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The BIGGEST Merseyside derby in Premier League history as top of table Everton face Liverpool

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the biggest merseyside derby in premier league history as top of table everton face liverpool

Ten years is a long time in football, most pressingly so when that period marks a duration of misery and humiliation.

Saturday sees the return of the Merseyside derby and it is a decade since Everton have left with bragging rights and pulled off victory over noisy neighbours Liverpool.

Ten long years of hurt as dominance swayed firmly in the favour of the men in Red. Yet now, as the Premier League makes its return following the international break, a very different derby lies in wait.

Jurgen Klopp knows the eyes of the world are on him

Carlo Ancelotti looks to be bringing in a new dawn

Jurgen Klopp (L) and Carlo Ancelotti (R) will lead their teams into the biggest derby in years

Liverpool may enter the match as reigning champions of England once more, but a bizarre 7-2 thrashing by Aston Villa prior to the international break has left Jurgen Klopp‘s men on the ropes with everything to prove.

Everton, meanwhile, are very much in the middle of a purple patch. The Toffees are unbeaten, top of the table, and clicking into full fluency under the magic touch of Carlo Ancelotti.

So, as one of English football’s biggest fixtures returns – amid the uncertainty of a city very much struggling with rapidly escalating coronavirus concerns – Sportsmail takes a look at why this is indeed the biggest Merseyside derby in Premier League history. 

Age-old foes

Football fanatics pencil this fixture into their diaries at the start of every season.

The Merseyside derby always promises a throwback to football of yesteryear; high octane action and a passionate will to win.

The 1980s saw the Merseyside derby as the fixture of English football. Two northern powerhouses battling out for far more than bragging rights, but a shot at title glory.

In the late seventies, spilling into the eighties, Liverpool were the team to beat. 

Everton’s growth in stature saw the fixture shaken up like never before. In 1985 and 1987 the Toffees ousted their great rivals to stand as kings of England, and the derby quickly became associated with full-blooded tackles and snarling insults.

The seventies and eighties saw both sides do battle as two of the best teams in the country

The seventies and eighties saw both sides do battle as two of the best teams in the country

Since, the derby has retained its steel and venomous edge, yet Liverpool’s dominance has turned proceedings more into a case of Everton upsetting the apple cart, rather than pushing their neighbours to the brink. 

Now, things are much different. Everton have started the season better than anyone else, and boast one of the most decorated and well respected managers in world football.

Ancelotti is now firmly steering the ship in his own direction, and putting his fingerprints all over the blue side of the city.

Ancelotti’s Toffees

After taking over from the doomed tenure of Marco Silva, Ancelotti made clear to the Everton board he would take on their sizeable task providing he was given full control.

Now, coming up to one year at the helm, Ancelotti finally has the team he wants after a summer of steady purchases and tactical planning.

The veteran Italian acquired his desired talisman in James Rodriguez after striking up a relationship with the Colombian at both Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.

Everton started the season better than anyone else and sit at the top of the table unbeaten

Everton started the season better than anyone else and sit at the top of the table unbeaten

Behind James, Ancelotti has remastered the midfield, adding tenacity and dynamism in the form of Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure.

The three summer signings have become an instant hit at Goodison, and it is a shame fans have not been permitted inside the famous old stadium to watch them make a fine start to their Everton days.

Allan and Doucoure have so far expertly managed the pace and tempo of games while James has been afforded time and space to dissect opponents and feed the in-form Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

Things are firmly clicking at Everton at the moment, with Ancelotti’s firebrand football in full flow.

For one man, that could spread concern…

Klopp versus Ancelotti

If there is one manager Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp struggles against it is Ancelotti.

The grey-haired Italian has enjoyed several victories over Klopp on the big stage, with his Napoli team regularly out-smarting Liverpool despite inferior resources.

When these two managers meet, a game of tactical chess is always guaranteed.

