David Moyes was consumed by the unpredictable spirit of the Merseyside derby yesterday, the Everton manager calling for cool heads at Liverpool while ruminating on a recall for Duncan Ferguson now that his combustible compatriot has completed the seven-match suspension he collected for punching not one but two Wigan players at the JJB Stadium in January. Both Moyes and his Liverpool counterpart, Rafael Benitez, however, have reason to hope the 203rd contest goes true to current form at Anfield this afternoon.
This afternoon's meeting between the Merseyside rivals has been billed as a contest to decide which former Southampton striker should be included in Sven Goran Eriksson's World Cup squad this summer, Peter Crouch or the resurgent James Beattie, when, in the England manager's mind, that debate appears already decided. More accurately, this is a meeting between two of the Premiership's most confident teams and it illustrates Everton's dramatic transformation this year that, unlike the competition to become England's "interesting option", the outcome is much harder to predict.
Home advantage and history supports the claim of Liverpool, who have not lost a local derby on home soil since 1999 and appear to have solved this season's one persistent problem with 15 goals in their last three games, albeit against the woeful defences of Fulham, Newcastle and Birmingham. "Both teams are playing with confidence and perhaps it might be our supporters that makes the difference," Benitez said. Yet their rivals have collected more points than any other Premiership team in 2006 and make the short trip across Stanley Park with genuine designs on qualifying for the Uefa Cup. "I would have had to have laughed if someone had told me that after we last played Liverpool," Moyes said.
On 28 December Liverpool strolled to a 3-1 victory at Goodison Park that heightened Everton fears of relegation and exposed the lack of discipline that has often handicapped Moyes' teams on this occasion. Phil Neville and Mikel Arteta were dismissed during that reverse, bringing the red card total in this fixture to five in five games, with only one shown to a Liverpool player. "That night showed all the frustrations we were feeling," Moyes added. "More importantly, it showed how the players were feeling. They were disappointed with how things were going and rightly so. I agree we crossed the line last time and that we need to show the discipline of the previous Goodison derby [when Moyes claimed his only derby victory] when we go to Anfield."
Moyes' priorities could therefore count against Ferguson's prospects of a recall, with a place on the bench the best he can expect. One Everton colleague declared the Scot was "chomping at the bit" to face Liverpool, against whom he scored his first goal for the club in 1994 and has often reserved his finest displays.