Wayne Rooney has named the best Everton and Liverpool teams from players he played with and against during his illustrious career ahead of the huge Merseyside derby on Sunday night.
Jurgen Klopp’s side can move one step closer to winning a first domestic league title for the Reds in 30 years at Goodison Park but the Toffees have aspirations of making a late bid for a European place.
Rooney played against Liverpool numerous times during his stints with boyhood club Everton and bitter rivals Manchester United and was asked to select a best 11 from both sides in his column in The Times.
There were some tough selection calls to be made, including straight away in the Everton goal with Rooney torn between Nigel Martyn and current stopper Jordan Pickford.
Deciding between the pair, Rooney selected the ex-Leeds and Crystal Palace veteran, saying: ‘Martyn was good but it was at the end of his career when I played with him.
‘To date, Jordan Pickford’s international career has probably been better than his club one but he is excellent with his feet and has good all-round skills. He has made mistakes but will cut them out in time.’
Rooney then picked two of his more recent team-mates in the full-back positions, going for Leighton Baines down the left and current club captain Seamus Coleman on the right.
In the heart of defence he went for two players who formed an impressive partnership during the best days under David Moyes, choosing Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin.
He selected Thomas Gravesen at the base of his midfield, the hard-nosed Dane who Rooney admits may have ‘lacked discipline’. Alongside him though was a player from his latest spell at Goodison Park: Idrissa Gueye.
The former England captain believes he would have been good enough to sign for Manchester United, saying: ‘Everyone talks about his tackling and energy but what surprised me was his quality on the ball — he always looked to play it forward and to your feet.
‘After a month playing with him I spoke to people at Manchester United saying he was good enough for them. I wasn’t shocked when Paris Saint-Germain signed him.’
Rooney went for a 4-2-3-1 formation and chose to deploy Tim Cahill and Steven Pienaar down the flanks with Marouane Fellaini in the No 10 role. The Belgian came in for a lot of criticism when he moved from Everton to United, which Rooney says must have been ‘hard’.
He added: ‘He was an absolute handful. He didn’t mean to, but he’d always catch you with a knee or elbow; he scored goals, was always threatening and never got the credit he deserved.
‘He was such a nice person and when he was getting stick at Manchester United it was hard for him. I admired the character he showed to get through that and win fans round a bit.’
That just leaves Everton’s sole striker. Rooney unselfishly didn’t go for himself and instead picked Inter Milan star Romelu Lukaku.
While Rooney says it was hard to leave out club legend Duncan Ferguson, he believes the Belgian is ‘the best goalscorer Everton have had in the last 20 years’.
He said: ‘His link-up play isn’t the best but he just scores and with his power was another like Fellaini who, when he was on it, was almost impossible to play against.
‘I know the fans will expect me to choose Duncan, and as good as he was and as much as I loved him as a player, I cant ignore Lukaku. His goalscoring for Everton was phenomenal.’
During his 16 years at the top of English football, Rooney played against Liverpool several times but his team largely consists of players from recent years or in Klopp’s current squad.
Two of those were his first selections in Alisson and Virgil van Dijk, signings Rooney believes were the catalyst for the Reds’ summit to the top of the domestic and European game.
Alongside the Dutchman is Jamie Carragher, who Rooney admits was never afraid to leave his foot in during a heated contest with United or Everton.
He said: ‘It was between him and Sami Hyypia but Carra’s leadership was key. Stevie Gerrard was Liverpool’s captain but I imagine Carra was captain alongside him — in the dressing room and on the pitch.
‘I still have a few scars off Carra. I always thought “if you get the chance to go through Carra or Stevie then take it”, because you knew if they had the same chance, they wouldn’t hesitate to leave one on you.’
Either side of Carragher and Van Dijk are Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, the men who are so crucial to the success of Klopp’s team.
In front of them are a midfield pairing of Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso, whose passing technique Rooney admits he would try to mimic during training at Manchester United.
Again opting for a 4-2-3-1 formation, Rooney went with the current front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane in support of the lone striker. He was full of praise for the ‘Egyptian King’ and drew comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo.
Rooney said: ‘Mo Salah is starting to do what Ronaldo did for Manchester United, in terms of just being there and not really getting back to defend but always being a threat so that if you’re a defender or midfielder playing against him.
‘You’re terrified of him on the counterattack.’
That leaves just Liverpool’s striker. There was no place for Fernando Torres with Rooney selecting Luis Suarez and he offered more gushing praise on the Uruguayan, writing: ‘Luis Suarez, for me, is one of the best strikers in Premier League history.
‘I know he wasn’t there long but he was the start of a change in mentality in Liverpool, bringing passion and fight — and maybe nastiness sometimes — but certainly a winning edge.
He was a great goalscorer and I loved watching him.’
Reported by: Vincent Paul