In eight meetings with Ancelotti, Klopp has won three and lost three with two – including the most recent Merseyside derby (which was Ancelotti’s first) – ending in a draw.

Despite his surging success in recent years, Klopp appears to struggle against Ancelotti (left)

Despite his surging success in recent years, Klopp appears to struggle against Ancelotti (left)

Ancelotti has a way of reading Klopp’s methodology and making sound predictions as to how the German will shape up his side.

This season, Ancelotti has the benefit of being able to do this once more except with a greater degree of talent at his disposal.

Everton are in form and, with the likes of James in the ranks, Ancelotti has weapons of his own and does not simply have to set up to nullify the Reds.

Bragging rights… and more?

For years Everton fans have been desperate for their side to make headway and climb up from mid-table mediocrity.

Countless millions have been invested and, in many cases, squandered, as the Toffees set about looking to redefine themselves and become a force in English football.

Differing managers have come and gone, from the likes of Roberto Martinez to Ronald Koeman.

For some time Everton have yearned for a fresh, European feel to their football. Now under Ancelotti they are bidding to achieve this on a consistent and long-term basis.

James Rodriguez has settled rapidly and is starring as the talisman Everton have needed

James Rodriguez has settled rapidly and is starring as the talisman Everton have needed

Certainly this time around it feels different. Everton are controlling games with a new-found distinction and looking fitting victors for the victories they are amassing.

It is still early days, of course, and Liverpool represent the biggest test they will have faced this season.

In years gone by a potential Everton win would only carry short-term bragging rights, with the Toffees struggling for consistency and long-term ambition.

Now, grand plans are hatching. While it hasn’t been publicly stated Everton will almost certainly have their eyes on European football, with hopes being held for a highly commendable burst into Champions League reckoning.

For Liverpool, they enter this fixture having finally got back on their perch as English champions, and had started the season in fizzing form until their visit to Villa Park.

Mouths were left agape when Dean Smith’s side tore strips of flesh from the reigning titans, with Liverpool simply unable to respond. Klopp smiled on the touchline as his side were rocked to their core, but now knows the scrutinising eyes of the football world are firmly upon his side.

Liverpool were rocked by Aston Villa and the humiliating loss shocked the entire football world

Liverpool were rocked by Aston Villa and the humiliating loss shocked the entire football world

A city in Covid crisis

And so to Saturday’s lunchtime show-piece, where we have so much more than a routine derby on our hands.

The city of Liverpool right now finds itself in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, with spiking cases seeing a tier-three restriction imposed.

Now at the highest level of the newly devised restrictions, pubs, bars, gyms and leisure centres, casinos, betting shops and adult gaming centres will all be forced to close.

People are banned from socialising with anyone outside their household indoors or in private gardens.

The city of Liverpool is now in tier three of Covid-19 restrictions, meaning people are banned from socialising with anyone outside their household indoors or in private gardens

The city of Liverpool is now in tier three of Covid-19 restrictions, meaning people are banned from socialising with anyone outside their household indoors or in private gardens

This places an entirely different perspective on the derby for the football-obsessed city.

Personnel from within the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport have repeatedly stressed the importance of sport for community life, with lives hindered and the stresses of daily life taking hold.

Fans will instead be glued to television screens watching one of the most eagerly anticipated derbies of all time without the unity of fellow supporters. It makes the match all the more strange, though no less important.

Biggest Merseyside derby in Premier League history?

The outcome of this match could have a much greater impact than most people realise.

Seasons are not made in the opening few months, but they can certainly be broken. At this stage momentum is everything.

A first victory in 10 years over Liverpool would send Everton soaring to new heights, full of belief under a manager who has won it all.

Meanwhile for Liverpool it is a case of making immediate amends from their Villa Park horror show.

Klopp’s troops must prove the capitulation was a freak one-off, hindered greatly by a congested early season calendar and the lack of motivation-spurring supporters.

