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Liverpool vs Everton – there are few rivalries in the world of football that are as fierce and intense as the Merseyside derby. Traditionally, it has always been the Red half of Merseyside that has been the dominant force – with their 18 English league titles and all, compared to the Blue side’s 9 titles.
The gulf between the two teams has just widened in the recent past with Liverpool owning the bragging rights for a long time now. However, that may be set to change soon.
Under Ronald Koeman’s leadership, backed by their new owner Farhad Moshiri, Everton have been making all the right noises in the past year or so. Having long been seen as a feeder club for the bigger English clubs, things are changing in and around the Goodison Park.
From being a club who sold Mikel Arteta for £10million to Arsenal in 2011, and the one who struggled to sign new players because the club couldn’t find the funds to invest, Everton have emerged as one of the biggest spenders in the Premier League this summer. Last time around, Moshiri invested a lot of money in signing players and recouped most of it from the £47.5million sale of John Stones – a player who was easily replaced by Ashley Williams.
The club reaped great rewards in their first season under Ronald Koeman. After having finished in a lowly 12th place in the Premier League standings the preceding year under Roberto Martinez, the Dutchman was able to guide them back into the top-half of the table, to a 7th-place finish and an assured qualification to the UEFA Europa League as well.
This time, however, they have taken it up a notch higher in the transfer market. The Toffees have managed to sign some of the most talented players from across Europe and are displaying great intent and ambition ahead of next season. In snapping up Jordan Pickford and Michael Keane, they have gotten their hands on two of the most promising English players from last season and have gone on to take care of two areas of trouble – the goalkeeping and the central defence departments.
Then, the capture of Davy Klaassen of Ajax, a proven player on the continental levels and a leader on the field, to replace a meandering Ross Barkley who has been struggling for consistency is another strong statement. Cuco Martina arrived for free to provide cover in both full-back positions, while a promising young striker in Henry Onyekuru was signed as well, only to be loaned to Belgian champions RSC Anderlecht, to help him develop. Striker Sandro Ramirez was also brought in from Malaga, to add to the attack. (more transfer details on evertonfc.com)
And to top it all off, Koeman and Everton brought back Everton’s best academy graduate ever, Wayne Rooney, thirteen years after he moved to Manchester United. Yes, the 31-year old isn’t the same player that he used to be in the past, but by bringing him in, the Toffees have signed a player with years of title-winning experience and knowledge, which is a strong indicator of the ambitions and the directions that the club are going in.
A total of over £100million has been spent by Everton so far this summer and this shows the ambition of the club.
There remains one issue though that needs to be addressed at the earliest – a replacement for star striker Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian completed a swashbuckling £75million move to Manchester United, balancing the books for all the investment that Everton had put in to sign new players. But his departure does leave a gaping hole at the top of the attack, despite Sandro’s arrival. The club should put all their efforts in replacing the Belgian now, having strengthened every other area on the pitch.
Liverpool, on the other hand, have managed just two signatures so far – young striker Dominic Solanke from Chelsea following his contract expiry and Mohamed Salah from AS Roma for a club-record £36.9million. The Reds have had to face humiliation in their attempts to woo Virgil van Dijk from Southampton, after having had to issue a public apology for illegal attempts at “tapping up” the player. They have also hit a huge roadblock in their pursuit of RB Leipzig midfielder Naby Keita as well, with the Germans in no mood to sell.
Meanwhile, the problem areas at Liverpool still remain unaddressed. The lack of a quality left-back at Anfield is obvious, despite veteran James Milner doing a sterling job last time around. Yet, there has been no signing made in that position. A centre-back is also imperative for the Reds in the summer, following their poor defensive record last season.
The Reds have achieved good progress in the 20 months that Klopp has been in-charge of the club. They finished 4th in the Premier League last time around, and stand a chance of playing in the UEFA Champions League, provided they win their qualifier. But for them to be able to compete on all fronts next season, the squad needs significant strengthening. And the early signs in the window aren’t that promising.
The last time Everton finished above Liverpool in the Premier League was four years ago, in the 2012/13 season, which was David Moyes’ final season at the club. The Toffees finished 6th, edging out their local rivals by just 2 points. But judging by the way the two have gone about in the transfer window, we may well be in for a repeat of that result in the coming season.
There is still a long way to go till the transfer window shuts, but the early signs are sure to make the Blue half of the Merseyside much happier. As for Everton finishing above Liverpool in the season ahead, if they manage to replace Lukaku effectively and if the Reds don’t address the key issues at the earliest, they stand a very good chance of doing just that.