Did somebody say there is a Merseyside derby today?

After a tumultuous week, it is easy to forget that things must change on the pitch for Liverpool and Everton, starting with today's 'relegation six-pointer' at Goodison.
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The Independent Football

For two weeks, the talk on Merseyside has been of owners, directors, lawyersand judges. This afternoon at Goodison Park, mercifully, those old codgers who insist against mounting evidence that "the game's about players" can sit back and watch the real performers go about their business.

Some of them will need to up their game, as the most cursory glance at the League table makes clear. The Merseyside derby is not normally spoken of in terms of a relegation six-pointer; when Everton and Liverpool both went into it in the bottom three, as long ago as 1899, a Second Division had only just come into existence (both escaped dropping into it).

There is a convincing argument that Liverpool's players have escaped close scrutiny because so much more attention has been paid to the High Court rather than the high ball into their box. The same might also be said about their new manager. Roy Hodgson, a picture of dejection after losing 2-1 at home to Blackpool in the most recent League fixture, cut a far brighter figure once the club's immediate future had been assured at the end of last week, the "cloud" over the club that he mentioned having been blown away by the trough of high pressure from Boston.

"The good thing for me will be that the new owners will be very logical people who'll have a very clear idea of what direction they want the club to go in and how they want the club to be run," he said. "To invest £300 million of your own money you need to be pretty serious about what you're going into. I don't want to imply criticism of the other people [Tom Hicks and George Gillett]. I didn't know them. All I know is that they weren't popular owners and that they desperately wanted out of the club. Now I've got someone who desperatelywants into the club – and that alone is a massive step forward."

The off-field shenanigans cannot be used as an excuse for dropping points, of course, and a resolution of ownership should not be expected to bring about any immediate change of fortune, at least until the next transfer window. What Hodgson has to believe is that he and the players can turn around Liverpool's worst start since 1953. "We've got to get better, the players know that, and every time I've heard them talk, they've held their hands up and said they're not happy with what they're doing and they think they can be better. But I'd beg a little bit of sympathy for them because we've got four to five new players and we're only a couple of months into the season.

"We didn't even get a pre-season, because of the World Cup. My pre-season was four weeks with the reserves and two weeks with the first team."

After 18 managerial appointments, Hodgson must have experienced just about everything there is to be known about walking into a new job. It may or may not be a consolation for Liverpool followers that his previous start, at Fulham, was even worse, with just one win in 10 League games; but that breadth of experience does mean he is unlikely to be spooked by the occasional arrogant claim that he is not a fit and proper person for "this great club of ours".

Any wildly optimistic hopes on the Kop about what the season might hold will also have to be toned down as the new man sets out a realistic target or two: "If I say, 'Don't worry, lads, we're going to win the League', I think the fans, who are quite bright up here and know their football, will think that's just a stupid statement to get them on my side. After seven games, I think the rebuilding process has just begun.

"The first thing we've got to do at the end of this season is look back on it with some degree of pride. To do that we've got to get certainly into the top echelons of the Premier League and we need a good run in the FA Cup."

Many Evertonians, of course, would be happy with a little ownership drama of their own. There has not been one since August 2004, when the front page of The Sunday Times trumpeted "New Russian tycoon to buy Everton". This, readers were told, would provide significant transfer funds and allow the club to keep their star player, Wayne Rooney. The following day, Boris Zingarevich denied any such intent and, a week later, Rooney was sold to Manchester United.

A more prophetic headline was the one in another newspaper two years ago in which Keith Harris, the banker charged with finding a buyer for the club, admitted that it would be "a struggle" to do so. So it has proved. The theatrical impresario Bill Kenwright has struggled on, as a sympathetic manager, David Moyes, has done; last summer Blackburn Rovers were the only Premier League club to spend less than Everton's £1.4m, which went on two young foreigners who have barelyfeatured in the first team, Magaye Gueye and Joao Silva.

The mood has nevertheless been more buoyant this week, not only because of Liverpool's tribulations but because of having taken into the international break a belated first victory of the season, inflicting Birmingham City's first home defeat in a year.

The Everton manager is torn between satisfaction at what has been achieved on limited funding and the wish to have some serious money of his own to spend, admitting: "I feel as if I'd enjoy that now.

"I would always like to work at a club which I think is balanced. I would hate to think that I was at a club who was spending what you didn't have. I would not live my own life that way, so I wouldn't expect a football club to live their life that way. But, to have a dabble in the market here and there, that would certainly be nice."

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