Everton v Liverpool has been more bruising than Blair v Brown and more rancorous than McCartney v McCartney in recent years, but the home manager in today's 204th Merseyside derby at Goodison Park, David Moyes, believes that Andy Johnson's scorching pace and predator's touch can help Everton avoid the frustrations that cost them dear in last season's meetings.
Everton's exasperation stemmed from a failure to translate ascendancy into goals against Liverpool. At Goodison last December, they had Phil Neville and Mikel Arteta sent off and four men booked. In March at Anfield, Andy van der Meyde was dismissed and seven players were cautioned. Liverpool won both matches - they have lost once in the past 13 collisions - yet Moyes is convinced that Johnson, his £8.6m summer signing from Crystal Palace, is the striker to turn the tide.
"Goalscorers and finishers are the key to winning tight games - and we've got one now," Moyes said yesterday. "Johnson has made a big difference. We certainly look a bigger threat. We lost the pace to run in behind defences when Tomasz Radzinski left, and we've got it back now. He has given an extra dimension; another weapon."
Moyes, who described the 1-0 victory over Liverpool in December 2004 as his most satisfying result since arriving at Goodison, talked of the 25-year-old Johnson as a "piece in the jigsaw". Was he the last piece? "No," he scoffed, adding boldly: "This is only the start."
Johnson made a cameo appearance for England in Macedonia on Wednesday, though Liverpool's Peter Crouch confirmed his status as the man of the moment after making it 11 goals in 10 internationals. While Moyes concedes that Crouch and Wayne Rooney are the "obvious choices" for their country, he is convinced the former Birmingham player has the ability to challenge for a place in Steve McClaren's starting XI.
"Johnson should be in and around the team if he keeps scoring," said the Scot. "They know what they'll get from him if they put him in. He has done enough to show he's worthy of being at Everton. Hopefully he can do the same with England."
Crouch, for all his rich form, may not actually start in a fixture that Rafael Benitez sought to play down as just another opportunity to collect points, yet which Everton's Tim Cahill described as "our Champions' League final".
The Liverpool manager hinted yesterday that he may rest the 6ft 7in forward after his exertions in Skopje. Benitez has an embarrassment of attacking riches, with Dirk Kuyt, Craig Bellamy and Robbie Fowler pressing for a place, and explained that he needed to weigh up whether it was better to use Crouch at 80 per cent of full fitness or Fowler at 100 per cent.
The Spaniard recalled that during his time at Valencia he asked four players who had just returned from playing for Spain to "tell me honestly" whether they felt sharp enough to face Atletico Madrid. All insisted they were, with calamitous consequences. The trouble with the derby, he added, is that everyone is so keen to play - including recent casualties Jamie Carragher and John Arne Riise - that they claim to be fit.
Intriguingly, Benitez admitted he had felt the need to pull Crouch to one side for a quiet talk after a summer in which he has become a national figure.
"I have had a chat with him, a small conversation where I said, 'Be careful now. It's important to keep your feet on the ground'. But he's clever - he knows how important it is to keep working hard at his game."
Benitez complained that the absence of so many players on international duty for the past fortnight had made it difficult to prepare adequately for today's confrontation.
"During the week it was impossible to practise properly. We trained with the reserve team and they did a good job, but it's not the same. How can you organise the full-backs if you have no defenders? We know they must play for their countries, but it's crazy when they go to play international friendlies."
Craziness, in terms of indiscipline, has played such a prominent part in the Merseyside derby, with Steven Gerrard also being shown a red card last season, that eyebrows were raised by the appointment of Graham Poll to referee today.
Moyes saw no problem. "I think he's a good referee. He made a small mistake [in the World Cup] when he booked the boy three times." Laughing at his own understatement, he said: "OK, a big mistake."
Benitez, meanwhile, put the onus on the players to improve their behaviour. "We will say to them: 'Use the brain as well as the heart. We need a mixture of intelligence and passion'."
* Liverpool have received the go-ahead to build a new stadium, clearing the way to leave Anfield after 114 years. City council leaders approved a 999-year lease on a slice of Liverpool's Stanley Park, where the club wants to build a 60,000-capacity stadium just 300 yards away from Anfield.Reuse content