Roberto Martinez believes Everton and Liverpool head into the Merseyside derby at Anfield on Saturday in similar shape after both teams have suffered stuttering starts to the season.
The 2013/14 campaign was a stellar one for both clubs, as Liverpool almost clinched their first Barclays Premier League title in 24 years, while Everton mounted a serious challenge for UEFA Champions League qualification before finishing fifth and settling for a place in the Europa League.
The 2014/15 season has not gone to plan so far, with Everton winning just once in their opening five top-flight encounters, while their city rivals have lost three of their matches to fall seven points behind leaders Chelsea at this early stage.
Ahead of Saturday’s encounter at Anfield, where Everton have not won since 1999 and were beaten 4-0 last season, Martinez believes both clubs are taking time to adjust with new-look squads and a more hectic schedule.
“Every team changes when you change personnel,” he said. “You need to find different ways of playing and there is a bit of adaptation with European football because we’re both going through the same period.
“It’s early in the season and it’s about adapting to those demands and having different players and new ways of playing because obviously Luis Suarez was very significant.
“The game is going to be exciting. This one is building up to being a very good game. It’s only three points, but three points that are very, very important for both sides.”
Martinez still has doubts over the fitness of Steven Pienaar (groin) and Seamus Coleman (head injury), but Bryan Oviedo made his first appearance since breaking a leg in January in Tuesday’s 3-0 Capital One Cup loss at Swansea City.
Arouna Kone was an unused substitute at Swansea after overcoming a knee problem, and the Ivory Coast forward is in contention again for the trip to Anfield.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers sees Saturday’s match as an opportunity for his side to put their inconsistent start to the campaign behind them.
“In the league, with us winning two games and losing three, it’s not ideal but there are still positives to take out of it,” he said.
“If I look at the corresponding games last season, there’s only a one point difference and we ended up doing OK. We know we need to be better. We know we need to improve our performance levels.
“The derby gives us an opportunity to do that. It provides a platform to go on a good, consistent run. Last season, we had a great spell after our win [in January].
“Everton are a good side, with very good players. They’re different to us, but they’ve got a lot of quality. They’ve probably not got the results they’ve wanted, but Roberto is an excellent manager.
“He’s done a great job there and being a derby game, it will be tough for us.”
Rodgers revealed on Thursday that Daniel Sturridge (hamstring) is nearing a return but remains a doubt, while Liverpool also have concerns over Joe Allen and Glen Johnson (both knee) as well as Jordan Henderson (hip) and Philippe Coutinho (groin).
Liverpool (from): Jones, Mignolet, Johnson, Jose Enrique, Lovren, Manquillo, Moreno, Sakho, Skrtel, Toure, Allen, Coutinho, Gerrard, Henderson, Lallana, Lucas, Markovic, Suso, Balotelli, Borini, Lambert, Sterling, Sturridge.
Everton (from): Howard, Joel, Stanek, Alcaraz, Baines, Browning, Coleman, Distin, Garbutt, Hibbert, Jagielka, Stones, Atsu, Barry, Besic, Gibson, Junior, McCarthy, McGeady, Osman, Oviedo, Pienaar, Eto’o, Kone, Long, Lukaku, McAleny, Mirallas, Naismith.
Referee: Martin Atkinson Assistants: M Mullarkey, S Child Fourth Official: K Friend