It’s common knowledge that when it comes to intense cross-town rivalries between similarly strong clubs, relative league position is almost all-important.
Just look at the constant jousting between Arsenal and Tottenham fans this season: Both are vying for a place in the top four, for a place in the Champions League next year, and Spurs have a European competition to aim for.
But still, fans from North London are competing for a higher league finish.
So imagine being traditionally the more successful club—and one of English football’s most successful in history—having fallen in the pecking order, not just in the country to archrivals Manchester United, but now to cross-town rivals Everton.
Welcome to Liverpool.
In many senses, the past two seasons have been almost polar opposites for Red and Blue. Brendan Rodgers, a relative novice in Premier League coaching, is in his first year at Anfield, while David Moyes, now one of the most experienced in the English top flight, is running down his final year of his contract at Goodison Park.
Luis Suarez, who has been hitting the headlines for his eye-catching performances leading to a Player of the Year nomination, is starring for a team that is currently behind one with arguably no standout star in the league table.
Liverpool, after losing two years under the hesitant and ill-fitting approach of Roy Hodgson and the expensive but stagnant second reign of Kenny Dalglish, are embarking on yet another revolution, yet another transition period; while Everton, following a productive summer transfer window and a strong start to the season, will be disappointed to miss out on a European place.
After Liverpool’s 3-2 comeback win over Tottenham Hotspur a few weekends ago, the Reds moved above Everton in the league table for the first time this season.
Not good enough.
With seven games to go (the Blues have eight), Liverpool are three points behind their Merseyside rivals.
Not good enough.
In May 2012, Everton finished the Premier League season in a league position above Liverpool’s for the first time since 2005, when the Reds’ memorable Champions League win while placing fifth saw the first time a Champions League winner entered the following season’s competition from the very beginning.
They’re now in danger of finishing below Everton for the second season in a row.
Not. Good. Enough.
It’s not just about the immediate results-oriented context either: There is always a wider consideration when it comes to the Merseyside rivalry.
There’s the newly tightened purses of Fenway Sports Group versus the traditionally financially conservative Bill Kenwright. There’s the aesthetically pleasing pass-and-move versus the more gritty physical approach.
And there’s the disastrous slide that Liverpool have faced since the summer of 2009 versus the kind of gradual progress that Everton have made during Moyes’ tenure.
From rumors linking Luis Suarez with an exit if Liverpool don’t qualify for European competition next season to widespread worries among the Anfield crowd that Steven Gerrard won’t cap a glorious career with a deserved league title, there are demons that face Liverpool from within the halls of Anfield themselves.
Demons that a look across Stanley Park will only intensify and breed.
Demons that a higher league finish than Everton will banish and silence for at least another few months.
After all, football is a competition, and you don’t get much more competitive than in Merseyside.
Finishing above Everton is now a Liverpool imperative, if only to reverse a mini-trend.