As a quick disclaimer, I watch the Merseyside as a complete neutral; I have no affiliation with either of the two competing clubs, nor any of their Manchester rivals. So rest assured, I’m not just looking for a ‘small club’ cheap shot.
Over the years, I’ve relished the prospect of a fiery derby game in front of raucous Goodison and Anfield crowds.
Whilst many others would disagree, for me, the Merseyside derby used to be the pinnacle of Premier League rivalries. It guaranteed drama, atmosphere and you got a real sense of the pride that was at stake. Those are just a handful of emotions that I picked up out a expansive thesaurus of suitable synonyms.
Growing Up With The Merseyside Derby
As a neutral, I find it hard to become captivated by the Merseyside derby when I know it holds absolutely no bearing on the fortunes of the two sides – it just doesn’t feel like it matters anymore.
Growing up, Everton and Liverpool were always tussling for position towards the top of table. Famously in 2005/06, Everton took great delight in beating their rivals to a top 4 finish, denying Liverpool Champions League football for the following season, only for Liverpool to then win the competition outright and retain a place under a UEFA ruling!
The derbies for the successive seasons had an added element of spice – they were fantastic. Two competitive sides, tied by geography but more importantly, tied by their ambitions.
Falling Down The Pecking Order
Honestly, the modern Merseyside derby falls lower and lower on my ranking of Premier League fixtures every year as the clubs become seemingly more detached from one another.
Going into Klopp’s first Merseyside derby, his side sit 8th in the table, Martinez’s disappointing campaign leaves his side in 11th. Other than pride, what are the two clubs playing for?
Liverpool can argue Europa League but Everton can hardly share that ambition. Last season was similar, Liverpool finished 6th, Everton once again 11th.
Compare the Merseyside derby to the other rivalries that exist within the Premier League and you can’t help but feel that they’re only ‘playing for pride’, a phrase you use to describe a team either already relegated or 4-0 down at half-time, that’s how empty it feels.
Sunderland and Newcastle, the North-East derby, two sides desperately fighting it out to avoid relegation – the quality of football is poor, but the stakes couldn’t be higher.
Arsenal and Tottenham, the North-London derby, two sides who were fighting for their first Premier League title in over a decade this season.
The Manchester Derby, two teams that are always at the summit of English football, consistently fighting for European places if not the Premier League trophy itself.
Liverpool and Everton? Two mid-table teams bickering over 6th/7th place… that’s about it really.
What To Expect From The Merseyside Derby
Tonight marks Jurgen Klopp’s first Merseyside derby, which feels unbelievable really. Klopp has integrated so seamlessly as the Red’s boss, you’d think he had been there for decades, let alone less than a season.
Klopp’s debut derby may potentially bring with it an additional element of drama – it seems to go hand in hand with the man. Martinez, under increasing pressure from Everton fans, may well need a win to steady the ship at Goodison ahead of their FA Cup semi final.
These are the narratives that the game will have to built on – no hope of Champions League qualification to spice up proceedings this year.
You’d hope that as a bare minimum the game will be spiced up with a few lively challenges…
…but until Liverpool and Everton start climbing the table and Merseyside becomes a Premier League powerhouse again – I can’t help but feel that this derby is an irrelevant, mid-table fixture.