Everton look beaten by Liverpool before a Merseyside derby ball is kicked
Liverpool's 3-0 dismantling of Manchester City in the Champions League just days after City did the same thing to Everton in the Premier League will have done little to lift the gloom encircling Goodison Park ahead of the Merseyside Derby on Saturday.
Derby build-up often follows a familiar pattern as various Everton personnel discuss the commitment and courage needed to win before invariably showing little to none of both on the day and leaving supporters lamenting another derby failure.
Amid the fallout from the City defeat these hollow rallying cries seem less frequent and less vocal than in recent years. Many supporters have long grown tired of these sound bites and may view this as a blessing in disguise; the easiest and best way to win back favour with supporters is on the pitch. That must start with the upcoming derby as Everton need a performance far removed from the embarrassing City debacle.
But the concern among fans is that the passive Everton approach against City merely stood for a dress rehearsal of what is to come on Saturday. Goodison was once a fearsome prospect for opponents but has turned into a hospitality venue for the top teams. Both Manchester clubs, Tottenham and Arsenal have all left with an easy three points this season. Only Jordan Pickford heroics denied Chelsea as the two teams played out a goalless draw in which Everton did not register a shot on target.
Everton played the part of obliging host far too willingly against City and a repeat against Liverpool will offer the same outcome. With barely a tackle made, either in vain or in anger, Everton looked like a team sent on to the pitch without any instruction. The least expectation is a team willing to exert themselves and ensure opponents must be at their very best to leave Goodison with any points.
Every bit as troubling as the insipid approach during the City defeat was the longstanding issue rearing its ugly head in the aftermath as the acceptance of mediocrity once again loomed large. Anybody listening to manager Sam Allardyce after the match could have mistaken his words for those of a lower league manager beaten by Premier League opposition in a domestic cup tie. It sounded more like the work of a parody social media account than the words expected from the Everton manager.
Straw-clutching has rarely stooped lower than when Allardyce pointed out that Everton had "won the second half," temporarily disregarding the fact that winning halves of football is not an actual thing. "We have got no points but at least we did not fold," said Allardyce.
Along with uninspired tactical approach, this desire to drive down expectations to enhance his own status is the worst trait Allardyce has brought to the club. Allardyce has lowered expectations to such an extent that he viewed not conceding five or six goals against City as a tolerable outcome. Everton beat City 4-0 at Goodison last January.
These comments add unfortunate context to the appalling damage-limitation style favoured against the top teams. It is the closest Everton can get to giving up the game without doing so. Having also admitted that he views wins against the top teams as a bonus, Allardyce seemed more invested in justifying the defeat after the event than in trying to prevent it while it was happening, selling this notion that Everton could do nothing but sit back and admire their opponents.
Allardyce cannot share the blame for starting this inferiority complex as it predates his arrival, particularly in derby matches, yet there is little doubt this complex has considerably worsened under his watch. This general willingness to embrace mediocrity has Everton on a 16-game winless run in the derby in all competitions, dating back to October 2010.
Not since Joe Royle went unbeaten in five derby matches during his brief tenure in the 1990s has an Everton manager offered any genuine resistance in this fixture. David Moyes won just four of his 25 derbies as manager and none of the three permanent Everton managers since then has a win to their name.
Cheap excuses or a collective shrug of the shoulders too often greet poor displays or defeats in general and in matches of greater importance. There has been a lot of talk about the dawn of a new and ambitious Everton, but ambition is about more than throwing countless millions at expensive signings. Increased resources and spending power count for nothing without the necessary self-belief and will to win to go with them.
If Everton do not set out believing they can win each match, regardless of the opposition or the odds stacked against them, then those accountable for that have no business being at this football club. This degenerating idea that the status quo is good enough has lingered too long and needs eradicating at every level. Those unable to live up to that should be left behind.
Luke is ESPN FC's Everton blogger. Follow Luke on Twitter @lukeofarrell.