To get back on the metaphorical horse though they must once again travel to an away ground.

Liverpool enter the match as reigning champions once more but have a massive point to prove

Liverpool enter the match as reigning champions once more but have a massive point to prove

It’s never ideal, particularly when a result is vital and more so when it is derby stakes. Everton, therefore, are facing Liverpool at perhaps the most perfect of times.

Huge questions will be asked of the Reds if they fold over against their rivals, surrendering a derby unbeaten streak and revealing a weak under-belly once more.

Influential goalkeeper Alisson is out of the fixture, while deputy Adrian is seen by many as a weak link which Everton will undoubtedly target.

For the first time since the inception of the Premier League in 1992, the derby feels like a fixture where both sides have everything to play for with grand expectations on the line.

Beat Liverpool in the league for the first time in a decade and Everton extend their lead at the top of the Premier League table. It’s been quite some time since fans on the blue side of the city have been hearing anything like that.

This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk

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Luke Shaw ‘to earn England recall by Gareth Southgate for the first time in two years next week’

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luke shaw to earn england recall by gareth southgate for the first time in two years next week

Luke Shaw will receive his first England call-up in two years next week, according to reports. 

The Manchester United left-back has not featured for Gareth Southgate‘s Three Lions squad since getting injured in a 2-1 defeat to Spain September 2019, which in itself was his first international game in 18 months. 

Southgate has only Ben Chilwell and Bukayo Saka and natural left-sided defensive options with Kieran Tripper and Ainsley Maitland-Niles have both been shoehorned into the role in recent England matches.

Luke Shaw (above) is set to be given an England recall next week, according to reports

Luke Shaw (above) is set to be given an England recall next week, according to reports

Luke Shaw (above) is set to be given an England recall next week, according to reports

The left-back has not featured for the Three Lions since a loss to Spain in September 2018

The left-back has not featured for the Three Lions since a loss to Spain in September 2018

The left-back has not featured for the Three Lions since a loss to Spain in September 2018

And according to The Daily Star, Shaw will return to the England squad when Southgate announces his side for the November fixtures on Thursday. 

The Three Lions take on the Republic of Ireland in a friendly on November 12 before Nations League matches with Belgium and Iceland after three day gaps. 

Sportsmail also revealed this week that Manchester City midfielder Phil Foden is also set for a recall to the England squad after disciplinary issues at the trip to Iceland with Mason Greenwood – but the Manchester United winger will still have to wait to earn his place back. 

Shaw has returned to the Manchester United starting line-up under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after falling out with former boss Jose Mourinho over a lack of fitness. 

England boss Gareth Southgate (above) has major selection issues on the left side of defence

England boss Gareth Southgate (above) has major selection issues on the left side of defence

England boss Gareth Southgate (above) has major selection issues on the left side of defence

The 25-year-old played in every single minute of Premier League and Champions League football for the Red Devils this season, even despite the £11.6million arrival of FC Porto full-back Alex Telles on deadline day.

The left-back has played four times for United since Telles arrived at Old Trafford, helping his side to three wins, two clean sheets – though he did score an unfortunate own goal in a 4-1 win over Newcastle this month. 

The results have dramatically improved for both Shaw and United since the start of the season, which saw the club pick up back-to-back home defeats against Crystal Palace and Tottenham – the latte being a 6-1 thrashing at the hands of former boss Mourinho.

Shaw (right) has been part of a resurgence at Manchester United since the start of the season

Shaw (right) has been part of a resurgence at Manchester United since the start of the season

Shaw (right) has been part of a resurgence at Manchester United since the start of the season

Shaw has admitted that there has been a change in confidence at United recently as he faces the prospect of being a serious contender for England’s European Championship finals squad member next summer.  

Shaw told MUTV last week: ‘When we’re on the pitch now, it feels different to what it was before. Before, we made a lot of sloppy, silly mistakes – individual mistakes. 

