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Liverpool V Everton: The Biggest Merseyside Derby in a Decade?

Liverpool's manager Brendan Rodgers, right, whispers to Everton's manager Roberto Martinez before their English Premier League soccer match at Goodison Park Stadium, Liverpool, England, Saturday Nov. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Jon Super/Associated Press
Nick MillerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 26, 2014

The first Merseyside derby of the season was one of the most entertaining games of this or frankly any other campaign. There were six goals and just the right mixture of brilliant skill and amusing ineptitude to make it a stone-cold classic.

It might be asking too much for the return game between the two sides, at Anfield on Tuesday, to be quite as thrilling, but this is arguably the most important Merseyside derby in a decade.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 30:  Everton Manager David Moyes gestures as Chelsea Manager Rafael Benitez looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Chelsea at Goodison Park on December 30, 2012 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Back in 2005, both Everton and Liverpool were challenging for a top-four spot, with Rafa Benitez's rebuilding job at Anfield coinciding with David Moyes' first truly competitive Everton side.

As it turned out, Everton would pip their rivals to a place in the top four, but both would qualify for the Champions League after Liverpool's unlikely and semi-miraculous win in Istanbul.

Since then, there has rarely been a season when both sides had a genuine shot at making Europe's top club competition. For some years, Liverpool formed one-quarter of the so-called "Big Four," while Everton's ambitions were a little more modest. Then after Liverpool's decline from the final days of Rafa Benitez's reign, through Roy Hodgson's abortive time in charge and Kenny Dalglish's return, Everton overtook their neighbours, finishing above them in the last two seasons.

Today, they operate on a similar level, finding themselves separated by a single point as we approach the final third of the season, with both sides in with a realistic shot of making that top four.

Both sides were of course in FA Cup action at the weekend, but while Everton made some changes for their 4-0 win over Stevenage, Brendan Rodgers picked a strong Liverpool side for their 2-0 success at Bournemouth. Steven Gerrard, Phillipe Coutinho, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge all appeared in the game against the Championship strugglers, but Rodgers doesn't believe it will have a detrimental effect on his side for the derby.

He said in his post-match press conference, via Liverpool's official website:

We have a very thin squad, and along with that we've got a number of injuries, but the tradition of the FA Cup for Liverpool is huge.

We want to pay respect to the competition because we want to get to the final and win it if we can.

The players have had enough recovery time and will recover well for Everton. They have everything there to recover.

We go into Tuesday's game on the back of a good win against a good Championship side.

Sang Tan/Associated Press

Both sides have injury concerns, but it is Everton who will be hampered most by their squad's fitness or otherwise. Bryan Oviedo's horrible double-leg break further diminished Martinez's options, with Seamus Coleman, Ross Barkley, Steven Pienaar and Gerard Deulofeu among those currently indisposed. Although, Leighton Baines is back having been missing for most of December, while Lacina Traore should be available if required having joined on loan from Monaco.

Liverpool go into the game on the back of a poor performance against Aston Villa in their last league game, but he has warned that Everton and Martinez will face a completely different side at Anfield.

Per Jason Roberts of The Daily Post, he said:

He will know how I work and knows how my teams work. But he will know it will be a totally different game here for the derby.

It wasn't one of our better days (against Villa), but we've had many great games here. We’ll be ready for the derby game for sure.

With so much at stake, it might not quite be the humdinger we saw earlier this season, but it will be just as tense.

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