmoil is never too far around the corner.
IT’S ALL KICKING OFF!
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