Football: Lean time behind Mersey slide: Derek Hodgson on the financial pressures on Liverpool and Everton that make today's matches critical for both

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NOW that the dust has begun to settle, along with the odd cobweb, in the foundations of the Premier League, it seems pertinent to ask what would have happened if television had not contributed pounds 304m to the launching costs? Money, or the sudden lack of it, is the root cause for the abrupt swing of power away from Merseyside and for the fact that the transfer market has virtually ceased.

But for the sums promised by the BBC and BSkyB it seems possible that several names more famous than Halifax Town and Doncaster Rovers would be calling in the receivers. The social consequences of a football failure on Merseyside would provide someone with the material for a PhD thesis.

For so long now, even on the bleakest nights in that raw maritime city, there was always consolation in knowing that Liverpool or Everton or both ruled English football. The docks have gone, the music has gone and now, seemingly, the football is going.

This could be the worst season for both clubs together since 1951, the last time both went out of the FA Cup in the third round; Everton were relegated that season, Liverpool escaped in the last match of 1952-53 but went down in 1954. Liverpool do, at least, have a posh new pounds 13m stand that makes Anfield, for the first time, the dominant stadium on Stanley Park. Everton cannot, it seems, even afford the now necessary re-building of parts of Goodison.

All is not yet lost but today's matches, Everton at home to a reviving Leeds and Liverpool away to Wimbledon, do have an ominous air, even though Liverpool can count on the experience of Mark Wright and Ian Rush back in their side. If both clubs lose today, can Howard Kendall and Graeme Souness survive the year, or even the season?

Neither manager is likely to be sacked, if only because both work for employers perceptive enough to realise that neither man has suddenly become a hapless manager, after a brilliant previous record, and that both have been prevented from carrying out their function of wheeling and dealing in transfers, because of a current lack of capital and the fact that the players of Everton and Liverpool are so well cared for that they would prefer, by and large, to stay in the reserves rather than move on.

A lean time is not necessarily a bad thing for the body as a whole. The inability of most bigger clubs to force up transfer prices has meant that others such as Norwich and Ipswich, who manage sensibly on a limited budget, and Blackburn, who have a benefactor capable of buying the entire League, have remained in contention.

Aston Villa have made their splash and now have to live up to the noise and the excitement, while the purists are pleased that Queen's Park Rangers and Crystal Palace, who by and large have to nurture their own, are both threatening to capture some silverware. Yet the conclusion drawn on these pages on Monday, that it is difficult to see how Manchester United will be prevented from completing their first League and Cup Double, could have been conclusively reinforced by 4.45 this afternoon.

Blackburn, who must now learn to live without Alan Shearer's goals at a critical point in the season, could easily fall at Oldham; the Latics' whirlwind attacking style makes a visit to Boundary Park as comfortable as sitting on a wasps' nest. Arsenal, the gunners who tend to blow up their own ammunition train, are in grave danger at Manchester City.

Souness, who played in four of Bob Paisley's six championship teams, has promised that his players will take the field at Selhurst Park with a considerable noise in their ears: 'I'm saying the same things that were said to me as a player, so I know they are correct. It's how they respond to them. Wimbledon push you to the limit. They will fight for every ball, which is something we have been guilty of not doing.' Kendall admitted: 'Every game is a big game now. We have to try to take it on from our win at Palace.'

Rangers have failed in their attempt to sign Gordon Durie, the Tottenham striker, ahead of Uefa's transfer deadline for the next phase of European Cup matches. The Scottish champions' final offer of pounds 1.5m was rejected by Terry Venables, Tottenham's chief executive, as too low.

Joe Lovejoy on Neil Webb,

Football Diary, Team news, page 50

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