‘I think we’ve learned from that and we’ve worked hard in training. We knew we needed to improve.’

This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk

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Mikel Arteta insists he gave Arsenal outcast Mesut Ozil ‘as many opportunities as I could’

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mikel arteta insists he gave arsenal outcast mesut ozil as many opportunities as i could

Mikel Arteta claimed he has been ‘fair’ on Mesut Ozil and tried to get midfielder performing again before his exile from the Arsenal first-team squad.

The German midfielder is the Gunners’ highest-earner on £350,000-a-week but was left out of Arsenal’s 25-man squads for the Premier League and Europa League competitions this month. 

Ozil hit back at both Arteta and the club following his omission, claiming that ‘loyalty is hard to come by’, while his agent Dr Erkut Sogut says the Arsenal manager ‘failed’ himself by not getting the best out of the midfielder.

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta (L) has claimed he has been 'fair' and 'tried his best' with Mesut Ozil

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta (L) has claimed he has been 'fair' and 'tried his best' with Mesut Ozil

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta (L) has claimed he has been ‘fair’ and ‘tried his best’ with Mesut Ozil

Ozil was left out of the 25-man squads for this season's Premier League and Europa League

Ozil was left out of the 25-man squads for this season's Premier League and Europa League

Ozil was left out of the 25-man squads for this season’s Premier League and Europa League

But Arteta has hit back at the claims, telling Sky Sports: ‘What I can tell you (is) that I tried my best, I tried to give him as many opportunities as I could. And that from my own side, I’ve been patient, given him opportunities and been fair.

‘He’s a player that belongs to a football club, he’s been a really important player in the last few seasons. I have to respect that, I’m here to make decisions, the best decisions for the team and for the club.

‘This is what I try to do and then I have to explain them because people need the reasons and the right answers.

Arteta (right) believes he has given Ozil (middle) chances despite not playing him since March

Arteta (right) believes he has given Ozil (middle) chances despite not playing him since March

Arteta (right) believes he has given Ozil (middle) chances despite not playing him since March

‘I just give mine, whether they believe me or agree with me or not, there’s nothing I can do. But I have to put my decisions, with my heart and with my brain to make the right decisions that I believe are good.’

Ozil was an ever-present figure when Arteta first arrived at the club and featured in every game from Boxing Day 2019 to the coronavirus hiatus in March 2020. 

But the German has not played a minute of football since then, as Arsenal ended the last campaign with an eighth-placed Premier League finish, though did manage to win the FA Cup. 

The Gunners have started the current league season with three wins and three defeats in their opening six games, with Ozil not allowed to play for the club until January at least due to not being registered. 

Ozil was a regular in Arteta's side at the beginning of his tenure but has been exiled again

Ozil was a regular in Arteta's side at the beginning of his tenure but has been exiled again

Ozil was a regular in Arteta’s side at the beginning of his tenure but has been exiled again

Dr Sogut, the German’s representative, claimed Arteta was not ‘fair, honest and transparent’ in dealing with his client who faced a helpless winter on the sidelines. 

The agent told ESPN this month: ‘Arsenal fans deserve an honest explanation, not [Arteta] saying, “I failed Ozil.” You didn’t fail Ozil. You failed to be fair, honest and transparent and treat someone with respect who has a contract and was loyal all the time.

‘Every single person outside knows he hasn’t treated him fairly. He didn’t give him a chance to show himself this season. If he is still under contract, the player should have the option to stay and fight for his place. Mesut hasn’t been given that.

Ozil's agent, Dr. Erkut Sogut (above), claims Arteta has not been fair and honest with Ozil

Ozil's agent, Dr. Erkut Sogut (above), claims Arteta has not been fair and honest with Ozil

Ozil’s agent, Dr. Erkut Sogut (above), claims Arteta has not been fair and honest with Ozil

‘I spoke with at least five team-mates who say he is training great. They say Mesut is one of their best players, and they cannot understand why he is left out. So it can’t be the training. 

