Phil Jagielka is joking when he claims he “bangs his head against the table”, trying to figure out why his record against Liverpool is so poor, inviting journalists to see marks that do not really exist – not physically, at least.
In 19 games against the Anfield side, stretching back to the start of his career at Sheffield United, Jagielka has been on the winning team just three times. His and Everton’s last victory in the Merseyside derby came five years ago, when Roy Hodgson was on his way to becoming the first Liverpool manager to be sacked since Don Welsh in 1956.
Though he denies that Everton had a mental block under David Moyes when facing their greatest rivals, Jagielka contradicts himself somewhat by admitting that Roberto Martinez’s management and the simple factor of players being replaced means psychological scarring is not as extensive as it once was.
“I don’t think the previous meetings will be on too many minds,” Everton’s captain insists, ahead of tomorrow’s encounter at home, dipping briefly into jest mode again. “Their heads won’t be as sore from banging it against the table as mine. Hopefully they have not got as long a rubbish history to look back at, if that makes sense.”
Following Brendan Rodgers’ tortured start to the season, which has led to an enormous focus on the Northern Irishman’s position at Anfield, it is not just the bookmakers closest to Goodison Park that consider Everton favourites to beat Liverpool this time. Form has contributed towards the feeling but most significantly the mentality may have changed at Liverpool too, simply because Steven Gerrard is not there any more.
The iconic midfielder scored 10 goals in 33 appearances against Everton and this will be only the third derby since the turn of the 21st century when neither his name nor Jamie Carragher’s will appear on the team-sheet.
“He has performed very well in derby matches so it can only be a positive for us that he’s not involved,” Jagielka says of Gerrard. “But we also need our players to step up to the plate and make sure they’re thinking about us more than we’re thinking about them.”
If Everton’s focus is inward, there should be a great deal of encouragement. It is suggested to Jagielka that their team is better than Liverpool’s: with a spine that is more uncompromising, one that possesses greater leadership. It is proposed that currently not many Liverpool players would get into Everton’s side.
A debate ensues and a conclusion arrives eventually. “I don’t see there being a massive underdog or massive favourite,” Jagielka suggests diplomatically. “But maybe you are used to it being so far the other way that it is being built up differently.”
That Jagielka is guarded reflects a reality that he leans on at the very beginning of the questioning. “There’s only one point between us,” he reminds reporters of the margin that separates Everton in fifth and Liverpool in ninth. “We’ve both had decent starts but for whatever reason it seems the Red half are getting a bit more stick than the Blues.”
He can explain the contrasting perceptions of the teams’ performances: “Budgets, transfers, players in and players out. The clubs had totally different summers, with expectations and things like that.”
Jagielka reveals Everton’s target is to qualify for Europe again. For that to happen, he considers the influence of Ross Barkley, a local lad with the potential to be for Everton what Gerrard was for Liverpool, significant.
“Hopefully Ross can carry the weight of that expectation from the Evertonians and be a bit of a hero or a superstar,” Jagielka says. “These are the sort of games that can pump you up to that level.”
Phil Jagielka was supporting the biggest grassroots football tournament in the country – the English Schools’ FA PlayStation Schools’ Cup. Since its launch, over 150,000 players have been involvedReuse content