Moneyball, Mo Salah & the Gegenpress: How Liverpool Have Transformed Since Everton's Last Derby Win

The image of a short-haired Fernando Torres, wearing that long-sleeved Standard Chartered Liverpool shirt is a harrowing one for anyone associated with the club.

It's representative of a time when things could not have been going more wrong even if that was the plan.

By 2010, the club was a cataclysmic shambles. Gone were the title-tustling, Champions League-winning days of Rafa Benitez which threatened a new dawn of Anfield greatness. Benitez had been replaced with Roy Hodgson, Xabi Alonso had been replaced with Alberto Aquilani, and Liverpool were tailspinning rapidly towards the pre-Shankly dark ages.

The football team was a wreck, but the situation at boardroom level was even more worse. George Gillett and Tom Hicks had failed to plug the sinking financial ship - losses were well into nine figures, debts totalled over £350m, and the relationship between owners and fans was at an all-time low.

When Tom Werner and his Fenway Sports Group paid £300m to purchase the club in 2010, then, many were left wondering why they bothered.

Werner might have been thinking similar when he watched the team for the first time. The American made a last-minute trip to Goodison Park for an October Merseyside derby, and watched his new acquisitions as they were blown over in the wind.

This was peak David Moyes' Everton and they made a fool of a patched-together Liverpool side whose full-backs were Paul Konchesky and Sotiris Kyrgiakos.

Lucas Leiva played as an auxiliary forward alongside Fernando Torres and it was about as effective as you'd expect. Tim Howard was comfortable, as Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta secured a comfortable victory that left the Reds languishing in the relegation zone.

Werner and his FSG, though a welcome breath of fresh air, had their work cut out for them. And while the ownership group was largely responsible for the revival of the Boston Red Sox in MLB, there was a feeling around Anfield that Werner was just another American owner, in the game out of self-interest, with no idea how to actually run a football club.

Then, Everton were on the cusp of becoming the dominant team on Merseyside, but it speaks to the impact Werner has had that we're now ten years on and the Blues haven't won a derby since.

A piece of that can be attributed to the Toffees' own downfall. They've gone through managers like chewing gum while their player turnover between Moyes' departure and Carlo Ancelotti's arrival was the highest in the Premier League. They've had more run-ins with relegation than with European football.

Primarily, however, Liverpool's dominance - which sees them eyeing a 22nd straight derby without defeat next weekend - is down to the combination of Moneyball and Gegenpress that has transformed them into Europe's best.

Moneyball: The title of a 2003 Martin Lewis book tracking general manager Billy Beane, and his analytic, data-driven approach to recruitment that turned the Oakland Athletics baseball team into a competitive force on a shoestring budget. Beane's revolutionary approach was later adopted by the Red Sox, who soon ended an 86-year wait for a Championship.

Like any good footballing dynasty, the FSG years at Liverpool endured a few major bumps in the road before they found smoother terrain. Kenny Dalglish was brought in to steady the ship after Hodgson was relieved of his duties, and though the decline slowed somewhat, it wouldn't be until Brendan Rodgers was drafted in from Swansea that things began to turn around.

The signings of Luis Suarez, Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge in FSG's first phase of recruitment created a team that was once again feared - though ultimately flawed.

Under Rodgers, the Reds quickly became a rampant attacking force, and their progress under four years of their new ownership was highlighted when Everton travelled to Anfield and were overrun by a four-goal barrage. But the way the 2013/14 campaign transpired, the Reds' deficiencies in defence and mentality leading to a historic collapse in the title home straight, showed there was still a lot of work to be done.

Chelsea players celebrate scoring against Liverpool in 2014

After Rodgers' meek attempt at another title run resulted in a sixth-placed finish, what FSG needed was a manager for the long-haul. Someone who could add to the building blocks left behind by his predecessor rather than rip out the foundations, while installing a winning culture into a group of players who were testing as allergic to success.

In came Jurgen Klopp, in came the Gegenpress, and in came...Steven Caulker.

The big QPR defender wasn't exactly the most conventional of signings in a quiet first window for the German. But while FSG and head of recruitment Michael Edwards - the sporting director in charge of implementing a new recruitment strategy - were experimenting with ways to bring Moneyball to a new sport entirely, Klopp's initial focus was on making the best of what he had.

The results weren't immediate. An eighth-placed finish was as good as it got, but a run to the Europa League final hinted at things to come, and another 4-0 spanking of Everton in the league - courtesy of Divock Origi, Mamadou Sakho, Coutinho and Sturridge - showed what Klopp's high-pressing system was capable of producing.

Gegenpressing: A tactic made famous by Jurgen Klopp's Borussia Dortmund team between 2008-2015 in which a team, after losing possession of the ball, immediately attempts to win back possession, rather than falling back to regroup.

By 2016/17, FSG and their new recruitment strategy began to seriously up their batting average. With Klopp's input, the flow of expensive duds ceased, replaced with a slate of intelligent risks who would later pay off. Out went Christian Benteke, Mario Balotelli and Sakho and in came Sadio Mané, Georginio Wijnaldum and Joel Matip.

The handful of gems FSG had been able to uncover in previous windows - Roberto Firmino, Joe Gomez, even James Milner - began to thrive in a focused environment, as Klopp's team, spurred on by Europa League final heartbreak, grew hungrier by the week.

May 2017 saw the Reds return to the Champions League. July 2017 saw Liverpool complete their forward line with the arrival of Mohamed Salah. January 2018 saw Virgil van Dijk arrive and take a leaky defence by the scruff of the neck. In 2019, Liverpool won three major trophies, and in 2020, they will - undoubtedly - win their first league title in 30 years.

Next Sunday, Liverpool head to the blue corner of Merseyside for the ninth time since their 2010 humbling. They'll travel an unrecognisable team from that day, not a single first team player or coach having survived the revolution that has been underway ever since.

On that day in 2010, Liverpool left Goodison Park languishing the Premier League relegation zone, hopelessly looking to their new owners and calling for something - anything - to instigate major change.

It's been a long road ever since, but in 2020, they could leave Goodison Park as Premier League champions.

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Source : 90min