Leading Everton into my first Merseyside derby this weekend is extra special. I have been involved in many derbies during my managerial career, but this is a unique football fixture in terms of the history and atmosphere that surrounds it.
Naturally, I am acutely aware of just how important this game is for all Evertonians and my job, as manager of this great football club, is to do everything within my power to ensure the players are fully prepared and ready to give their best on the pitch.
For me, the key to success is being able to handle the pressure that comes with a match and occasion of this magnitude.
Liverpool are probably in their best form since Jurgen Klopp arrived at the club, and they also boast one of the best strike forces around.
But we head to Anfield in a positive frame of mind, having won our last three games and having kept three clean sheets. We believe that if we play to our capabilities we can get the positive result that would mean so much to our supporters.
The coaching staff have spent the last week working hard on the training ground, instilling some of the basics we believe in about team play – how we affect each other’s game, how we live or die by our teamwork, how we work for each other, in and out of possession. And when we keep the ball, why are we keeping the ball?
It’s a case of imparting information in small doses, so it’s retained and I have to say the players’ attitude and willingness to take what we have been saying on board has been really impressive.
The job of the manager and his coaching staff is to offer guidance so the players do the right things, at the right time, and in the right areas.
Out of possession, how do we frustrate Liverpool and keep their fans quiet? Can we bring the tempo of the game down? How can we impose ourselves on the opposition so we pose them problems?
Liverpool are high on confidence after scoring five against Brighton last weekend, and then seven against Spartak Moscow in the Champions League on Wednesday night, playing one-touch and two-touch football. But they can be stopped.
What we simply must not do is play into Liverpool’s hands. If they do a high press, for instance, then why are we going to play out from the back? Our game plan will be about playing in the right areas, and playing the right way when we are in possession.
We succeeded in doing that when I was manager of Crystal Palace last season, coming from behind to win, and we will need to show similar determination and discipline if we are to serve up a repeat.
This is a one-off game and, whilst there is no denying Liverpool are playing well at the moment, it’s a local derby where anything can happen. All we can ask of the players is to give their best, play their best game and let’s see where it takes us.
After three straight wins and three clean sheets, the mood in the camp is really buoyant.
The staff work hard to create the right environment at the training ground. We want to see smiles about the place, although at the right times we need to be serious in training.
We head to Anfield in a positive frame of mind, having won our last three games and having kept three clean sheets. We believe that if we play to our capabilities we can get the positive result that would mean so much to our supporters.
As a manager of many years, you can feel it when you come into a football club and you can feel if you are moving in the right direction.
The last three results have been a massive boost for me and the rest of the staff and that has helped us to settle in more quickly than expected.
If we could manage to make it four wins on the bounce, it would put smiles on the faces of everyone in the blue half of Merseyside.