Fear is the key to winning latest Merseyside derby, says Ancelotti

Everton arrive at Anfield to face Klopp’s champions hurting after third league defeat

Premier League: Liverpool v Everton

Kick-off: 5.30pm, Saturday. Venue: Anfield. On TV: Live on Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Premier League.

Everton should fear Liverpool. Their abysmal record in the Merseyside derby would suggest that is a given but, surprisingly, it was Carlo Ancelotti who called for Everton to approach Anfield with trepidation as he discussed overcoming the mental block that has contributed to the club's failure to win there for 22 years or win any derby in any competition since Roy Hodgson managed Liverpool in 2010.

“A derby is a special game,” said the veteran of local spats in Milan, Madrid and now Merseyside. “If you think it is a normal game then you are wrong. Special games bring more pressure, and sometimes more fear. Fear is not a bad thing in my opinion, because if you don’t have fear then you are going in front of the lion thinking it is a cat. But it is not a cat, it is a lion.

“So fear is important to have. It can help you to be more focused. This is my point. You can be worried, you can have fear, but you need to have motivation, concentration and also in this kind of game bravery. You have to show your quality. You don’t have to be scared.”

Ancelotti’s feline analogy is apt for the 238th encounter between the Merseyside rivals. Both sides bring a poor run of domestic form into the fixture, but Liverpool bring a grievance too. Everton, to shamelessly extend their manager’s imagery, are entering the lion’s den to face a champion with wounded pride.

Jürgen Klopp conceded Liverpool's title defence was over after last week's late collapse at Leicester delivered a third successive Premier League defeat. He and his players have made it clear throughout this season that they hold Everton partly responsible.

Neither Klopp nor Ancelotti would be drawn on the controversy of October's derby at Goodison Park, when Liverpool lost Virgil van Dijk for probably the rest of the campaign and Thiago Alcântara for almost three months as a consequence of dire challenges from Jordan Pickford and Richarlison respectively.

“It was a long time ago and what happened was an unfortunate contact and we were really sorry that Van Dijk couldn’t play in this period,” the Everton manager said. “But everything has gone now and tomorrow is another story.” Gone as far as Liverpool are concerned? “I don’t know. I think Liverpool are going to play a game, like us.”

Unbeaten run

The evidence of the past 23 derbies – the longest unbeaten run against a single opponent in Liverpool’s history – confirms the Premier League champions have little problem separating the emotion of the occasion from the task in hand. Klopp insisted that would be the case on Saturday, which marks the 30th anniversary of the 4-4 FA Cup draw at Goodison that proved to be Kenny Dalglish’s final game of his first spell in charge. This fixture has a history of defining moments.

“Nothing will be carried over until tomorrow,” said the Liverpool manager, unbeaten in his 12 meetings with Everton. “A week, two, three weeks later when we got the diagnosis [about Van Dijk’s injury] it was good that we didn’t play Everton immediately again. We are all human beings and of course it was not nice but now it is long gone. We just don’t think about that any more but it is still a derby and that is enough to be motivated on the absolutely highest level.

“Now it is the right moment to play Everton. We will be ready. It is very emotional [playing a derby] but we always are emotional. That is our way to play. What the other team does, I have no influence. I can imagine after the first game you try to create some stories around that, but we have prepared for a football game – a derby – like we always did. Nobody can ever say this team was not ready for derbies from an attitude point of view, or from an understanding point of view. This team always was and will be tomorrow. There are stories around, but I have nothing to say.”

Asked whether the Goodison derby changed Liverpool’s season, Klopp replied: “I don’t know what I will think back when the season is over, to be honest. I hope I will think of something nicer than this. It was an important day, for sure.”

Arduous season

An arduous season has taken its toll on both teams of late. Collectively, Liverpool and Everton have won only 10 points from the last 30 available. Their Premier League aspirations have faulted as a consequence but Ancelotti, who has overseen seven away wins this season compared with four at home, maintains he is satisfied with the development of an Everton team that should have Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Allan back from injury.

"We have progressed a lot because we are really close to Liverpool in the table," he said, a little disingenuously given the champions' fall is mainly responsible for their proximity. "We want to compete against Liverpool and Manchester City. Honestly, we were not able to compete against City on Wednesday but we were able to compete against Manchester United, we were able to compete against Leicester and I think we are able to compete against Liverpool. This is our target. If you ask me if the progress was good, then the progress this year was really good."

There are more reasons why Liverpool languish 16 points behind Pep Guardiola’s imperious league leaders than the absence of Van Dijk. Responsibility also lies within, and Klopp concedes the challenge facing his sixth-placed team at present is not returning to City’s level but securing a top-four finish.

"We do not play City any more this year, probably," he said. "Maybe in the Champions League. It was never the case that we thought, 'How can we overtake City?' or, 'How can we become the finest team in English football again?' We just wanted to be the best version of ourselves. We have that chance again. If that is good enough, it is good enough. If another team is better, that's how sport works.

“We cannot do more than be the best version of ourselves and that is what we will try again as a team. For that we need a little bit more luck, of course. Slightly more luck with injuries and we can get closer to that. We all agree, and I’m sure Pep would say it too, that in a normal season for both teams we would not be 16 points away. But we are. We accept it. This season it is not our concern how close we get to City, it is how far we can go up the table. And that is enough work to do.”

– Guardian