What a difference a year makes. In 2009 the Merseyside derby represented emerging opportunities for both Liverpool clubs, and all four encounters (two in the league, two in the FA Cup) produced gritty football. Ultimately Liverpool drove deep into Europe and pushed Manchester United all the way to the Premier League finish line, while Everton capped another successful campaign by reaching the FA Cup Final and finishing fifth in the league.
This time around the situation could not be more different. Both clubs are in free-fall, as Rafael Benitez’s Liverpool crashed out of the Champions League this week while Everton are sitting in the second half of the table. Liverpool’s financial and on-field woes have been well-documented, but Everton’s struggles are just as surprising. Usually a model of Premier League consistency, David Moyes’ men are coming off of a 3-0 league loss at Manchester United and the club’s ambitions for a new £400 million stadium in Kirkby have been quashed. Moreover, the club has been destabilized through transfer and injury, and the downtrodden side has managed to accumulate a mere 15 points in 2009.
There are more compelling matches being played in England this weekend, most notably Arsenal against Chelsea and Tottenham away to Aston Villa in a contest that will be crucial in the race for fourth place. Yet the Liverpool-Everton rivalry is a staple of English football, and despite the lackluster performances of both sides this season a win in this match will breathe life into a decaying campaign.
For Liverpool three points are essential if the crestfallen giants are to truly compete with City, Villa, and Spurs for Champions League qualification. Steven Gerrard and company may find themselves playing Europa League football at the moment, but if they wish to avoid this trend in 2010 the red half of Merseyside will have to do the business against their Stanley Park neighbors.
However, this will be no easy task. Everton routinely play Liverpool well, particularly at Goodison Park where the Toffees are always capable of finding a late goal. Midfield battles will be crucial, and with both units hit by injury someone will have to step up and link with attack. With kickoff only hours away fans of both clubs are anxious with anticipation, as a loss could truly halt 2009-2010 Premier League success for either Liverpool side.