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The Friendly Derby

'From every angle you want to measure a derby game, this could be as good as any throughout the football world' - Everton boss Roberto Martinez is anticipating a meeting of style when Liverpool visit. Could it be the end of the Merseyside blood and thunder?

Brendan Rodgers (L) greets Roberto Martinez 2012

Could Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers bring an end to the Merseyside blood and thunder?

Former Liverpool player and manager Kenny Dalglish once joked of his first involvement with the Merseyside Derby in a goalless draw at Anfield back in October 1977: "I do not remember seeing the ball that day!" It was a reference to a fixture which although dubbed the Friendly Derby has even in recent years been far from amicable on the pitch. It is officially the worst in terms of discipline in Premier League history, having seen 20 red cards - more than any other specific contest between two teams in England's top flight since it was rebranded in 1992. At the same time, there have been 166 yellow cards - the Premier League's fourth highest total. And, since Opta began keeping their own statistics in 2006/07, there have also been an eye-watering 618 fouls. Last season, along with 2010/11, was a rarity in seeing no dismissals but there were still 10 yellow cards over the course of the two draws. The lack of red cards in 2012/13 means former Everton midfielder Jack Rodwell is the man to have been sent off most recently in the derby following his controversial dismissal for a challenge on Luis Suarez at Goodison Park in 2011. Indeed, it is Everton who have been given 13 of those 20 red cards - the most by a side against any single opponent in Premier League history. Eight of those have also come in the last 16 meetings. Meanwhile, two of Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard's five Premier League red cards have come in derbies and the dismissals were the first, in 1999, and most recent, in 2006, of his professional career. It should also be noted Opta's statistics do not take into account FA Cup games and so do not include Lucas Leiva's red card in Liverpool's defeat at Everton in a 2009 fourth round replay.
Everton Merseyside Derby Liverpool
2 Penalties 8
94 Yellow Cards 72
13 Red Cards 7
339 Fouls since 06/07 279
The reason behind the high card counts can of course be attributed to the modern day standards of card-happy refereeing. It can also be explained by those old footballing ingredients of 'passion' and 'intensity' which are always used to describe why there is a degree of increased physicality in any derby worldwide. But could this Saturday lunchtime's meeting at Goodison Park signal a new era in the Merseyside Derby? With Roberto Martinez now in charge of Everton after succeeding the 11-year reign of David Moyes this summer, will the Friendly Derby, which also relates to the strong bond between Liverpool and Everton fans off the field, become more a game of style than slaughter? In Opta's time-span alone, Liverpool have seen managers Rafa Benitez, Roy Hodgson and Dalglish - in his second tenure - come and go while, since the beginning of last season, Brendan Rodgers has also been in charge. The presence of Rodgers combined with the arrival of Martinez, two managers who share a philosophy of possession, points to a new dawn away from the past blood and thunder. Martinez, famously an FA Cup winner with Wigan Athletic last season, in his pre-match press conference on Wednesday said: "I think the two teams are now sharing a similar football style, which is going to make it a really fascinating game of football. I think from every single angle you want to measure a derby game, this one could be as good as any if you are looking throughout the football world." Rodgers and Martinez, the latter a managerial successor of the former at Swansea City, are both disciples of the passing game. They like their players to use the ball intelligently, playing in an attractive manner and stifling the opposition. Rodgers frequently speaks about his players maintaining their "composure" and "relaxation" with the ball. Likewise, Martinez, who was approached for the Liverpool job at the same time as Rodgers, regularly preaches for his squad to have "arrogance", "belief" and "desire". After just 11 Premier League games this season, it is clear Martinez is taking Everton in a different direction to the sometimes route one and conservative approach of Moyes. Statistics prove Everton are averaging more possession (57.9 per cent) than in any other season back to 2006/07. They are also incredibly already well over midway to their 2006/07 totals of successful passes in both their own and the opposition half (see table below). This is also reflected in the fact their passing accuracy (83.76%) is currently a higher average than at the end of any season in the past seven years. This is one of the reasons why they sit just three points behind second-placed Liverpool, who themselves are only two points off table-topping Arsenal.
Season Team Games Passes Passing Accuracy Passes, Successful Own Half Passes, Successful Opp Half Possession Total Shots
Season 2006/2007 Everton 38 12274 65.19 3342 4659 46.92 364
Season 2007/2008 Everton 38 12397 69.34 3402 5194 47.24 361
Season 2008/2009 Everton 38 15024 74.64 4615 6599 52.05 387
Season 2009/2010 Everton 38 14832 75.59 4428 6784 51.23 415
Season 2010/2011 Everton 38 14371 76.1 4100 6836 50.41 407
Season 2011/2012 Everton 38 15063 77.34 4758 6892 47.57 381
Season 2012/2013 Everton 38 15814 79.45 4881 7683 52.47 460
Season 2013/2014 Everton 11 5494 83.76 2079 2523 57.9 112
Similarly, statistics show Rodgers has brought a transition in Liverpool's style of play. Although the Anfield club are currently averaging a lower share of possession (53.77%) than almost any season in the past seven years, with the troubled 2010/11 campaign (51.94%) - which began with the doomed Hodgson reign - being the exception, their passing accuracy (84.62%) is at a high. Sacrificing some possession, mainly too many passes in their own half (8385), from Rodgers' first season in exchange for greater passing accuracy is viewed by many as a reason behind their current success. That argument, though, is contradicted by the fact Liverpool's best Premier League campaign to date, when a Benitez squad finished runners-up to Manchester United by just four points in 2008/09, included seven-year highs in terms of shots (572), successful passes in the opposition's half (8507) and average possession (59.6%).
Season Team Games Passes Passing Accuracy Passes, Successful Own Half Passes, Successful Opp Half Possession Total Shots
Season 2006/2007 Liverpool 38 17154 76.2 6005 7066 57.45 540
Season 2007/2008 Liverpool 38 16360 77.07 5740 6869 55.14 535
Season 2008/2009 Liverpool 38 19505 80.94 7281 8507 59.6 572
Season 2009/2010 Liverpool 38 18575 78.85 6617 8030 58.51 458
Season 2010/2011 Liverpool 38 16728 77.15 6212 6693 51.94 434
Season 2011/2012 Liverpool 38 18794 80.95 7268 7945 55.25 515
Season 2012/2013 Liverpool 38 19802 84.17 8385 8282 57.05 528
Season 2013/2014 Liverpool 11 5676 84.62 2287 2516 53.77 143
Of course, other factors - the interaction between individuals and sets of players, such as Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin attempting to deal with Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez, Liverpool's defence trying to shackle Romelu Lukaku, or the influence of a Goodison Park crowd demanding guts and glory - provide the derby with ingredients which cannot be measured by statistics and could mean a typically feisty encounter awaits. That this is the first Merseyside meeting of the season, with both clubs having enjoyed excellent starts to their campaigns and being separated by only three points, has also heightened the sense of anticipation. Coming on the back of a long international break has at the same time provided a slightly unusual feeling to this particular pre-match build-up. Consequently, whether both sides can stick to their managers' principles amid the cauldron atmosphere on Saturday remains to be seen. But it is clear both clubs are developing and the stylish derby which has been predicted could well be on the horizon.

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