“There are many ways you can judge a season and the best way is progress at the football club as a whole. I don’t think it necessarily relates to trophies or points.”
It’s difficult to imagine legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly nodding in agreement with the above statement issued by current boss Kenny Dalglish in the build-up to tonight’s Merseyside Derby. Since his return to the Anfield hot-seat in January 2011 the King has had to deal with an array of issues at the club. From the Suarez-Evra racism case , to Andy Carroll failing to justify the £35 million shelled out on him to their chronic inability to finish off games which they dominate. The affable Scot has been circumspect in his dealings with the press, returning to the Liverpool boot room ways of keeping problems in-house.
Dalglish is right that there is more to being a successful club than trophies and league position. In these economically uncertain times financial stability can be an achievement in itself and there’s little doubt that Liverpool are in a far stronger position under their current American owners, the Fenway Sports Group, than they were under the reviled Tom Hicks and George Gilette. The financial muscle of FSG has been supplemented by lucrative deals with shirt sponsor Standard Chartered and kit maker Warrior, allowing Dalglish to splash over £105m on new players since his arrival just 14 months ago. Despite not winning a league title since 1990, hopes have remained consistently high amongst the fans. With Dalglish at the helm and a vast amount of money invested in the team, expectations for this season were for Champions League qualification at the very least.
That particular dream is now all but over and were it not for securing the Carling Cup by the slimmest of margins against Cardiff, a Championship side, Liverpool would be heading towards another season without European football. This is the Anfield side’s first piece of silver-wear in six years and could very well be Dalglish’s saving grace. The standards by which Liverpool’s success is judged is not on the balance sheets but out on the pitch and of late they’ve been failing to convince.
This failure will be starkly underlined tonight should they lose the Merseyside derby, a defeat which will see Everton move ahead of Liverpool in the table.
Unlike Dalglish, Everton manager David Moyes has had comparatively little money to spend in recent seasons, or at any time during his ten years in charge at Goodison Park. Any big purchases he has made have nearly always been preceded by the enforced sale of one of his better players. Loan signings like that of Landon Donavan, Royston Drenthe and Denis Stracqularsi have helped to paint over the cracks this season, following the sales of Arteta and Saha, but how long this policy can continue must be in serious doubt.
Naturally the levels of expectation are different for each club, a point underlined by the fact that Moyes has been named LMA Manager of the Year three times in the last decade without winning a single trophy. Small squads and little investment have handicapped Moyes’ ambitions but it seems nearly every season he performs miracles of motivation and scouting to finish higher than is reasonable to expect. Only twice has Everton finished lower than 8th during his tenure.
However, only once, in 2005, has he guided his team to a higher finish than Liverpool but even then the Reds managed to steal the headlines by lifting the Champions League. What Moyes has achieved at Everton is more than admirable. Without the global appeal of their neighbours, and the financial advantages that brings with it, Everton has rarely had the opportunity to out-perform them over the last two decades.
This season could be different. Liverpool are currently on 39 points with Everton sitting just 2 points behind having played the same number of games (27). Going in to tonight’s game at Anfield the Reds have lost their last 3 league games and have managed just one victory in their last eight Premier League games. At home they’ve picked up a paltry 4 wins from 13 games.
Everton come in to this derby on a much more positive note. Unbeaten in nine games in all competitions, Moyes’ team has raked up wins over Spurs, Chelsea and Manchester City during that run. Adding this misfiring Liverpool side to that list won’t be the accomplishment it should be but it will be celebrated no less by the Everton faithful.
Liverpool may not win at home too often but they have lost at Anfield just once in the league this season and all signs point towards this game ending in a stalemate. An exciting, contentious stalemate with plenty of talking points. This is the Merseyside derby after all. If you’re having a bet then the draw at 12/5 is the way to go and it could be worth a cheeky flutter on the red card market, with Liverpool 6/1 to have a man sent off and Everton judged a little more likely at 7/2. There have been 21 reds in their last 32 meetings so it’s a solid bet.
There’s little beyond local pride to be decided tonight but if Everton do win and go on to finish above Liverpool this season, what will that say about the King’s second reign at Anfield?