Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti was setting the scene for the latest Merseyside derby against Liverpool when he trotted out a cliché seemingly used for any match between local rivals.
“In a derby,” Ancelotti said with a smile, “you never know what’s going to happen.”
Except, that is, on Merseyside.
Everton has not beaten Liverpool in any competition since 2010. It last won at Anfield — where Sunday’s FA Cup match will be held — in 1999.
Liverpool is the European club champion and, with a 13-point lead in the Premier League, is almost certain to be English champion in a few months for the first time in 30 years. The team coached by Jurgen Klopp hasn’t lost at home in any competition in nearly 16 months.
Everton was thrashed 5-2 by a largely second-string Liverpool at Anfield on Dec. 4, a result that led to the firing of Marco Silva two days later and the arrival of Ancelotti at Goodison Park within a few weeks.
It's fair to say it is a very one-sided rivalry.
“Everything has to be perfect; work hard, sacrifice, intensity,” Ancelotti said Friday. “To beat them, the game has to be complete.”
Ancelotti, of course, knows all about that.
Before joining Everton, the Italian coach was in charge of a Napoli team that remains the only side to beat Liverpool this season - 2-0 in the Champions League in September. Ancelotti’s Napoli also earned a draw at Anfield in the return match in November, which is the only time Liverpool hasn’t won at home this season, and beat Liverpool in last season’s Champions League, too.
Indeed, Ancelotti has won seven of his 12 games against Liverpool in his managerial career, a record he was happy to bring up at his presentation as Everton manager last month.
So, what’s his secret to dealing with the best club team in the world?
“To score more goals,” he replied, laughing.
“Everyone knows how important this competition is,” Ancelotti added about the oldest club competition in soccer. “But the last time I played this competition, I won it.”
That was with Chelsea in 2010 before he was fired a year later by the London club, in the bowels of Everton’s Goodison Park just an hour after the final game of the 2010-11 season.
Ancelotti, a three-time Champions League winner as a coach, already seems to have had an effect since taking over as arguably Everton’s most high-profile manager ever, with the team in danger of relegation from the Premier League. He won his first two matches, against Burnley and Newcastle, before giving Manchester City a tough game in a 2-1 loss on Wednesday.
Ancelotti has made only subtle changes to tighten up the Everton team, like for example pushing right back Djibril Sidibé into a slightly more attacking role. Ancelotti’s initial priority is to make Everton harder to beat but the team had 43 shots in his first two games at the helm, more than any other in the Premier League in that spell.
“The players need to adapt. I ask from them a lot of things — maybe for some players some new things,” he said. “But I have to be patient … I don’t want to change a lot because I don’t want to create confusion in their heads.”
Helping Everton’s cause will be Klopp saying he will make changes to his team after a busy festive period in the league, which finished for Liverpool on Thursday with a 2-0 win over Sheffield United. Everton will have had a day longer to prepare for the game.
Liverpool’s recent record in the competition is poor, too. Since losing to Chelsea in the 2012 final, the Reds have only got past the last 16 once — in 2015 — and went out in the third round at Wolverhampton Wanderers last season after fielding a weakened team.
Wolves have also got a tough game this season in the third round, when Premier League teams join the competition. They play Manchester United at home in the other all-Premier League match. Manchester City begins the defense of its title at home against fourth-tier club Port Vale.
There will be a one-minute delay to games this weekend to raise awareness of a mental-health campaign, called “Heads Up,” that is being fronted by Prince William, the president of the Football Association.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80