Liverpool: Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers was all set to renew his quest for a first win in a Merseyside derby against Everton confident that his players were better equipped for the challenge than before.
After two draws in Rodgers’ first experiences of the derby atmosphere last season, the Reds were hoping to give the boss a maiden victory in Saturday’s meeting at Goodison Park.
Liverpool are just two points behind Premier League leaders Arsenal, while Everton are three points adrift of their hated neighbours in sixth.
With so much at stake, Rodgers expects the 221st Merseyside derby to be as frenzied as ever and believes his team are now more battle-hardened and capable of thriving in such a testing situation.
“It’s a really hostile environment to go and play in,” Rodgers said.
“Goodison is a really good venue for football and it’s a ground that will test your character.
“But that’s something we will look forward to because, if there’s one thing that we’ve improved in the time that I’ve been here, is there’s resilience in the team.
“We will lose games but our ability to bounce back and to be resolute is improving all the time. So it will be a good ground to go and play in. And it will be great for us to go and play our football.
“Every game away from home is a test of character. But, of course, when it’s a derby game and the rivalry and the history of this game is there, it will always test you.”
Everton boast an impressive home record, having not lost at Goodison Park since December 2012, and caught the eye in victories over Chelsea and Newcastle this season.
And Rodgers, who will check on the fitness of striker Daniel Sturridge (thigh) but should have captain Steven Gerrard (hip strain) available, believes their city rivals will be among those teams who are a threat to his side’s ambitions to break into the top four.
“They’ll be up there challenging this season, but their recent history shows you that,” Rodgers added.
“They looked like they were maybe going to be in line for the top four last season but then dropped off a wee bit. They still finished in the top six.
“Both teams have made a very good start to this season and they are one of our rivals. But it’s no surprise, Everton have been up there for the last few years.
“They’ve been very competitive and been up and around that level for a few years. Roberto [Martinez] has come in and he’ll do an excellent job there.”
Everton manager Martinez agreed that the derby takes on added significance due to the bright start made by both teams.
The Spaniard has no fresh injury worries with striker Arouna Kone (knee) still out along with long-term absentees Antolin Alcaraz (groin) and Darron Gibson (knee).
“It is a massive game. First and foremost, it’s a glamorous fixture,” Martinez said.
“It’s one of those games that is followed worldwide and the significance, the passion and the history is reflected in the game.
“This one is more important because both teams are in the top six and both have had strong starts to the season.
“Liverpool’s start speaks for itself. They are really good in possession and play with good intensity.
“They have really good individuals. That partnership up front of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge has a real goalscoring threat, so you can see why they’ve been so successful this season.
“We’re unbeaten at home in 2013 and this is a real opportunity to start the middle third of the season with a very strong test, and the derby is just that.”