When Everton overcame Liverpool 1-0 in December 2004, with a performance which put them second in the table and set up the Champions League place which they secured at their neighbours' expense five months later, the Liverpool manager became popularly known on the blue half of Merseyside as "Rafael Beneath-us".
The same joke was being dusted off three weeks ago when Everton had seen off the threat of then European contenders Manchester City and Portsmouth inside a week but an unmistakeable air of tension has set in as they look to another derby which could define the race for fourth spot, tomorrow. It's not only the recent slip-ups – defeat at Fulham and a point at home to West Ham – which have lowered the Goodison spirits and handed Liverpool a two-point ascendancy, but the pressure borne of the fact that these days Everton are expected to prevail on these kinds of occasions.
"It is a different football club," Moyes said yesterday, looking back to his first derby. "We are looked at in a different light and there are signs Everton are moving in the right direction. We need to keep getting closer to the top teams if we can and we have been edging closer year in, year out."
But for all that, there has still been no win against the so-called big four this season, and the financial benefits of a Champions League place are as significant in Everton's quest to step into football's elite as they are crucial to Liverpool's desire to pay their American owners' debts and remain solvent.
David Moyes – taciturn, even by his own standards when talk of Champions League qualification came up yesterday – did acknowledge that qualification would have a pronounced effect both on finances and on the pursuit of new investors he considers critical to the club's evolution. "[The Champions League] is a hypothetical question at the moment but there is no doubt it would have a major impact on the club financially," he said. "Our first priority is to finish fifth at worst, so that we can at least get back into Europe again."
Moyes winced at the reminder that as the years roll by without the high rollers to let him add to his solitary big money buy – the £11m Yakubu Aiyegbeni – more clubs than ever are outspending him. His mood has not been improved by the fact that Tim Cahill's broken foot will keep him out for the rest of the season. "The squad is quite light at the moment," he said.
With no win at Anfield since Kevin Campbell struck in 1999, he can only hope that Yakubu – a goal away from becoming Everton's first 20-a-season man since Peter Beardsley 16 years ago, will prevail and that, with Liverpool's own European exertions perhaps handing him an advantage, a new financial destiny lies ahead.Reuse content