Sam Allardyce leaned back in his seat, a broad grin across his face.
As manager of relegation-threatened Crystal Palace, he’d just masterminded a victory at Liverpool and was determined to lap it up.
“With our limited possession, we exposed Liverpool’s weaknesses time and time again,” Allardyce said, almost chuckling.
“On corners, Liverpool are pretty weak,” he added. “They’ve conceded six off corners (that season). It’s now seven.”
It was classic “Big Sam,” reveling in outmaneuvering a bigger club and letting everyone know about it. Just like in 2014 when, after his West Ham team earned a 0-0 draw at Chelsea, Allardyce boasted that he’d “out-tacticed, outwitted” coaching counterpart Jose Mourinho.
That win for Palace over Liverpool was on April 23, and Allardyce remains the last visiting manager to leave Anfield with all three points in any competition.
He returns there on Sunday, this time as the new manager of an Everton side that has endured years of misery on its short trips across Stanley Park to play its neighbor.
Everton is without a victory at Anfield in this century. Its last victory was in 1999 when Kevin Campbell scored the winner in a typically frenetic derby featuring three red cards — including one for a young Steven Gerrard for a waist-high challenge — and an ugly punch-up between Liverpool goalkeeper Sander Westerveld and Everton striker Francis Jeffers.
The arrival of Allardyce has coincided with an upturn in form from Everton. He watched from the stands at Goodison Park, a day before being officially hired, as Everton beat West Ham 4-0. The team beat Huddersfield 2-0 in his first game in charge and won at Cypriot side Apollon Limassol 3-0 in the Europa League on Thursday, even though Allardyce didn’t attend that game because of a pre-arranged medical appointment back home.
A few weeks ago, Everton fans would have been dreading the thought of the derby. With Allardyce already working his magic and Everton back in mid-table, they have a glimmer of hope.
“Good organization. Clear structure. Set-pieces at the highest level,” Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp said on Friday when asked what his team should expect from Allardyce’s Everton on Sunday.
“Everyone knows how Sam Allardyce teams play football, in moments like this. He has all my respect, 100 percent.”
That despite Allardyce, when manager of Sunderland, calling Klopp a “soft German” after they became embroiled in a heated exchange on the touchline during Liverpool’s 1-0 win at the Stadium of Light in December 2015.
Klopp said just last week that he has “kind of a history” with Allardyce.
“One of the most experienced, if not the most experienced, managers in the Premier League,” Klopp added on Friday. “I played him now, when we meet on Sunday, in three different clubs already and I am only two years here. At each club, he did the job. Obviously, he is very successful and we know what we will get. That doesn’t make it easier, to be honest, because all Sam Allarydce teams are difficult to play.”
Gylfi Sigurdsson is in his best form since joining Everton from Swansea and, with his delivery from corners and free kicks, is set to play a key role on Sunday.
“He’s is born to deliver set-pieces,” Klopp said of Sigurdsson.
Allardyce should also continue with young striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin up front ahead of fellow striker Omar Niasse, who has more goals this season but isn’t as troublesome at set-pieces.
Most importantly, Allardyce will want to see his defense stand up to Liverpool’s exhilarating attack, which could again feature the “Fab Four” of Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino.
Everton hasn’t conceded a goal under Allarydce, who places much emphasis on getting his defense right first and foremost when joining a new club. Keeping up that record will be tough against a team that has racked up 15 goals in its last three games.
“If I was sat in his position with the players that he’s got, it’s a wonderful situation,” Allardyce said of Klopp.
“You can’t say, if we can block these one or two players off, we will stop Liverpool. It’s more than that at the moment, there’s four or five. That’s the hard bit for us. And also their finishing ability has increased.”
STEVE DOUGLAS, AP Sports Writer