Rivalry games are of the utmost importance in the soccer world, perhaps more so than in any other sport.
Regardless of how a team’s season is going, rivalry games seem to galvanize the team into action and can end up being the most important games of the season.
Inner-city rivalry games rank among the best of the best. Here in the Premier League, we are fortunate enough to see the heated Manchester Derby and the North London Derby.
In theory, these should be the most thrilling matches of the season, but they all pale in comparison to the Merseyside Derby: the fierce contest between Liverpool and Everton.
For a point of comparison, think about the brawls that erupt during a Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens game, or the simmering tension present whenever the New York Yankees roll in to face off against the Boston Red Sox.
Since records began in 1995 with the formation of the modern-day Premier League, there have been 22 red cards in the Merseyside Derby — an astronomical number.
With both teams doing fairly well — Liverpool is aiming to hold onto a top-four finish while Everton was sitting six points behind its rival prior to the game — this Derby took on a critical meaning.
For me personally, this is a Derby game I will forever remember. I was fortunate enough to be able to get a ticket and take in the scenic atmosphere at Anfield myself, all the way from the 12th row of the Anfield Road End.
And let me tell you, the magic of the Merseyside Derby is intoxicating. It did not matter that it was pouring rain and chilly in the hours before the game. It did not matter that some of the best players on both teams were missing. It did not matter that a Liverpool icon, Ronnie Moran, had passed away earlier in the week and that the tragic anniversary of Hillsborough was just around the corner. None of these things mattered because for 90 minutes, all that mattered was the game.
Going into this Derby, Liverpool was billed the favorite, simply because Liverpool had not lost since 2011. And as the crowd kept reminding Everton in a rousing song, the Toffees had not won at Anfield since 1999.
From the moment “You’ll Never Walk Alone” rang out through the entire stadium, it was obvious this game was going to be something else, not in terms of violence, but in terms of intensity.
From the moment the whistle blew, it became very obvious that Liverpool’s upbeat tempo was going to be too much for Everton to handle.
Liverpool playmaker Philippe Coutinho, who has been struggling since his return from a nasty ankle injury, was waltzing around the field, linking up with fellow lynchpin Sadio Mané and causing general mayhem for the Everton defense.
Both players scored wonderful goals — goals I could not actually see in the moment due to my lack of height, but that I imagine were quite spectacular based on the reaction of the crowd.
Everton simply never stood a chance. Furthermore, Everton striker Romelu Lukaku, who leads the league with 21 goals, was invisible during this game.
I could hardly notice him on the field, and I had an excellent view. It was as though he simply chose not to show up, which I find inexcusable because star players absolutely need to perform in critical matchups.
Ross Barkley, another key Everton player, was also noticeably absent in this game, apart from a dangerous tackle that he made on Dejan Lovren in the dying moments of the game when it was already 3-1 for the Reds.
While this was a relatively tame Derby in terms of violence, it was an absolutely magical one for me personally and for the Reds themselves.
It was the perfect send-off for Ronnie Moran, the man called “Mr. Liverpool,” and a Merseyside Derby that Everton may like to forget, but one that shall stick with me forever.
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