The latest instalment of the eternal rivalry between Everton and Liverpool is upon us on Sunday and, as so often is the case, the game means more than local bragging rights. Yet Premier League places and points are always obscured by the competition between the two clubs in the battle for Merseyside supremacy.
Whether Everton finish sixth or seventh is largely irrelevant. A few hundred thousand extra here or there would be nice but it’s not the sort of money that will make a difference to David Moyes’ transfer kitty. Likewise, the Europa League. Playing in Europe again would be welcomed, and Everton always take thousands of supporters across the continent, but ultimately if it’s not the Champions League then it can feel more hassle than it’s worth.
But finish above Liverpool? It may be parochial and it may be leave Everton open to accusations that the derby is their cup final, but it matters. And it clearly matters for Liverpool too. Raheem
Liverpool raise their game when Everton are the opposition. Too often, Everton lower theirs. No win at Anfield since 1999, a lifetime ago, under a different manager, one who never looked like taking the Toffees to the heights reached under Moyes. A cruel irony. Walter Smith, forever disappointed and always disappointing, has an away derby win from his time at Goodison Park but Moyes, the best, most successful manager since Howard Kendall’s mid-1980s peak, does not.
Brendan Rodgers’ side were stuck in mid-table when the sides first met this season. The prior league game saw Liverpool scrape past Reading, leaving them 11th at the final whistle. Everton were fourth, drawing with Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road the day after Liverpool hosted the Royals. There was a six-point gap between the teams, and Liverpool played Anzhi Makhachkala in between, and yet it was they who stormed out of the blocks at Goodison.
Luis Suarez was the difference. He drew the opening goal, forcing Leighton Baines to put into his own net, belly-flopping in front of Moyes in celebration, and then scored the second. Leon Osman and Steven Naismith equalised and stalemate was the final outcome. There was no separating them, despite the presence of Suarez, despite Everton’s loftier position. Liverpool played above themselves, Everton played below. The league table says Everton are the better side – and were last season, too – but you’d never know it from the derby games.
Liverpool won by a total of 5-0 over the two league meetings. Everton couldn’t even score. When they did net, in the FA Cup semi-final, it was as a result of a Liverpool defensive mix-up and even then, Liverpool scored two in return. But the league table – which, we’re told, doesn’t lie – had Everton four points and a place better off. They lost the battles but won the war.
It’s not really enough. Bragging rights depend on the individual games, the direct, head-to-head encounters. If Everton can really hope to claim local dominance – not to mention a European place – they need to go to Anfield and win for the first time in well over a decade. Easier said than done.
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