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If not now, when?
That is the overriding sentiment as Everton crave the end of one of the most curious derby records in English football, their winless streak at Anfield in its 22nd year.
No Everton manager has won any Merseyside derby since David Moyes. No Liverpool coach has lost one since Roy Hodgson.
But it is Everton’s adverse reaction upon taking the 1,840 steps from Goodison Park which has been an enduring source of fascination, their supporters often bemoaning a ‘mental block’ as if Stanley Park is mined with psychological traps.
In the 2,070 minutes since Kevin Campbell inspired a 1-0 win in September, 1999, Everton have led at Anfield for just 63 minutes. Only two Premier League clubs – Newcastle United and Sheffield United – have waited longer to win in the stadium.
Now Anfield is deserted. Liverpool are reeling from three successive home defeats. Surely there is no better time for Everton to remedy the derby blues?
“They have to believe that,” says Andy Lane, a sport psychologist at the Centre for Health and Human Performance and the University of Wolverhampton.
“They have to be telling themselves, ‘This is a magnificent opportunity to break this cycle. Now is the time for change’.
“There is no hoodoo. They will be tired of hearing the club has not won the fixture for years. But in this situation, the manager will tell his players the next 90 minutes are not predicted by the previous ninety. You want any thought of that squashed as you build the psychological strategy.”
Lane agrees, in normal circumstances, the emotional responses of a side desperate to rewrite a painful history can be detrimental.
“But not this year,” he explains.
“It can be positive for Everton to ramp up the intensity and emotion of their players by reminding them they can be the team to end that run, simply because there is no crowd.
“If there was a psychological block in the previous years, you must consider the impact of Liverpool losing the intensity of its support.
“In a derby, you do not only see the teams trying harder, but so do their fans. This has always made it hard for Everton going to Anfield.
“Now they have now seen Liverpool repeatedly lose at home, with no support to inspire them out of trouble as they have so often done in the past. Ongoing studies are proving there is no home advantage without fans. That has been researched for years. The current situation has created the ideal conditions to test those theories and the results are clear. There is a direct link between a crowd being there and how much effort they inspire from the players. There is an anticipatory emotional reaction in a player when he receives immediate feedback from thousands of people, whether scoring a goal or doing something terrible. Without the fans, it is more tactical.”
Why should it have felt any different for Everton going to a packed Anfield than Liverpool going to a full Goodison, where they are unbeaten for 11 years?
“There are several factors contributing to it,” Lane explains.
“The psychological barrier for the team trying to end the run is part of the explanation, but within that you have to take a close look at the quality of opposition they are up against.
“Because it’s Liverpool versus Everton, the intensity of Liverpool increases and, generally Liverpool have been the better side with better players. So you have the combination of Everton underperforming combined with Liverpool trying that bit harder, motivated to keep that run going. That shifts the balance towards Liverpool even more.
“You also had all those years of a staunch Liverpool heart running through the team, led by Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher. Jürgen Klopp has re-injected some of that passion in the side he has built. Until recently, no-one was beating Liverpool at Anfield, not just Everton.”
For those Everton players who have sought that elusive victory, accusations the team freezes in derbies rankles. Since 1970, Everton have won five times at Anfield, so it’s not only the modern generation that's suffered.
Moyes often pointed out even the most successful teams rarely go to Anfield as favourites. Everton's 10 Anfield draws since 1999 create a different, more positive complexion.
“It’s not like we always went there, were outplayed and lost every year,” says Leon Osman, a stalwart of the Moyes era.
“If you analyse a lot of those games, sometimes it was a case of not quite getting over the line.
“No team I was in ever went to Anfield thinking we would not win. We always went there fancying our chances. We knew it would be hard. We knew we had to defend well, be clinical, and a bit like now, would need the occasional bit of luck.
“There was a cup tie when we were drawn to go to Anfield and came through after the replay [in 2009]. I can remember league games we could and should have won. We were ahead in 2011, 2-1 up in the second half, and then Tim Howard brought down Dirk Kuyt for a penalty with 20 minutes left and it ended up 2-2.
“You have to take into consideration we’ve been through an era where going into seasons Liverpool were spending money to win the Premier League, and a couple of times we had a side trying to stay in the Premier League. Even when David Moyes’ side finished fourth and was regularly in the top six and finishing above Liverpool, there was no comparison with the budget.”
For all that, Osman agrees the current timing and circumstances can help.
“The empty stadium can make a difference,” he said. “Because of the strange situation with Everton’s away record better than their home form, they might actually be happier playing this derby at Anfield than Goodison.
“I know this generation will not be scarred by the record since 1999. This is a chance for them to make a name for themselves.”