Everton have a chance in Sunday's derby - if they are not inhibited by history, writes Henry Winter.
David Moyes's impressive curriculum vitae, a chronicle of shrewd buys, inspiring man-management, sound tactics and gravity-defying league finishes, is slightly stained by red ink. The discolouring flows from the Merseyside derby, a fixture bringing frequent frustration for Everton's esteemed manager.
In his 20 league meetings with Liverpool, Moyes has won three, drawn five and lost 12, taking a modest 14 points from a possible 60. The Scot, who today joins the legendary Harry Catterick in managing Everton against Liverpool in 11 successive seasons, has currently assembled one of his finest sides, a team of mobility, balance, experience and creative options, but no complacency.
The lessons of history, let alone the beseeching of Gwladys Street, ensure that Everton cannot afford a slip in concentration in this 187th league derby, one of the classic dates of the domestic calendar, always an assault on
the ears for those in attendance. The clocks are not going to go back 25 years when this neighbourhood skirmish carried immense national significance
but it remains a compelling sight and sound, albeit occasionally most safely contemplated from behind the sofa. Red is often the colour of the cards as well as the victorious shirts.
Moyes's side have gone into these 90-minute tests of strong characters and stronger shin-pads in buoyant mood before. They have played these games when sitting above Liverpool in the table before, been the form-horses before, depicted as favourites before tasting the bile of defeat. Liverpool have done the double over Everton four times in the past seven seasons.
Moyes can reach even deeper into the hurt locker. Having arrived at Goodison on March 14, 2002, Moyes's first managerial adversary across Stanley Park was Gerard Houllier, who promptly invited him out for dinner. All very friendly. Houllier's generosity stretched no further than the bill. Moyes failed to win any of his four derbies against the Frenchman, including two reverses in his own back yard, bringing everything from double reds (David Weir and Gary Naysmith) and then a double from a Red (Michael Owen).
This has been a recurring ignominy, the storming of the Goodison ramparts. Now 49, Moyes has been largely insulated from criticism because of his obvious calibre as a manager, his ability to keep Everton relatively high up the table on a low budget and his immediate and sustained connection with the fans. Describing Everton as "the people's club" struck a chord, embedding the Glaswegian in Goodison hearts. A dispassionate view of that epithet would focus on the reality that Liverpool's global appeal does not preclude them also being rooted in the community. Liverpool have always been a club of the people. It was still a canny, emotive pronouncement by Moyes.
Everton fans understandably loved it. They had a leader, a spokesman for the cause, a fighter emerging bullishly from the blue corner.
Yet red ink continued to leave unsightly specks on Moyes's resume. When Houllier departed in May 2004, and Rafa Benitez took over, Moyes probably breathed a sigh of relief, particularly after Lee Carsley, breaking off from guarding against Steven Gerrard's runs, gave him a welcome triumph at Goodison with a 20-yarder before disappearing under a blanket of jubilant team-mates.
Normal service resumed, though, leaving Moyes shivering in the shadow cast across Stanley Park. Benitez kept outwitting Moyes, winning the next three. So Evertonian emotion was inevitably unrestrained on Sep 9, 2006, when Andrew Johnson struck twice and Tim Cahill once as Everton celebrated their biggest derby win since A Hard Day's Night was dominating the album charts. Yet Moyes continued to struggle against Benitez, taking only eight points from a possible 36. There was little love lost between Moyes and Benitez, who infamously dismissed Everton as a "small club", rather ignoring their support and history.
When Roy Hodgson succeeded Benitez in July 2010, Moyes went for dinner with a manager he had long known. He was also repaying a past kindness. Hodgson had invited a young Moyes, then making his way at Preston North End, to watch training at Udinese in 2001.
Lingering irritation with Benitez resurfaced when discussing the Stanley Park Dining Club. "I thought it was a bit of a tradition here,'' reflected Moyes at the time. "But one or two haven't been quite as accepting. Roy, though, was one of the ones who, when I phoned him, agreed to go out for dinner. I had the chance to get to know him even more. He's a very good coach." Kopites would have preferred Hodgson to have skipped that free meal than serve up the subsequent dog's dinner of a display on Oct 17, 2010 at Goodison. Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta did the damage to Liverpool's defence and Hodgson's reputation. Kenny Dalglish soon reappeared at Anfield and it was back to the familiar and frustrating for Moyes with one draw and two losses.
Due mention needs making of Moyes's three FA Cup meetings with Liverpool. After a fourth-round draw in 2009, Everton prevailed in a Goodison replay of an early bath for Lucas and late winner for Dan Gosling. Even that memorable finish by Gosling was missed by television, who had nipped off for a quick commercial break. Everton failed to reach last season's Cup final because of Andy Carroll, now discarded by Brendan Rodgers.
Liverpool's latest manager is the fifth Moyes has faced. Rodgers gradually pours his philosophy into those famous red shirts, although his perceived revolution is as much about formation, and his preferred 4-3-3, than any radical new thinking. Winners of five European Cups and 18 English titles, Liverpool have passed the ball before.
Moyes hardly needs warning about the pace of Raheem Sterling or the quicksilver movement of Luis Suarez. Asked about Suarez's reputation for taking a dive, Moyes could have demurred but he enjoys a good relationship with the Merseyside reporters. If his critical comments about Suarez's gamesmanship potentially alienating the public derived from a simple willingness to give an honest answer, Moyes's headline-seizing words will also have placed pressure on the referee, Andre Marriner. No wonder Moyes is considered to possess the qualities to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford one day.
Yet Moyes was simply voicing sentiments that many outside Anfield are already thinking, that Suarez needs to stay on his feet more. Moyes's personal interest is clearly tied in with today's game but he also remembers how Jack Rodwell was wrongly dismissed for a challenge on Suarez last season, although the card was later rescinded.
Today's referee will be so busy he will probably feel like the ancient Marriner by the end. Gerrard has previous in derbies while Jonjo Shelvey's tackling can be a concern for officials. Yet the real indiscipline in recent years has come from Moyes's side; maybe he has them so fired up, they stray into excess, leading to six red cards in their past seven home games against Liverpool. Everton reflect their manager: bright and sensible (Neville and Jagielka are as personable as they come, and those are just the Phils) but with a fiery streak. Rodgers has pointed out local excesses.
Everton have a strong chance today - if they believe in themselves and are not inhibited by history. Moyes has moulded a good team. Tim Howard is reliable in goal. Tony Hibbert (if fit), Johnny Heitinga, Jagielka and Leighton Baines provide resilience and that essential of many modern teams, crosses from fullbacks. Although suspension deprives Everton of Steven Pienaar's left-sided understanding with Baines, Kevin Mirallas is an able replacement.
Seamus Coleman, Neville and Leon Osman will also support, if fit, Marouane Fellaini, the tall Belgian who embodies Moyes's canniness as a manager. Moyes has to juggle his limited resources adeptly so committing pounds 15?million represented not so much a gamble but certainly his total belief in the player and trust in his own judgment and that of the Everton scouts.
Fellaini's a hard-working, technically adroit player who can operate in front of the back-four, as an orthodox box-to-box central midfielder or, more recently, in the hole behind Nikica Jelavic (at pounds 5million, another inspired, value-for-money Moyes signing). Moyes buys well, motivates well, shapes his team well. He just needs to wash that red ink from his CV.