It Is difficult to imagine a Merseyside derby that did not loom into view amid excited anticipation but the next one, at Anfield next month, is likely to generate an atmosphere even more feverish than usual.
Everton's bleak recent past - they have not finished ahead of Liverpool since they last won the title in 1987 - has tended to limit their interest in the occasion to bragging rights alone but this time, as David Moyes's team hangs on to fourth and the final Champions' League place, it is different.
Liverpool's win on Saturday kept them in touch with the prize but will that still be the case come 20 March? Between now and then, they meet Chelsea in the Carling Cup final and face Bayer Leverkusen over two legs in the Champions' League. There is time for only two Premiership games and both are away, at Birmingham and Newcastle.
Therefore, on derby day Liverpool might have much ground to make up - not an enviable prospect if their form remains inconsistent. Victory over Fulham was a third in a row but was hardly convincing enough to banish the memory of the dismal defeat at Southampton two weeks ago.
At least Fernando Morientes appears to be finding his feet and opened the scoring with a superb headed goal, his second in two matches. The manager, Rafael Benitez, also promised more from the former Real Madrid striker. "It was a long wait to sign him but he has been worth the wait," Benitez said. "He arrived here having not played for five months and now he is training every day, regaining his match fitness and he will get better.
"We needed a good target man and he has become that for us. He is good in the air, passes the ball well to the wings and is starting to link well with Milan Baros."
The goal might have been the cue for a superior performance from Liverpool. It did not happen, however. Andy Cole was given ample space to head an equaliser and the nervous tentativeness about the home side's play thereafter was disguised by Fulham's lapses. Poor defending at a free-kick allowed Sami Hyypia to head Liverpool back in front and when Baros drove home their third, Fulham had stopped in the hope that referee Rob Styles would halt play for a head injury to Pape Bouba Diop.
Benitez tried to be positive in assessing Liverpool's form but the Fulham manager, Chris Coleman, was unimpressed. "For all the possession they had, it wasn't as if Edwin [van der Sar] was pulling off save after save," he said. "I've seen Liverpool play better and to come away having lost 3-1 is disappointing."
Goals: Morientes (9) 1-0; Cole (16) 1-1; Hyypia (63) 2-1; Baros (77) 3-1.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Dudek; Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Traoré; Garcia, Gerrard, Biscan (Hamann, 65), Riise (Warnock, 89); Morientes, Baros (Smicer, 82). Substitutes not used: Pellegrino, Carson (gk).
Fulham (4-5-1): Van der Sar; Rosenior, Knight, Rehman, Bocanegra; Radzinski, Clark, Diop, Pembridge, Boa Morte; Cole. Substitutes not used: Crossley (gk), Legwinski, McBride, Jensen, Goma.
Referee: R Styles (Hampshire).
Booked: Liverpool Luis Garcia. Fulham Rehman, Diop, Pembridge, Van der Sar.
Man of the match: Morientes.
Attendance: 43,534.Reuse content