It was only a month ago when Everton and Liverpool were united in their support for the victims of the Hillsborough disaster, but come 1.30pm on Sunday hostilities will be well and truly resumed when the two sides meet at Goodison Park for the first Merseyside derby of the season.
If the classy and dignified way everybody connected with Everton Football Club showed their support when the truth about that tragic April day in 1989 was finally outed was to be expected, then what will happen on Sunday is equally predictable. Everything else will be put to one side for 90 minutes, as the Merseyside derby provides any local rivalry cliche you could care to mention and Sunday’s meeting is the most intriguing one there has been for some time.
The last time the clubs met was the FA Cup semi-final in April, when Liverpool came from behind to win 2-1, but so much has changed for the Red half of Merseyside in the interim: Kenny Dalglish has gone (along with a number of high-earning experienced players, including the man who got the winner that day, Andy Carroll) and Everton are facing a team at the start of a long, arduous transition.
And it shows in the Premier League table. It hasn’t been too often in the last 25 years that Blue has been looking down on Red come derby day, but Everton are lauding it above Liverpool, six points clear of their arch-rivals and deservedly so.
David Moyes’ side have been excellent so far this season, breaking with tradition to get a fine start that sees them go into the weekend’s action in the fourth Champions League spot: the last time they enjoyed such a fine start that is exactly where they finished, famously at Liverpool’s expense, in the 2004/05 season.
So alongside the obvious desire to continue their fine form, Everton would also love to keep their rivals in the doldrums of the bottom half of the table by opening up a nine-point gap before anyone has even been trick or treating.
And I think it is a chance they will take. Everton are 8/5 to win the match, with the draw at 9/4 and an away win priced up at 33/20, and I think it is worth backing the Toffees here.
Punters registering with bwin receive a free £20 bet and placing this on Everton to see off Liverpool would return £52 if successful.
There are reasons to think that may be a bit bold: firstly, Everton’s form has tailed off ever so slightly, with consecutive 1-1 draws away from home at Wigan Athletic and Queens Park Rangers not the results of a team who are going to maintain a Champions League push.
Secondly, the absence of the suspended Steven Pienaar is a big miss, while, perhaps more significantly, Everton’s record against Liverpool is pitiful.
The Toffees have won just three of the last 27 meetings in all competitions, while the Reds have won five of the last seven at Goodison – a truly woeful Blues record that suggests that Liverpool posses the mental edge in a fixture that is played with the head as much as the feet.
But I am countering those arguments with two points that I feel outweigh them. Everton’s form at Goodison is excellent and has been going right back into last season. In the last 11 home league games, Everton have won nine and drawn one, keeping seven clean sheets and scoring 23 goals.
Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham and Newcastle have been beaten in that period and Moyes has proved over the last few years he can get the measure of the big clubs at Goodison.
I also think that Everton will benefit from the extra stability that Moyes’ ten years in charge, as opposed to Brendan Rodgers’ four months, will bring them. Liverpool could have as many as five derby debutants, three of them teenagers, and it is a big ask to go into the cauldron at Goodison and escape with a result, especially when Liverpool’s form has been erratic at best and wildly unpredictable at worst.
And if it is tight, Everton possess Nikica Jelavic, the only true goalscorer on the pitch, and that could make all the difference.
So in what is bound to be feisty affair (when is it ever not?) I think taking the chance of the 8/5 about a home win is the play here.