Local rivals Liverpool and Everton living in different worlds as future of derby hangs in the balance

With quadruple-chasing Liverpool hosting relegation-threatened Everton at Anfield - the outcome of the Merseyside derby has rarely been more important at either end of the table

Klopp - 'Of course I would' miss local rivals Everton if they were relegated

Roger Hunt picked himself up off the Goodison Park turf, both arms up in celebration. It was the first Merseyside derby for the best part of eight years - the first in the league for almost 12 - and the future World Cup winner scored a last-minute goal to ensure Liverpool took a point back across Stanley Park. That 2-2 draw in 1962 came in front of a crowd of 73,000. It helped promoted Liverpool settle back into the old Division 1 and begin a run of 60 consecutive top-eight finishes. The dropped point – as it then was – did not prevent Everton from becoming champions.

That renewal of a rivalry has started to assume a different kind of significance. There are older derbies, though, as they first met in 1894, not many. But there are none in England which have appeared on the fixture list every season for the last six decades. Since Bill Shankly took Liverpool up, neither they nor Everton have been promoted or relegated. Sunday will bring up 120 league derbies in 60 years. “It comes around twice a year,” said Frank Lampard. It has, anyway.

The 240th Merseyside derby might be the last for a while. It would leave a void. “I know what it means to so many people in the city and the supporters and clubs and this game is like a symbol of that,” said Lampard, who is preparing to experience his first. Jurgen Klopp would miss it, and not just because he has only lost once to Everton. “Of course,” he said, and not merely because of the undiplomatic caveat that: “I don’t know where we would be without the points against Everton.” More meaningfully, he noted: “We are used to the two clubs in the city [playing each other] and that is how it is. Usually the week before we play, all the talk is about the derby.”

Maybe Manchester United spared Everton other scrutiny. The unflattering comparisons with Liverpool this week have instead been drawn with their other major historic rivals when they were thrashed 4-0 at Anfield. If Everton have become Merseyside’s answer to United – spending too much, achieving too little – now the stark contrasts between red and blue are unavoidable.

Liverpool could win four trophies this season. Everton have only won four league games since the end of September. In 2022, Liverpool have triumphed at San Siro, the Estadio da Luz and Wembley. Everton have not even got a point on the road. Pep Guardiola has called Liverpool one of the best teams in history. Everton may go down as one of the worst in theirs, certainly statistically. They have outspent Liverpool during Farhad Moshiri’s ownership, which coincides with Klopp’s management of Liverpool. Some £550 million later, they are separated from their neighbours by half a mile and 47 points. They could enter next season as Champions League winners and Championship newcomers.

They occupy the same part of the same city and, increasingly, different planets. “The reality is we are coming up against one of, if the not, the top team in the world,” Lampard reflected. Everton are English aristocracy, Liverpool a global superclub. For a long time, though, they were the club with more derby wins. In 1985, they dethroned Liverpool to become champions. A year later, Liverpool pipped Everton. There were two all-Merseyside FA Cup finals and a League Cup final between the two halves of Merseyside in the 1980s. They made a huge impression on a football-obsessed boy. They represented the pinnacle, the role models.

Mohamed Salah scored twice in a 4-1 win at Goodison in December

“I was around seven years of age when Everton were winning league titles,” Lampard recalled. “And I remember being a West Ham fan. It was a good period for them in the mid-80s; in 1985-86, they had a chance of being around the [title] race. And for a young boy growing up a West Ham fan in Essex, it felt like there was a mystique and the level of the Liverpool clubs and there was a huge difference, a huge gap.

“It was a great era for football. I remember going to watch Liverpool play and going: ‘Wow, it’s Kenny Dalglish.’ I remember watching people like [current director] Graeme Sharp, who obviously I work a bit with now and Andy Gray and that incredible aggressive but quality Everton team and everything they created around it.

“So it was a big part of my thinking. It was part of the nostalgia when I got this job was understanding the size and history of the club so it was a big deal for me growing up. It was a great era for both the Liverpool clubs.”

Lampard is the newcomer with an insight into Everton. “I understand it is a club steeped in history, that families and generations adore the club,” he said. Illustrations come everywhere. Lampard cited a chance meeting with a lady on the King’s Road in London, while having lunch with his wife, a couple of days after Everton beat Manchester United. “Evertonians have come out of everywhere so that has not been a reminder, I am aware of the size of this club, but it makes you proud.”

Making them proud is altogether harder. This has become a one-sided rivalry. Evertonians have not seen their side win at Anfield since 1999; Carlo Ancelotti’s 2-0 victory there last year came behind closed doors. Yet Everton’s plight means that there are still greater considerations. “If we were sitting in eighth or tenth I could think about what this might mean,” added Lampard. “I could walk through the blue half of the city and it would be great the next day. At the moment, I am just thinking about the points.”

Lampard must attempt to overturn Everton’s dismal away form at Anfield

Klopp argued: “I can’t remember when it was not important for both.” Yet it has rarely been more important at either end of the table; he referenced Everton’s worsening predicament. “I think the situation is becoming more and more difficult because of results, when Rafa [Benitez] was there, there was still some distance between Everton and the relegation zone and that has nothing to do with the way they played, it was just the way it developed. Obviously they have had some real injury problems this year, too. Obviously if you lose Dominic Calvert-Lewin or cannot use him for nearly a whole season, that is a massive blow. He is one of the best strikers in England, for sure.”

But at times, he has been able to win without some of his own best players. Shankly’s old witticism that the two best teams on Merseyside were Liverpool and Liverpool reserves has acquired a truth. Everton were knocked out of the FA Cup by a glorified youth side in January 2020. The current Liverpool forward with most derby goals is not Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino or Sadio Mane but the perennial back-up Divock Origi. There is the chance Klopp will rest some of his premier players for a Champions League semi-final against Villarreal and still pick a side Everton can only envy. “It is a team that has just put four past Manchester United,” Lampard said. “It is an incredible team, an incredible squad with options.”

Liverpool and Everton once dominated English football but this is now a one-sided rivalry

Everton’s attempts to stop them have encompassed the illegal. Virgil van Dijk’s 2020-21 season was ended prematurely by an awful challenge from Jordan Pickford last season. Thiago Alcantara was out for 10 weeks after a lunge that brought a red card for Richarlison. “I love intensity and physicality in football but there is a rule book and make sure we all stick to that and don’t go over the top,” Klopp counselled. Lampard concurred, while citing different reasons. “To get a result at Anfield is difficult enough,” he said. “With 10 men, it is nigh-on impossible.”

Liverpool have found more legitimate ways of inflicting pain on Everton. Roberto Martinez’s demise was hastened by a 4-0 loss at Anfield, Marco Silva sacked the day after a 5-2 defeat to a weakened Liverpool team. As they could be on Sunday, Everton were in the relegation zone then. They had dropped more points at Anfield than Liverpool had dropped anywhere that season. In December, Benitez’s name was chorused by supporters as Liverpool won 4-1 at Goodison: by the Liverpool fans, that is.

Enter Lampard, who has had many a duel with Liverpool as player and manager but is unburdened by history in this fixture. Given the gap, his praise for Liverpool is uncontroversial. “I am talking as a realist and the reality is if you watch Liverpool, particularly their recent form, nobody watching the first half against Manchester United could do anything but think: ‘Wow.’ If you love football, you love watching that. Speed, accuracy of pass, great quality levels, energy in the team: everything.” A few minutes earlier, he had been asked if he would take a draw on Sunday. “What do you think?” he replied. “Of course.”

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