Starting this season in such uncommonly commanding fashion, Everton now face the biggest examination of their top-six credentials when arch-rivals Liverpool make the short trip to Goodison Park on Sunday.
During David Moyes’ tenure at the club, this has often been a fixture supporters dread. The Toffees have a woeful record under their current manager with just four victories and six draws coming in his 23 contests.
Recent form is particularly dire, with five of the past seven clashes ending in victory for the Anfield club, including a trio of deflating defeats last season.
With all this considered, and given how key personnel such as Marouane Fellaini, Darron Gibson and now Steven Pienaar could be missing, some may be thinking this result is already a forgone conclusion.
In an effort to restore confidence and inflate optimism among Evertonians, here's a look at why Sunday's derby may prove to be different.
Losing so frequently to one's near-neighbours certainly has an adverse effect on a dressing room.
For a couple of seasons, 2010-2012, Moyes was unable to add to and reinforce his roster as he desired, and his squad began to show signs of stagnating.
Psychologically, going out to face Liverpool, there were times the same group of players looked beaten before the game had even began.
While the core of the squad remains, this year Everton come with a revitalised, vibrant identity now that Moyes has finally been afforded a chance freshen things up.
After two undeniably successful transfer windows, not only are there new, high calibre players to test Liverpool with, but crucially, the likes of Nikica Jelavic, Kevin Mirallas and Darron Gibson do not possess the derby day scars of so many of their teammates.
Their presence, and the fact Everton's key players have also remained, should infuse an extra layer of belief into the dressing room for this fixture and indeed the duration of the season.
With this revamped squad, Everton have duly taken the Premier League by storm this year.
Through 29 games in 2012, only the two Manchester clubs sit with a higher tally of points than the 50 accumulated by the Toffees during this time
Additionally, with the exception of Arsenal, all the sides that finished above Everton last season have been defeated, demonstrating the club's new resolve and radical on-field improvements.
In short, the Toffees have maintained Champions League form for almost an entire season, and Moyes surely won't have ever approached this fixture with such considerable momentum behind his team.
In so many recent derbies, Everton’s methods would have been to stifle and suppress their opponent, surrender the majority of play and eventually look for an opening to overload and capitalise on.
2012 has shown that with an upgraded roster, the Toffees can also transpose their offence.
They now look to be the aggressor and dictate the tempo far more often, backed up by the fact that in every single match this season they have had more shots than their opponents and have never carved out fewer chances.
This newly found emphasis on attack obviously gives Moyes' side a better hope of taking the points.
Not to the extent of Liverpool, but the Toffees are also far more willing to be patient and gradually construct an attack, spreading the play around, always looking to create a two-on-one in a wider area.
Instead of appearing on the back foot, going forward Everton should pose far more questions than they have in recent derbies, which also may lead to a more open contest come Sunday.
Whilst Everton have been rampant this calendar year, enjoying some of their best form under Moyes, the same cannot be said for Liverpool, who have been uncharacteristically floundering in what can only be described as relegation form.
In 27 games through 2012, Everton’s rivals have racked up just seven wins. They have been defeated 14 times and have just 27 points; amazingly, that's 23 points less than the Toffees have in the same period.
Even the most blinkered Liverpool fan could not describe this run as anything other than simply disastrous.
Admittedly, the form book often flies out the window during derbies, but with both outfits experiencing such contrasting fortunes this is something Everton should be hugely encouraged by and look to exploit.
A key factor in determining Sunday’s clash will be the managerial showdown between Moyes and Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers.
The game pits a manager not used to winning this high-profile tie against a new adversary tasked with maintaining the Red’s recent dominance in it.
What should encourage Evertonians is that, so far, the Toffees’ manager has generally devised a successful formula to defeat possession-absorbing outfits that share similar footballing philosophies to Rodgers.
With two wins from two, Moyes also currently enjoys a flawless record over his Anfield counterpart after a pair of convincing displays against his Swansea side last season
Rodgers will certainly have better players to carry out his tactics, but Liverpool’s shift to a more pass-conscious side is something Everton may well be enthused by.
Critically, Everton hold home advantage on Sunday, and Goodison Park has very much become a fortress in recent times, particularly against the Premier League's top sides.
Sunday’s clash should be no different, and with nine wins and just one defeat from their last 11 home games, Moyes will be hoping the Goodison Park faithful can once again inspire his troops to victory.
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