Richard Jolly compares and contrasts the seasons so far for the combatants in this weekend's 231st Merseyside derby.
Everton's last year has revealed ambition without strategy, money without philosophy. In as much as there has been one, Everton's identity is unwanted. It could be described as failed pragmatism or rubbish pragmatism, with underachievement and underwhelming football.
Summoning a 63-year-old survival specialist to extricate themselves from a relegation struggle they were not really in was indicative of a pervasive, at times self-sabotaging short-termism.
So has been much of the unsuccessful recruitment. Everton's focus on the immediate, inverting the usual trade-off, seems to have brought short-term pain with no long-term gain. Take the case of Eliaquim Mangala: borrowed in January when Everton were not going down and when the younger Mason Holgate was displaying potential in the side. The Englishman has not started since. The Frenchman played just two games, with Everton conceding five goals on his debut, before being injured in his second appearance.
Ashley Williams has been doubly emblematic, his dreadful season mirroring Everton's and his mishaps a common denominator in many of their most wretched displays. He also symbolises the willingness to ignore the future: he joined for £12 million at 32 years old and has swiftly become a liability. Yet the supposedly pragmatic thinking was that Everton were buying a player near his peak, ignoring the realities that decline would set in and his value would depreciate rapidly.
Factor in attempts at more futuristic planning and Everton have a mish-mash of a squad with too many past their best, a handful in the formative stages of their careers and too few in their primes. It has been assembled by different managers and powerbrokers, with different objectives: consistent thought has been conspicuous by its absence. It is an indictment of the theory that spending leads to success, a denunciation of the case for competing voices at a club. The supposedly pragmatic comprises produced a strange situation where everyone got their own No. 10 in the summer, with the end result that Wayne Rooney, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Davy Klaassen all arrived, complicating selection, depriving the team of balance and wasting money.
So if an identity is Everton's prime summer need, their problem is that it cannot be purchased. Everton need personnel, but they need purpose. They must unearth a blueprint that goes beyond buying and short-termism. They need direction, not just direct football. They could do with the feelgood factor Klopp has engineered and something of the excitement that surrounds Anfield and which provides a contrast to the gloom at Goodison Park. Rivals may be role models if Everton have the self-awareness to realise where they have been going wrong and the strategic sense to construct a team with the right sort of identity.
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