‘If it is not the pitch, what are the footballing reasons? If you talk, you should tell the truth that the Arsenal fans deserve, otherwise don’t talk at all.’  

Ozil arrived as Arsenal’s record signing for a £42.5million fee in 2014 and has helped them win three FA Cups during his time at the club. 

This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk

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Wales’ Alun Wyn Jones is one game away from rugby greatness… just don’t say it in front of him!

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wales alun wyn jones is one game away from rugby greatness just dont say it in front of him

‘He is a modern day hero,’ declares one great of another as Sir Gareth Edwards salutes Saturday’s totemic record-breaker Alun Wyn Jones.

The truth is the 35-year-old hates all this. He would rather we all forgot he was surpassing All Black legend Richie McCaw as the most capped rugby player of all time, by playing in his 149th international in Llanelli against Scotland in the Six Nations finale on Saturday, at least until he has actually done it.

On his strict instructions – and why would anyone argue – all the fanfare, presentations and garlands will be bestowed on the Wales captain after the match today, so desperate is he to avoid tempting fate, and more importantly losing a fifth Test in a row.

Alun Wyn Jones (above) is set to play in a record-breaking 149th international this weekend

Alun Wyn Jones (above) is set to play in a record-breaking 149th international this weekend

Alun Wyn Jones (above) is set to play in a record-breaking 149th international this weekend

Wales take on Scotland on Saturday which will make him the highest-appearing international

Wales take on Scotland on Saturday which will make him the highest-appearing international

Wales take on Scotland on Saturday which will make him the highest-appearing international

‘I’m slightly uncomfortable,’ the lock laughs when asked about the uneasiness of the limelight. 

‘I don’t particularly like it. It does feel like a side-show to be honest. Any romantic can definitely wait.’ 

Jones has had to avoid all this a lot recently. Last year he became the most capped Welshman, beating Gethin Jenkins, and tallied the most games by any from his country against various opponents weekly.

Jones is set to overtake World Cup-winning New Zealand captain Richie McCaw (above) on 148

Jones is set to overtake World Cup-winning New Zealand captain Richie McCaw (above) on 148

Jones is set to overtake World Cup-winning New Zealand captain Richie McCaw (above) on 148

But today is the big one – after he which he stand alone atop rugby’s Mount Olympus. In 14 years the hair has thinned, brow furrowed further and his ears require significantly more tape, but his desire and bloody-minded will remains.

Sir Gareth – regarded as Wales’ best ever player – has seen hundreds play in red, but none quite like Alun Wyn.

‘You wonder how the hell he’s been able to do it!’ he exclusively tells Sportsmail. ‘Oh it’s incredible. A great credit to him for keeping the engine in tune. 

The 35-year-old lock made his Wales international debut in 2006 and has changed since then

The 35-year-old lock made his Wales international debut in 2006 and has changed since then

The 35-year-old lock made his Wales international debut in 2006 and has changed since then

Wales rugby legend Sir Gareth Edwards (above) tells Sportsmail that Jones is a unique player

Wales rugby legend Sir Gareth Edwards (above) tells Sportsmail that Jones is a unique player

Wales rugby legend Sir Gareth Edwards (above) tells Sportsmail that Jones is a unique player

‘We found it tough playing five games in a couple of months – how these guys get through it I don’t know!

‘He has been a great motivator and an outstanding envoy for Welsh rugby. He reminds me very much of Willie John McBride – that no-nonsense style.’ 

By now we know the stories – of him being so big as a kid coaches thought he was the referee, how he perfected the splits to gain flexibility, buying a house in Swansea with a pool for aqua-aerobic recovery – but Jones’ ability to manage a battered body has evolved, as his former Wales boss Warren Gatland explains.

‘He’s learned how to manage himself a lot better,’ said the New Zealander who coached him for 11 years.

