John Barnes on Merseyside Derby Pressure

Exclusive – Liverpool legend John Barnes has backed Saturday’s Merseyside derby to be one of the most even meetings between the two sides in years, owing to Everton’s recent form, as well as factors brought on by the unusual circumstances of the pandemic.

Liverpool travel to Goodison Park for Saturday’s early kickoff three points behind their rivals, having, of course, suffered that humiliating 7-2 defeat to Aston Villa prior to the international break.

Carlo Ancelotti’s Toffees meanwhile, are – along with Villa – one of only two teams left with a 100% record in the Premier League so far.

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Ancelotti and Klopp will go head-to-head at the weekend | PETER POWELL/Getty Images

The goalscoring form of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, combined with astute summer signings like James Rodriguez and Allan, has made Everton many people’s early favourites to disrupt the ‘big six’ this season.

Ancelotti’s next challenge after a strong start is fixing Everton’s derby form. The Toffees have not beaten Liverpool since 2010, though the last three meetings at Goodison Park have all ended in goalless draws.

Speaking to 90min, BT Sports pundit Barnes – who played in 25 Merseyside derbies – claims that Saturday’s meeting has the potential to be the most ‘even’ encounter between the two rivals in some years, while the lack of crowd might actually benefit the hosts for a change.

“It’s probably the most even derby,” Barnes said.

Kevin Ratcliffe, Dave Watson of Everton and John Barnes of Liverpool
Barnes played in 25 Merseyside derbies | Simon Bruty/Getty Images

“Liverpool, over the years, have been favourites, whereas now Everton have got a much stronger team, a better balanced team.

“No crowd I think suits Everton more than Liverpool, because I think Everton fans – of which my brother in law is one – have always been ones to get so carried away in trying to beat Liverpool that they’ve driven the players forward in games where they really shouldn’t be driving them forward.

“They should say ‘sit back and defend, soak up the pressure’, because you can’t take Liverpool on head to head in an energetic game. But that’s what the fans give Everton and they’ve come unstuck.

“With no crowd, Everton can play a much smarter game.

“But it’s a derby and it’s a one-off and in these uncertain times you’re going to unusual performances and unusual results.”

My greatest memory of the derby was after game when the 90 minutes was up and we’d won, I would wipe the sweat off my brow and say ‘thank God that’s over for another year!’

The form of both goalkeepers heading into the match is a concern for both teams, Jordan Pickford has already made an error leading to goal this season to add to four in 2019/20. Adrian, meanwhile, suffered badly in the heavy defeat to Villa, leading to calls for Liverpool to go into the market to buy another backup for Alisson.

Barnes thinks that the keeper situation could be more detrimental for Liverpool for mental reasons.

“I think we [Liverpool] will suffer more from the goalkeeping insecurities more than Everton will, despite the fact that Pickford might not be playing with that much confidence,” Barnes said.

“Pickford is the number one Everton goalkeeper, regardless of a few mistakes. I don’t think the crowd or their players are thinking or hoping that another keeper should be in ahead of him.

“Whereas, the stability and security that Alisson brings psychologically means that, although Adrian isn’t a bad goalkeeper, it’s just more secure to have him [Alisson] there – a bit like with Van Dijk.”

John Barnes of Liverpool (left) is challenged by Earl Barrett of Everton
Barnes facing up to Everton defender Earl Barrett | Phil Cole/Getty Images

Few players are more experienced in the Merseyside derby than Barnes, who was a key player for the Reds in the 80s and 90s, when Liverpool vs Everton was often a fixture that could decide the title.

However, despite highlighting the 1989 FA Cup final as his fondest memory of the rivalry, Barnes explained why the fixture wasn’t one he relished at all.

“I hated derbies!” he admitted.

“Derbies were a war of attrition and I wanted to play good football and have nice games, but of course they are the games for Steve McMahon and Peter Reid and people who go around kicking, which wasn’t my thing.

“My greatest memory of the derby was after game when the 90 minutes was up and we’d won, I would wipe the sweat off my brow and say ‘thank God that’s over for another year!’

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The stands will be empty at Goodison Park – a far cry from a normal Merseyside derby atmosphere | OLI SCARFF/Getty Images

“From the fans’ perspective and certain players’ perspective, they really hype themselves up to make it more important than other games and I never saw football like that.

“So, when you were made to feel that this was more important and the whole pressure from the fans in the town and in the shops, getting excited about the derby, whereas I wanted a nice calm experience in my life – so the derbies weren’t for me!”

The BT Sport Monthly Pass lets you watch BT Sport for a simple monthly fee of £25 with no contract. Customers can watch all BT Sport Premier League fixtures for the next 30 days including Everton vs Liverpool from 11.30am on Saturday 17thOctober. For more info visit bt.com/monthlypass

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