Football: 'Bigger than El Clasico'

Everton manager Ronald Koeman believes that Liverpool can be beaten despite his side winning only one of their last 19 league encounters and none of the last 12 meetings in all competitions.
Everton manager Ronald Koeman believes that Liverpool can be beaten despite his side winning only one of their last 19 league encounters and none of the last 12 meetings in all competitions.PHOTO: REUTERS

Koeman says Merseyside battle is more emotional and aims for a better derby record for Everton

LONDON • As Ronald Koeman prepares for his first Merseyside derby, the Everton manager knows what to expect - a battle that is even bigger than El Clasico.

The former Barcelona star faced Real Madrid numerous times in his playing career, but appreciates the special significance of today's clash against Liverpool.

"When it comes to atmosphere and attraction, that match is rated as the most beautiful in Spain and in the world, because apart from the rivalry there is a political edge to the game," said the 53-year-old.

"Barca versus Real used to bring out the best of me. Always.

"As a player of Ajax and Feyenoord Rotterdam, I have also been on both sides in the Dutch classic.

  • MERSEYSIDE MATCH-UP

  • 20

    Number of goals both Everton and Liverpool have each conceded after 16 matches.

    40

    Goals Liverpool, the Premier League's leading scorers, have scored, 19 more than their Merseyside neighbours.

"But the Everton versus Liverpool derby in the city where I work now is bigger with emotions because of the incredible football culture in this country."

The Dutchman won six of his 12 league games against Real as a Barcelona player and wants to balance out Everton's derby record, too.

The Toffees have won only one of the last 19 league encounters and none of the last 12 meetings in all competitions.

Koeman upset some Evertonians recently by describing Liverpool as potential title-winners this season.

But ahead of the 227th Merseyside derby , he also noted that the visitors are vulnerable.

"The record is not good. One out of 19 - it's time to beat them," he said. "You need to accept how difficult it is to win the game but you need to make the fans happy.

"Liverpool are strong but they lost their way at Bournemouth and drew against West Ham. It is not so difficult because, if Bournemouth can win against them, we have possibilities to win, too. We need to press."

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp made a big call by dropping goalkeeper Loris Karius after uncertain performances against Bournemouth and West Ham.

He was rewarded at Middlesbrough on Wednesday as Simon Mignolet kept a clean sheet in a 3-0 victory and he confirmed that the Belgium international will start at Goodison Park.

Liverpool and Everton have conceded the same number of goals in the Premier League this season - 20 - but the Anfield club have been much more lethal at the other end.

While Everton have scored 21 goals, the Reds go into the 17th round of Premier League fixtures as the top scorers (40).

Considering the fitness problems of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho, it is of great encouragement to Klopp. Striker Sturridge may be able to play some part today after missing the last five matches with a calf injury. But playmaker Coutinho remains unavailable.

Emre Can could return to the midfield after a two-game absence with a minor knee problem. Centre-back Joel Matip continues to struggle with ankle trouble, meaning Klopp is likely to stick with Ragnar Klavan alongside Dejan Lovren at the back.

Everton will be without captain Phil Jagielka as the defender serves a suspension after being sent off in his side's 2-1 win over Arsenal last week.

Klopp's maiden Merseyside derby was a 4-0 win at Anfield. But like Koeman, he will experience a first today - his first trip to Goodison Park.

"It's our job to keep Everton fans as quiet as possible - if possible," said the German. "It will be a real battle between two good teams. Motivation will be clear.

"For me it's really special... I'm really looking forward to it, it's a very important moment of the season."

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EVERTON V LIVERPOOL

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 19, 2016, with the headline ''Bigger than El Clasico''. Print Edition | Subscribe