Ex-Wales coach Warren Gatland (R) claimed it was tricky to convince Jones (L) to take a break

Ex-Wales coach Warren Gatland (R) claimed it was tricky to convince Jones (L) to take a break

Ex-Wales coach Warren Gatland (R) claimed it was tricky to convince Jones (L) to take a break

‘Trying to get him to have a rest or a break, he didn’t always want to do that. It was a martyrdom thing.

‘A couple of years ago he said to me “I wish I’d listened to you a little bit earlier about managing myself”

‘There’s balance now since he got married and had children.’ Current coach Wayne Pivac echoes those sentiments.

‘Sessions are not optional for Alun Wyn,’ he says. ‘He’s religious in the way he goes about his business. He doesn’t falter. If there’s a change in weather conditions, if we’ve won or lost a game, nothing changes for Alyn Wyn.

Wayne Pivac (right) claims he has never seen a professional train or act like the Wales captain

Wayne Pivac (right) claims he has never seen a professional train or act like the Wales captain

Wayne Pivac (right) claims he has never seen a professional train or act like the Wales captain

‘I’ve seen a lot of good All Blacks come through the Auckland stables that I was involved with.

‘I can’t think of any player that has the same ability to go about his business on a daily basis like Alun Wyn, with so much longevity.’ 

It all started in Puerto Madryn, 14 years ago as a shaggy-haired 21-year-old won his first cap against Argentina.

‘You become part of something special with a simple blow of the whistle,’ reflects Jones on his debut.

Jones (far right) made his Wales debut in 2006 against Argentina in Puerto Madryn

Jones (far right) made his Wales debut in 2006 against Argentina in Puerto Madryn

Jones (far right) made his Wales debut in 2006 against Argentina in Puerto Madryn

‘Whether it was one or a few more, it’s still a great occasion for myself and my family.’ Family has been at the centre of it all for him. His father Tim, who tragically died in 2016, would have burst with pride today.

Mother Ann, who took first him to play rugby, wife Dr Anwen and daughters Mali and Efa, are unable to attend – but are firmly in Jones’ heart.

‘I’ve been very fortunate to have my mum, my sister and my dad – when he was around – and then my wife and the girls,’ he says.

‘They’ve kept me grounded these last few years as they are maturing faster than ever!

‘When I do finish my family will still be there and the game will move on. I’m all too aware of that.’ But for now, how far can Jones push the bar?

Jones is one of only ax exclusive group of Welshmen to win three Six Nations Grand Slam titles

Jones is one of only ax exclusive group of Welshmen to win three Six Nations Grand Slam titles

Jones is one of only ax exclusive group of Welshmen to win three Six Nations Grand Slam titles

‘I’m not sure how many more fixtures they can pile into a season, so it might well stay for a long time – eternity maybe?’ says Edwards Gatland might select him for a fourth Lions tour next year – a 10th Test for them would eclipse everyone in the professional era.

‘Lock is a position with a huge amount of depth so that’s going be a challenge.

‘It’s important he has a good Six Nations – he’ll know that – but if he does end up in South Africa it would be an incredible feat.’ And a fifth World Cup after that, at 38?

Jones could even try and play in a fifth Rugby World Cup at the age of 38 in three years' time

Jones could even try and play in a fifth Rugby World Cup at the age of 38 in three years' time

Jones could even try and play in a fifth Rugby World Cup at the age of 38 in three years’ time

‘There is no reason why not, should he stay injury free,’ says Pivac. ‘Alun Wyn could be one where you throw away the birth certificate and you just look at what he’s doing on a daily basis.

‘At the moment, he’s first on the team-sheet.’ Before his debut Jones noted it was ‘sink or swim time’.

‘I think I’m still treading water if I’m honest,’ he says with a smile when reminded of that now. I’ll continue to do so for a while.’ 

Whatever he has been doing a nation will stand by its sofas today to hail their hero.

This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk

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