The trouble with always punching above your weight is that eventually your fists tire. Logically, Everton should go into today's Merseyside derby with a feeling of quiet satisfaction. If clubs performed in line with the money they spend on wages, Everton would be 10th, but for the second successive season David Moyes's side are likely to finish above Liverpool, a club with double their turnover. From the moment they opened the campaign with a 1-0 win over Manchester United, the season has been almost perfectly judged.
Almost. As Phil Jagielka talks of his first Merseyside derby as captain of Everton, and his 500th Premier League match in all, there is a tinge of regret. This time last season, Everton faced Liverpool in an FA Cup semi-final that many at Goodison predicted would mark a shifting of the balance of power in the city. Everton, in far better form, took the lead but lost.
This season it was the quarter-final against Wigan that they will carry into the summer. Wigan had won once at Goodison in nine attempts. They were enmeshed in a struggle against relegation and had just been destroyed 4-0 by Liverpool. They won, effortlessly.
"There is not much we can say, the results speak for themselves," Jagielka reflected. "Unfortunately, when it comes to the biggest of big occasions – the semi-final at Wembley, the Wigan game, the derby matches at Anfield – the results have not stood up.
"I don't think you can say that mentally we are weak or we become nervous. Maybe we try too hard when it comes to those games. We have not been blessed with an out-and-out goalscorer for many seasons. I think Yak [Yakubu Aiyegbeni] was the last guy to get 20 goals here.
"AJ [Andrew Johnson] was close, but scoring goals has always been our weak point. This year we have been a lot better, but in these big games you do sometimes go behind and you need the confidence to come back. Even in the Wigan game you felt that if we could have got a goal straight after half-time, we would potentially be able to turn it around. But it faded out. Money would make it easier. If not, we would have to get lucky with a couple of signings. "Others can sign five players and be lucky with two. We make two, and if one doesn't work out we have our backs to the wall. That said, if we could get two players to make a difference, we'd be fine."
Jagielka is now at the peak of his career, perhaps the best English centre-half in the Premier League. His manager at Sheffield United, Neil Warnock, thought that if he had gone to Arsenal in 2007, as seemed likely, Arsène Wenger might have regained the title by now.
Warnock commented that the biggest change in his play has been his ability on the ball. "The game has changed," Jagielka said. "Every so often you flick on the telly and see games that look ages old but which are in fact only seven or eight years ago. A lot of games now are won purely on tactics, whereas before a lot of it was about having a go and seeing who came out the best team. Baggier shorts, baggier shirts, different tactics, different athletes.
"From Neil Warnock to David Moyes, the team talks have changed a lot, believe me. It is a bigger job now for managers to know their players. If you shout at some people, they will go into their shell. Others will try to prove you wrong. Which am I? I don't go into my shell but I don't like being shouted at, I can tell you that."
He left Bramall Lane after conceding a penalty to Wigan in the final game of the season that David Unsworth converted to relegate the Yorkshire club. Warnock resigned. Two years later, Jagielka scored the penalty that overcame Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-final. He missed the final through injury. There are worse ways to end a season than finishing sixth.
This Merseyside derby will be the last to feature Jamie Carragher in the heart of the Liverpool defence and perhaps, given that he has yet to sign a new contract, it will be Moyes's last too. For all his achievements, the man who can claim to be Everton's finest manager since Howard Kendall has never won at Anfield. Now would be a good time to start.
"Goodison and Anfield are two old-fashioned grounds, where you cannot get a better atmosphere. We would love to move and be financially better off, but you would lose those special nights the old grounds seem to produce," said Jagielka. "I'd played at Anfield before I moved to Everton, in the League Cup semi-final with Sheffield United. It meant I'd heard 'You'll Never Walk Alone' – that was my first 'wow' at Anfield – but as far as the derby went, it was a tough night. I think I had to chase around after Steven Gerrard for 90 minutes."
The dressing room at Goodison, the modern Everton, is Moyes's creation, and it seems hard to believe there may be no more of him. "If we win at Anfield, I don't think that's the manager staying, if we lose I don't think that's him leaving," said Jagielka. "If you want to know what he brings to the table as a manager, just look at his team. It is easy to overachieve for one or two years but, normally, you see those teams struggling in their third and fourth years. It has been mentally hard for us being so close for so long to a Champions' League spot and it looks like we will fall short unless we have a few miracles.
"But I would rather have that exhaustion than the exhaustion I've had with Sheffield United – looking for draws and last-gasp winners, trying to climb to safety. I would rather have that disappointment than the relief of staying out of the trap door."
Jagielka in numbers
45 minutes, the length of his first England appearance, against Spain in Seville in 2009. Jagielka gave the ball away for the first goal and was substituted at half-time
34 minutes he kept Robin van Persie at bay as an emergency keeper for Sheffield United v Arsenal in 2006; United won 1-0
5 semi-finals he has played in. There has only been the one final, the 2003 Championship play-off which Sheffield United lost 3-0 to Wolves
3 countries he could have played for – England, Scotland and Poland (his granddad's country)
15 age released by Everton, an error that would cost £4m to rectify
6 bosses Sheffield United got through in the first 18 months after he joined as a youth-team player. In 14 subsequent years, Jagielka has been managed by two men, Neil Warnock and David Moyes
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