Michael Keane is relishing the prospect of fulfilling a long-held ambition by playing in Friday night’s FA Cup Merseyside derby.
Centre-back Keane had his first taste of the fixture when he watched from the bench as Everton drew a highly-charged Premier League match across Stanley Park last month.
But after starting and finishing each of the Toffees' past four games, the 24-year-old hopes he will be in the thick of the action when the Blues return to Anfield for the third-round tie this week.
The two teams last met at Liverpool in the Cup in 2009, when Toffees defender Joleon Lescott’s goal was cancelled out by Steven Gerrard.
But it was Everton who ultimately came out on top, after substitute Dan Gosling skilfully placed the ball into the Park End net with a frantic replay in its final knockings and seemingly destined to be settled by penalties.
Now Keane – who has had excellent fellow summer signing Jordan Pickford behind him on all of his 16 top-flight matches for the Blues – is eager to play his own part in derby history.
“I am massively looking forward to it,” Keane told evertontv. “I was gutted not to play in the first one but I understood why.
“It is something I really want to do… I will be raring to go.
“Jordan is in great form. He is making vital saves for us and his kicking is really good as well. He has been brilliant all season and hopefully he can keep that up.
“He talks to you a lot, which is what you want. He is a bit of a leader back there, shouting at us when we have got runners coming behind us and things like that, so it is great to have someone like him behind us.”
Keane has been joined in the middle of defence at various junctures this term by Phil Jagielka, Ashley Williams and Mason Holgate.
He was partnered by Wales skipper Williams for Monday night’s encounter with former club Manchester United, when Sam Allardyce made a raft of changes from the previous match at Bournemouth.
And with the Blues emerging from a Premier League programme that compelled them to play nine matches in 34 days, manager Allardyce is promising to freshen up his side again for this week’s local skirmish.
England international Keane insists he is comfortable operating alongside any of his fellow British defenders. And the ex-Burnley player, who helped shutout Liverpool in the Turf Moor club’s 2-0 victory over the Reds early last term, echoed Allardyce’s rapturous verdict on James McCarthy following the midfielder’s zesty cameo outing in the meeting with United earlier this week.
Irishman McCarthy returned from a 10-month Premier League absence to play the opening half of the Bournemouth match last Saturday, before continuing his comeback with 28 minutes from the bench against Jose Mourinho’s side.
“I thought James was brilliant when he came on,” said Keane. “He got stuck in, got the crowd up for it and looked to play forward.
“He made a difference when he came on – for 15 minutes we were on top of them but just could not find the breakthrough: that final pass, where we have been struggling lately. Then the second goal was a killer for us, but I thought James was brilliant.
“I am getting used to playing alongside different people. The manager is switching it up and I am enjoying playing with whoever I play with.
“Jags and Ash have got a lot of experience so they are easy to play with and Mason has been in good form as well. I am enjoying it.”