Jamie Carragher says Wayne Rooney is integral to Everton’s hopes of knocking Merseyside rivals Liverpool out of the FA Cup.
The Toffees go to Anfield on Friday night for arguably the tie of the third round – four weeks after Rooney blasted home a penalty to earn his side a 1-1 draw in the teams’ Premier League meeting across Stanley Park.
That equaliser was Rooney’s third top-flight goal on Reds’ turf – the 32-year-old having twice struck the only goal of the game for former team Manchester United at the home of Liverpool.
Indeed, Rooney won five and drew three of his 11 league matches for United at Anfield – and twice skippered the Old Trafford club to victory at the ground.
And with first-hand experience of the former England captain’s big-match pedigree – having been directly on the receiving end of three home defeats by a Rooney-inspired United – former Liverpool defender Carragher expects his old nemesis to lead by both deed and example this week.
“Wayne Rooney is massively important for Everton, because he will have the belief he can go to Anfield and win,” Carragher told evertontv.
“He scored winners there for Manchester United… had plenty of wins there for Manchester United – I was playing in plenty of those games!
“He is the one who will believe when he goes there. That has been a criticism in the past – that Everton have not believed [when playing at Liverpool] because it has been so long since they won at Anfield.
“In Wayne Rooney, you have a player now who will be trying to spread that belief throughout the team that they can go there and get a result.
“And on the back of the draw under Sam Allardyce, he will believe he can go there and win, too. Sam won there with Crystal Palace [2-1 in April], so I am sure he will put that belief into the players.”
Everton fell behind to Mohamed Salah’s goal shortly before half-time last month but refused to buckle under a wave of Liverpool pressure.
And the Blues' obduracy was rewarded when Rooney’s precise, lofted pass released Dominic Calvert-Lewin into the hosts’ box, where the striker was felled by centre-back Dejan Lovren.
Carragher offered some tongue-in-cheek comments on Everton’s tactics after Rooney converted from 12 yards to earn his side a point.
But the 39-year-old, a boyhood Evertonian who played more than 700 matches for Liverpool during a 17-year Anfield career, admits Toffees boss Allardyce’s approach was vindicated by the outcome.
And with that Premier League encounter so fresh in the memory, Carragher is anticipating another ferociously-contested tussle when the sides renew hostilities.
“I have been critical of Everton in derby games, certainly at Anfield – at times you have watched them and felt they have been beaten before the game has kicked off,” said Carragher.
“But that certainly was not the case this time. They made it very difficult for Liverpool.
“There was criticism of how Everton set up but it is difficult to be critical when you get the result. As Sam came off, he had the point.
“Liverpool and Manchester City are scoring more goals than anyone in the league, so to restrict them to one goal – and it was a great goal to be fair to Salah – and go away with the point was huge.
“For Big Sam, going to Anfield and getting a result so soon after joining bodes well for his future relationship with the fans.
“Liverpool fans, me included, expected to beat Everton – they normally expect to win at Anfield – and this will be no different. And the Liverpool fans will be even more desperate for a derby result because it did not go the way they wanted in the league game.
“It hinges on which teams will be put out in the FA Cup. But Everton are looking a lot safer in the Premier League now and Sam has said a big target for him is to win a trophy at Everton, so I am sure he will put out his strongest team.
“The big decision is for Jurgen Klopp. He did not [field his strongest side] in the league game and does he see the FA Cup as inferior to the Premier League? He possibly does.
“It will be interesting and I am sure the Liverpool fans will be urging him to put out his best XI.”
Carragher was in the Liverpool team beaten at Goodison Park in the FA Cup fourth round nine years ago.
As is the case this season, Everton were drawn away against the Reds in the 2009 competition. And after the first match ended all-square, midfielder Dan Gosling dramatcially scored deep into extra time to settle the replay in the Toffees' favour.
“The FA Cup games were huge for me,” said Carragher. “We did not rest players – we played our strongest side in both games. I remember the 1-1 at Anfield – and we drew a league game [1-1] a few days before that match as well.
“Then we came here and Everton scored the famous goal that no one saw – the TV company had cut it out. That is what I try to do: cut it out of my brain and forget it! It was a big night for Everton, of course.
“They do not have to win at Anfield. They can get the draw and a replay – and you would fancy them a lot more at Goodison.
“It is difficult [to win at Liverpool]. Not many sides are going to Anfield and winning – some top sides have been there and not managed it, even in the Champions League.
“It is not easy. I understand where Sam is coming from and how he sets up. Liverpool have great attacking options and Everton have to nullify those – it is what they can do going forward [which will determine if Everton can win].
“But with the form of Rooney, and Gylfi Sigurdsson now starting to show the player we all saw at Swansea, then you are looking at those two players – and Calvert-Lewin, who got the penalty... can they produce something in the FA Cup?
“If Everton are a bit more adventurous, maybe those players can get on the ball more, create a little bit more and be more of a threat going forward.”