NICK BARMBY believes Everton will head into Sunday’s Merseyside derby as favourites, and has tipped the Blues to challenge for a Champions League qualification spot this season.
The former England winger famously sampled both sides of derby day in the city, spending four years with Everton before completing a controversial switch across Stanley Park to Liverpool in 2000.
And Barmby revealed the reasons behind that historic transfer, as well as giving his backing to Reds boss Brendan Rodgers.
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On Sunday’s Goodison derby, Barmby said: “It is probably the first time in a long time where Everton have been the favourites heading into the game.
“When I was at Everton, we relied on maybe one or two players in derby matches. Now they have so many good players, they can cause any team problems. They have some very, very good players.
“(Marouane) Fellaini’s fitness is important. He started the season on fire. We played against him two or three years ago with Hull City and he’s such a handful. His touch for a big man is first class, and he is a very good player.
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“Then there’s Leighton Baines, who is surely going to become the first choice left back for England very soon. They have some excellent players.
“In previous years they have had a strong first 11, but if they got injuries to key players then they struggled, but this time they have real depth.
“I actually think they can genuinely challenge for a Champions League place, I really do.
He added: “At Everton, we always went into derby matches with that underdog’s tag, and I suppose that can give you a bit of impetus, but maybe roles are reversed at the minute.
“Goodison always has been a tough place to go for any team. They haven’t been beaten at home since March, but Liverpool have a pretty good recent record in derbies, so it will be interesting. Something’s got to give on Sunday.”
Barmby is in the unusual position of having experienced both sides of the derby divide, and says the rivalry is the best around.
“Obviously there is a history of derby matches in just about every city, but for me Liverpool-Everton is the best one,” he said.
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“The atmosphere is incredible, whether the game is at Goodison or Anfield. You’ve got the rivalry, of course, but you still see the unique thing of families sitting together in certain sections of the crowd.”
Of his move from Everton to Liverpool, Barmby said: “I had four fantastic years at Everton. It’s a brilliant club, with great people. The fans are brilliant.
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"But I got to the final year of my contract at the club, and Liverpool came in. The lure of European football was so big for me. Playing in Europe was something I’d always wanted to do.
“I didn’t take the decision lightly. But to go and play in Europe, and for a club like Liverpool, was a huge lure.
“My hero growing up was Kenny Dalglish. And in my first year, we won all those trophies, which was fantastic for me. Throughout my career I never managed to win much, so to go to all those places and win all those cups, it shows that it was the right decision for my career.
“I get a lot of stick off Evertonians, but I would never say a bad word about the club.”
* Test your knowledge ahead of the big game with our bumper Merseyside derby quiz
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