Dalglish wins bragging rights while Everton's focus slips

 

Kenny Dalglish's first full season back at Liverpool has resembled Rafael Benitez's first year at Anfield in that it has largely been played on the brink.

Until Andrei Shevchenko, his legs leaden with foreboding, squandered the last penalty in the European Cup final, Benitez's campaign had been a chaotic series of isolated highlights and deflating performances against ordinary opposition. The snatched glory of Istanbul gave it an altogether different veneer.

It was very easy to sneer at the public announcements advertising: 'Liverpool Football Club's special range of Carling Cup merchandise'. When a few years ago it was time for Manchester United to hand back the League Cup, they were not very sure precisely where at Old Trafford it was being kept.

For all Liverpool might be transforming their academy and doing the kind of commercial deals that would allow them finally to compete with United, Dalglish knows that football is about the getting of glory. There is something of the fundamentalist preacher when Dalglish talks of bringing back the old values to Anfield "each to each, everyone in it together" he said before the derby, laying out his vision of a club sustained by an old-time religion.

The Kop, with its banners celebrating Roger Hunt, Bob Paisley and Billy Liddell, is a congregation that wants fervently to believe.

 



Every time Liverpool have looked like they might stumble back into mediocrity and that the faith might flicker, they have produced a big win, whether against Manchester United in the FA Cup, Manchester City in the Carling Cup or victory in the Merseyside derby.

The Carling Cup provided a route back into Europe. Dalglish's old lieutenant, Roy Evans, once commented that a season without European football was like a banquet without wine. The Europa League is Piat d'Or rather than Chablis, but it is better than the prohibition they have had to endure.

The wins over Manchester City and Everton were coordinated by goals from Steven Gerrard, who is to Dalglish what Robin van Persie is to Arsène Wenger; the footballer who most epitomises his manager's ideals. When Gerrard scored the opener, he celebrated with the fervour of a man brought up on this fixture and its shades of meaning.

As the floodlights were turned on, Stanley Park, the space that divides Goodison Park and Anfield, was strewn with daffodils. Between 1981 and 1989, the years when the city of Liverpool was ground down between a Conservative Government and a council in thrall to Militant Tendency, the league title never left this patch of earth.

Then the Merseyside derby was Thatcherite England's gran clasico, occasions where titles were decided. Now, by making six changes to the side that overcame Tottenham, David Moyes suggested it was not even Everton's most important game of the week.

At first glance, it appeared strange, almost perverse. Today marks Moyes' 10th anniversary at Goodison Park and in that time he had never won at Anfield. Now, with Liverpool's form starting to sour, this surely was the hour and once more it slipped away.

However, Moyes said something else when discussing his 10 years. There had never been a trophy to show for it all. On Saturday Everton face Sunderland in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. A win at Anfield would have been sweet but the glory would have quickly faded. Victory over Sunderland might pave the way for something more lasting.

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