Knowledge is power. As Everton and Liverpool prepare to square off in the latest edition of the Merseyside Derby, the last Merseyside Derby of Steven Gerrard's career, knowledge of the matchup is something to be craved and sought, cherished and treasured. In our efforts to reap such knowledge, we struck up a conversation with Ryan Blank of SB Nation's Everton blog, Royal Blue Mersey, and he was kind enough to answer our questions. The result of that conversation follows, hopefully for you to enjoy.
The Liverpool Offside: There seems to be a growing sense of frustration around the Everton fanbase as this season continues to unravel. Suffice it to say that sitting in 12th place in the Premier League is not exactly where Everton wanted to be at this point in the season, but it's tough to put one's finger on what exactly has gone wrong. Do you think Roberto Martinez' tactics just aren't doing the job this season, or has something else gone wrong?
Royal Blue Mersey: This season has definitely not been up to the fan’s expectations; especially after the club shelled out a record amount over the summer to bring Romelu Lukaku to Merseyside on a permanent basis. Probably one of the most clichéd excuses in sports is to blame injuries but the Blues were really hampered by them at the beginning of the season and things have not gotten much better. Key players such as Kevin Mirallas, Tim Howard and James McCarthy have hurt Everton’s ability to score and protect thin leads. With it only being Martinez’ second season at the helm, it’s difficult to determine if his tactics are part of the main problem. Regardless of the sport, we always question coaching decisions when things go wrong and often don’t praise them enough when things go well – for those of us who follow American football, recall the pivotal goal-line play of last Sunday’s Super Bowl.
TLO: This Seahawks fan is going to generously ignore that last remark. Back to the match at hand, Liverpool and Everton both have high-end young English talents in Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley. Unlike Sterling, though, Barkley seems to have taken a bit of a step back this season in terms of his performance level. Is that just a result of Everton's struggles, or has his development stalled a bit?
TSS: Ross Barkley definitely has not lived up to his hype going into this season. I won’t say that he has regressed but he has not progressed if you will. The whole team has struggled to find a groove and get some momentum going. He is also on everyone’s radar this season; meaning that he’s going to be watched and marked more so than in the past. That coupled with the injuries in the midfield have sort of left the youngster on an island. It will be interesting to see if he can step up and take control during the rest of the campaign.
TLO: With Luis Robles playing poorly and Tim Howard hurt - and not really impressing even before going down - is there any solution in goal for Everton on the horizon?
TSS: That’s the million dollar (pound) question. Robles is a clear number two while Howard has an established track record of rarely missing matches. Unfortunately the injury he sustained in December was bad enough to keep him out to this point. The most recent reports are that Howard is progressing faster than expected but he will not be ready for the derby. Robles has given his best effort and he seems more confident with every match played – the Crystal Palace clean sheet really stands out. Going forward, the rumors are that Tim Howard may be looking for a summer move to the MLS. Although he’s under contract with Everton until 2018, moving home may mean that he can extend his career. Many fans were expecting the club to bring in a new keeper in the January transfer window but nothing materialized but the future netminder will likely be addressed at the end of the season.
TLO: Every cloud is supposed to have a silver lining. What's been that flash of light or beacon of hope for Everton this season?
TSS: Muhamed Besic. He was a great get for the club after a stand out performance in this past summer’s World Cup where he represented Bosnia. He’s relentless and is the sport’s equivalent of a fighter. Everton were able to get him on the cheap from his former Hunarian club and this investment has definitely paid itself off.
TLO: What's your prediction for this edition of the Merseyside Derby?
TSS: I like how Everton has started to click over the past couple of matches. They have been more in control of the game and directing the pace of play. The key offensive personnel will be ready for the derby and I expect a goal from Lukaku as hopefully he’s ended his dry spell. It’s the defense that concerns me though – they simply have been too inconsistent throughout the season. I’m predicting a spirited fight but I think Liverpool edges the Toffees 3-2.