Martinez: Merseyside derby unique
Everton manager Roberto Martinez has argued that no fixture in world football compares to the “unique” Merseyside derby.
Martinez, appointed in June, will take part in the fixture for the first time when Liverpool visit Goodison Park in the Premier League on Saturday.
Both he and Liverpool counterpart Brendan Rodgers have experienced the heat and passion that goes with managing Swansea in a South Wales derby against Cardiff, but Martinez believes that Saturday’s clash will be on a different level.
He said: “There are many local clashes in which you can see real passion, but I don’t think anything has been anywhere near what I’m expecting on Saturday.
“I’ve heard many stories, especially from the kit room, about the history of the club, and I know that the Merseyside derby is quite unique and quite special. I don’t think it should be compared to any other in world football.
“It comes from that feeling of having the red and the blue spread out in the city, and through families and the workplace. It’s a quite unique football fixture because of the meaning it brings with it. I think this one is extra significant. It’s between two teams who are in the top six and are so close to each other.
“When you add all the connotations of the derby to the importance of the points, I think this fixture is going to be as big and as good as a football game can be.”
Liverpool will arrive at Goodison lying second in the Premier League with Everton in sixth, three points behind.
Martinez’s side are looking to get back to scoring form after successive 0-0 draws against Tottenham and Crystal Palace.
The stalemate at Selhurst Park on Nov. 9 was notable mainly for a post-match confrontation between centre-back Sylvain Distin and a disgruntled Everton fan as the players left the pitch, but Martinez has played down the incident.
He said: “I spoke to him, and it was only a natural reaction. We were as disappointed as the fans were, and it was just a natural football conversation.
“It was a case of understanding that we were frustrated and for the right reasons. We wanted to win the game, but at the end, it proved to be a very important point, when you look at all the other results that weekend.
“So it was just a natural reaction to the disappointment of what we saw as dropping two points. But it actually proved to be a point gained.”
Ross Barkley is set to play in midfield, having won his third England cap by featuring for the final 19 minutes of Tuesday’s 1-0 friendly defeat against Germany at Wembley.
The 19-year-old has emerged as a strong contender for Roy Hodgson’s World Cup squad after figuring in both international friendlies in the last week -- he played 13 minutes of last Friday’s 2-0 loss against Chile too.
Martinez, though, is urging the Liverpool-born youngster to focus on his club form.
He said: “I think in football, you need to concentrate on the day-to-day work, and that’s where Ross is. He’s enjoying his experience with England.
“When he came on yesterday [against Germany], he was himself, and that’s always important. But all he needs to do now is concentrate on his club role and make sure that he’s ready to help the team, enjoy his season, develop and grow.
“And then the reward is always around the corner after your good work on a daily basis.
“Sometimes you can get confused as a player. But the question of how you’re going to affect what happens in the national team is very easy to answer. It’s about what you do at club level.”
Long-term injury absentees Antolin Alcaraz and Tony Hibbert are fully fit, but neither are likely to be thrown straight back into action in the heat of a derby.
Right-back Hibbert has made just two appearances in 2013 after struggling with calf problems, while centre-back Alcaraz has yet to play a competitive game for the club since his summer arrival after being released by Wigan.
Alcaraz has been troubled with hernia, groin and hamstring problems, adding to the injury frustrations he suffered during his final season at Wigan.
The 31-year-old missed more than five months of last season with a torn groin muscle, then tore his hamstring towards the end of the campaign.
Martinez said: “Antolin’s fully fit now, and he’s been working well in the past week. He’s one week ahead of where I expected him to be.
“I would say he is ready to play a part in a game. That would be no problem now, but it’s about picking the right moment. An intense derby probably would be the wrong moment to give him an opportunity.
“It has been frustrating for him. It’s been one of those situations where you’re not helping yourself because if you have to rest a little to recover from a slight niggle, you want to get through it, and then it becomes a bigger issue.
“He’s been so keen to try to fight for his place that it’s probably gone against his physical situation. But now he’s fully fit. The medical department did a terrific job. They forced him to stay out. They forced him to do what he had to do.
“And now he’s ready to start his Everton career and be the player that we all know he can be. He brings experience and knowhow into the side, which is going to be a really important weapon for the rest of the season.”