When David Moyes settles down in the away dugout this afternoon, it will be his 600th game as a manager. And not one of those 600 has been a victory at Anfield.
So much has changed, at least on the pitch, since Moyes drove to Everton from Preston, thinking up the phrase: "the people's club" in the car, that it is strange to think there are gaps in his CV.
No silverware, no away win at a "Big Four" club, no victory at Anfield. And yet, had they capitalised on the quickest-ever goal in an FA Cup final, they would probably have beaten Chelsea. Had Tomas Rosicky not scrambled a desperately late-equaliser at the Emirates last month, Everton would have overcome Arsenal and they would have deserved to. When Moyes last encountered Liverpool, in November, Everton were a few points from the relegation zone.
To general embarrassment at Anfield, both clubs will charter flights for the Europa League later this month; Liverpool bound for Bucharest and Everton for Lisbon. In Europe, they are equals of sorts. In the Premier League, although the enemy are not quite at the Shankly Gates, they are drawing closer.
You can see the difference on the Everton bench. On their lowest night of the season, the 5-0 rout by Benfica at the Stadium of Light, Moyes was able to field one striker and had a string of youth team players alongside him in the dugout. On the bench this afternoon, he could turn to Mikel Arteta, the inspiration behind Everton's drive to fifth place and Wembley last season, Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, Yakubu and Victor Anichebe.
"I think that is why we have improved, the additional competition for places, with all the players coming back from injury," he said. "I wish they had done it earlier." He said he would try to enjoy his match as if it were his first, although he would hope not to repeat the result – a 3-1 defeat at Watford.
Nobody contemplating Liverpool's erratic zig-zag through the season can be confident of denying Moyes. It is, however, one of the keys to Rafael Benitez's survival at Anfield that he usually wins the games that matter. Since Fernando Torres helped undo Hull 6-1 in September, Liverpool have won just seven times. Yet those victories include ones over Manchester United, two of their rivals for the final Champions League berth, Aston Villa and Tottenham – and Everton.
It is hard for a foreign manager to appreciate the nuances of an English derby. Before the match at St James' Park that would seal his fate, Ruud Gullit claimed Newcastle against Sunderland did not count as a derby because they came from different cities. He resigned three days after losing it.
Yesterday, Benitez was asked what might be the equivalent of the Merseyside derby in La Liga. He nominated the contest between Seville and Real Betis. "Because they are in the same city and, usually, they are in the same division. The rivalry was really big." And yet on the blue half of the Mersey, it is not the Seville derby but Real Madrid against Barcelona. Like Sir Alex Ferguson, who understood on his arrival at Old Trafford in 1986 that Liverpool and not a Manchester City careering towards another relegation was the real foe, Everton know their enemy. For Benitez it was first Jose Mourinho and then Ferguson rather than Moyes.
For someone like Jamie Carragher, brought up a blue but who says he "now epitomises the enemy" the derby is everything. "I struggle to sleep before most big games but this is the worst," he said. "There is always that extra anxiety that comes from fear of losing."
Benitez's most vivid memories of a Merseyside derby come from his first season, when Everton won the battle for fourth place but Liverpool, rather more tellingly, won the European Cup.
"Nobody knew we would win the Champions League so playing against Everton when we were fighting for fourth was massive," he said. "It was very difficult for me as a new manager. In the first game we conceded when Lee Carsley scored from outside the box. We were much better in the following years. Now it will be tough, it will be difficult and very important."
Benitez and Moyes have been facing each other for six years now, the longest managerial rivalry on Merseyside since Bill Shankly learnt how to get under Harry Catterick's skin. The great Everton manager, as reserved as Shankly was brash, thought the Scot a naked publicity seeker. In the 1960s they shared championships and FA Cups, if little else.
Moyes and Benitez appear glacially distant and the glee in the throat of the announcer whenever a Liverpool defeat is relayed at Goodison is palpable. Benitez's comments that Everton were a small club for coming to Anfield with the purpose of forcing a goalless draw a couple of years ago stung.
The image of the "Friendly Derby" was a myth to anyone who witnessed Everton fans screaming "murderers" after the Heysel disaster but Benitez will welcome Moyes into his office at full time, something he would not do with Ferguson. "I always go to his room," he said. "I don't see any problems between us. We both have to defend our club and defend our team – that is our jobs."Reuse content