PHILIPPE COUTINHO could give Liverpool a decisive edge in Sunday’s big derby showdown, says Liverpool’s own derby hero David Fairlclough – once he realises what has hit him!
Anfield legend Fairclough, scorer of one of the most famous strikes in derby history, was a veteran of the days when the Mersey derby was a brutal, no-holds-barred affair.
But even though it’s perhaps not as physical as the bruising encounters of the 70s and 80s, he believes it still retains the same intensity.
And if Brazilian craftsman Coutinho can cope with the breakneck nature of the clash, he could flourish.
“Philippe Coutinho has settled in very nicely,” said Fairclough “but it will be a big experience for him.
“We’ve seen talented players in the past come in and not take to the derby at the first time of asking.
“It will be a big game for Coutinho. He will have played in big games before, of course, in Brazil and Spain and Italy, but this is different.
“He has consistently shown some good things since he arrived at Liverpool and Sunday could be a big opportunity for him.”
Fairclough is relishing the 220th Mersey showdown, and pointed out that both sides have quality players on show.
“Everton obviously have the threat of Jelavic and Fellaini,” he added. “Fellaini is always a big character in the big games and while Jelavic hasn’t been in the best of form in front of goal Sunday will be a great stage for him to try and red-iscover the scoring form he was showing last season.
“It could be a great match.
“It was important for Liverpool to get such a good win at the weekend after taking a bit of a battering over the other event of the week.
“And with this derby coming at the end of the season it will send the winner off into the summer in high spirits.
“Also, behind it all, there’s the side issue of who finishes on top of the other in the table.
“There have been lots of bets wagered all over Merseyside on the outcome of that.
“It will be an eagerly fought match – and while it may not reflect some of the clashes of the past it will be fiercely fought, no doubt about that.”
The derbies in which Fairclough cut his teeth in the 1970s were ferocious affairs.
And on Grand National Day 1976, with Liverpool set to be denied crucial points in their head to head battle with QPR for the league title, he etched his own name into derby folklore.
The 88th minute goal which broke Blue hearts wasn’t snatched, it was a stunningly crafted, thrillingly executed individual dribble which started on the halfway line in front of the Kemlyn Road and ended with a rasping drive through the hapless Dai Davies’ arms.
“It’s a fantastic experience,” smiled Dave.
“I’m reminded about it all the time even now – by Liverpool fans and Evertonian friends who still give me stick for it.
“To grow up a Liverpool fan and score the winner at a time when derby matches were so fiercely fought was a wonderful memory.
“It was an ambition of mine just to play in a derby, but to score a winner and be remembered for it is something I’ll have all my life. And I’ll cherish it.”
As for the goal itself, Fairclough added: “I never liked tap ins!
“Fortunately it has been shown a few times since so I haven’t been allowed to forget it. But whenever I see it again it does surprise me how it happened. As a striker you love every goal you score, but some are a little bit more important than others.
“And Evertonians have ribbed me about that one for years and I always have a bit of a chuckle about it.”