Once upon a time, people referred to the Merseyside derby between eternal rivals Everton and Liverpool as the "friendly derby." But despite the heartwarming bonds which culminated following the Hillsborough disaster and were embodied in bipartisan tributes to the 96 deceased last month, this derby is now anything but friendly.
In the past few seasons, there have been red cards, injuries and hateful diatribes thrown about between supporters of still-wealthy Liverpool and financially-stricken Everton. Both sides have struggled in the table and have failed to make any impact in Europe while clubs like Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City surpassed them in terms of wealth (in the case of Everton) and league position.
However, for the residents of Merseyside, this is still the biggest match in the world.
Last season, this weekend's visitors, Liverpool, took all three matches, including a devastating 2-1 win in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. Previously, the Blues claimed a 2-0 victory and a thrilling 2-2 away draw in the 2010-11 campaign.
Entering this initial derby at Goodison Park, Everton sit among the Top Four, and despite back-to-back draws against weaker opposition, should be full of confidence. The Reds are fresh off a 1-0 victory over Reading and look to make their surge up the table following a very disappointing start under Brendan Rodgers.
As we prepare for Sunday, let's look back at some of the more entertaining derbies of the past ten years.
It is truly a shame that there are no highlight videos available online for the second derby of the 2010-11 season.
In the reverse fixture, Everton had managed to defeat their Red neighbors for the first time in two seasons with goals from stalwarts Mikel Arteta and Tim Cahill. And, it looked like they too had this derby under control when free signing Jermaine Beckford wiggled free in the box to fire past Pepe Reina and make it 2-1 for Everton in the 52nd minute, following earlier goals from Raul Meireles and Sylvain Distin.
However, ubiquitous derby maestro Dirk Kuyt popped up in the 69th minute to score from the spot following a somewhat controversial penalty call against Tim Howard and secure the draw for Liverpool.
Unlike the earlier derby, there were no sending offs in this match, and though the 90 minutes were played at a hectic and high-intensity pace, both sides were quite gentlemanly on the pitch.
While the result did not benefit either club greatly—Everton finished in 7th place, four points below the Reds—supporters will be hoping for a similarly end-to-end, but cordial affair on Sunday.
The 202nd Merseyside derby embodied everything that supporters love and hate about local rivalries.
Red-cards, controversial calls and goals abounded throughout the 90 minutes. And, in the end, it was Liverpool who once again defeated Everton at Goodison Park with a final scoreline of 3-1.
Steven Gerrard and Peter Crouch opened the scoring in the first-half to make it 2-0, while James Beattie saw a goal incorrectly disallowed by the linesman following doubt over whether the cross from Tim Cahill had gone out of play.
Regardless of the officiating, furious Everton were able to get on the scoreboard a few minutes short of half-time, when Beattie hammered home another header to get the Blues back into the derby.
The interval saw things return to normality, however, as poor defending by David Weir allowed Djibril Cisse to score Liverpool's third in the 52nd minute. After that strike, Everton could simply not claw their way back into the match. Their efforts became even more unlikely when Phil Neville and Mikel Arteta were both ejected for second bookable offences.
Kopites will be wishing for similar fortune away from home this weekend.
Everton have not won at Anfield since September 1999.
Like the trophy that still evades David Moyes, this is probably the second largest stain on the Scottish manager's record.
Yet, the opportunity was there for the taking in 2010 when at 0-0 the hosts saw centre-back Sotirios Kyrgiakos sent-off for a dangerous lunge at Marouane Fellaini.
Liverpool were on the back-foot for much of the match afterward, but Everton rarely threatened their goal and a strike from Dirk Kuyt in the 55th minute proved too much for the Blues to overcome. The Toffees desperation was epitomized by Steven Pienaar's late ejection for an unnecessary foul as Rafael Benitez's men eased to victory.
For many Evertonians, it was a very bitter taste following a surge up the table and an opportunity to overcome their Merseyside rivals away for the first time in a decade. But, once again, they stumbled against a mediocre Liverpool that still holds the cards against their trophy-less neighbors.
When Everton hosted the second derby fixture of the 2005-06 campaign, the Blue's camp must have been yearning for a victory more than imaginable.
Liverpool had been unbeaten in three consecutive matches against their rivals and dominated their first meeting of the season at Anfield in what turned out to be a comfortable 3-1 victory.
Still, form and results often matter little in local derbies.
At Goodison Park, the dynamic duo of diminutive striker Andy Johnson and Australian Tim Cahill combined for three goals in an exuberating afternoon for David Moyes and his men. Cahill scored first on 23 minutes and Johnson added two cheeky goals following Liverpool mistakes to eventually make the scoreline 3-0 for Everton.
Prior to that match, the Toffees had not managed a hat-trick of goals against their neighbors since 1966.
Before their FA Cup semifinal encounter last season, the Merseyside rivals squared up for a thrilling 4th round replay in the 2008-09 edition of England's premier cup competition.
Following a 1-1 draw at Anfield, the Blues hosted their neighbors in a scrappy encounter at Goodison Park.
Buoyed by an injury to Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard in only the 16th minute of the match, Everton fought tirelessly to put one past Pepe Reina and grind out a victory. Their task became significantly easier after the ejection of midfield enforcer Lucas late in the second-half, although the match did demand extra-time.
In the 118th minute, with very little time left before penalty kicks, Andy van der Meyde put in a delicious cross that was brought down by youngster Dan Gosling. The 19-year-old controlled well inside the box and managed a shot amid four defenders that whizzed past Reina and in for the decisive goal of the match.
Everton went onto the 2009 FA Cup Final, where they lost bitterly to Chelsea. However, fans of the Toffees will not forget only the third victory their club managed against Liverpool in the Rafa Benitez era. And the one which knocked their sorry neighbors out of the Cup.
Although it is painful to admit as an Evertonian, arguably the greatest match of recent times happened just over a decade ago. But that match remains so memorable that even time cannot disqualify it from this ranking.
In April 2001, the Blues hosted Liverpool in hopes of making up for a 3-1 defeat earlier in the season. However, before they could even get their heads on right, came the first cracking strike from the visitors.
In the fourth minute of the match, a younger and much more able Emile Heskey took advantage of a defensive lap to hammer home against Everton goalkeeper Paul Gerrard.
The hosts would equalize on the stroke of halftime through mammoth striker Duncan Ferguson. However, the goals were far from drying up in this encounter.
In the 57th minute, very poor defending allowed Markus Babbel to put Liverpool ahead 2-1 and the Reds almost held on before Biscan's ejection and a late penalty put Everton on level terms heading into injury time.
For a short time, it seemed only absolute brilliance could win the match for either side.
And, that brilliance arrived through a 40-yard Gary McAllister free-kick deep into injury time. Gerrard, expecting the ball to be crossed in for a header, was caught completely off-guard when the Liverpool midfielder fired a hard, looping shot to his near-post which sunk in, along with the hearts of the Goodison faithful.
The match ended 3-2 and in the end it proved a derby for the ages.