Liverpool seek derby joy to stay in title race

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The Independent Online

This week's Arab strop and the impending arrival of a Texan fundraiser for George W Bush may have distracted from the third tumultuous event at Anfield this week, but they also compound a sense that the 205th Merseyside derby represents the last the city of Liverpool can claim as its own.

At the current rate of progress on the offer from Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jnr to purchase Liverpool for £170m, a proposal the sports tycoons discussed over dinner with the club chairman David Moores on Thursday, Anfield should be in American hands early next week. Unless any late obstacles appear, of course - and there have been a few during Liverpool's traumatic three-year search for new investment.

By the end of the season, Everton will have completed a feasibility study into a new stadium in Kirkby and may have announced an intention to move the city's oldest club outside its environs after a 129-year residency. The erosion of local foundations, and the acceptance of change under the banner of Premiership progress, is under way on both sides of Stanley Park.

Fortunately there will always be more prosaic matters that rise to the fore on derby day and that ensure rivalry rages long after boardroom accents or postcodes have changed. The dominant issue at Everton this morning is how Andrew Johnson's ankle responds to a fitness test; at Liverpool, the motivation is to avenge a 3-0 reverse at Goodison Park in September and to maintain the form that has brought nine wins in 10 League games and mention in the title race.

"Last time was a big disappointment for the fans and when you see them suffering you must suffer more because of that," recalled Rafael Benitez, the Liverpool manager, yesterday. "But this will be a different game and, if we do the right things, we will win.

"People say the derby is more important but it is still only three points," the Spaniard added. "We know the winners enjoy the result for the rest of the week and maybe until the next derby, but if we want to win titles it is not just about one game. Smaller clubs think they just have to win one game like this and they are happy, but we are thinking about winning trophies, not just one game. It's important to play with your heart and your head, but in this kind of game maybe it's important to use a little bit more of the brain."

Benitez is expected to resist the temptation to recall Mohamed Sissoko for a game that would suit his tenacious quality, following two months out with a dislocated shoulder, and is still awaiting a decision from the Premier League on whether Javier Mascherano can be registered to play this season, despite Fifa granting permission for the Argentine to leave West Ham United on Wednesday. A spokesman indicated that there would be no further progress on the matter until after the weekend.

For David Moyes, aiming to become the first Everton manager to enjoy a League double over Liverpool for 22 years, much will depend on the availability of his leading marksman, Johnson.

"He's close, but I'm not sure yet if he is close enough," said the Scot, whose analysis of the infrequency of Everton victories in this fixture will be strengthened by current events inside the boardroom at Anfield.

"We have not had enough victories in the past but we are playing against a side that operates in a different financial field to us," Moyes said. "You'd have to be stupid not to realise it is much harder for Everton than for Liverpool, but that is why we enjoy it more when we do win."

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