By David Lynch
We should, perhaps, have seen it coming. Sunday’s Merseyside derby, a feisty 0-0 draw with little to shout about in terms of chances, taught us absolutely nothing. The participants battled for pride and little else, as a stalemate of a result summed up the fruitless nature of two almost equal forces meeting head on.
Even had either side won, Liverpool and Everton were always destined to finish next to each other in the Premier League table for a second year running. And the order those two clubs finish is arguably consequential only to those who must face a summer-long reminder of their inferiority from work colleagues and friends who occupy the opposite side of the divide.
But, if these rivals currently inhabit the same stratosphere – and on the evidence of two draws this season, they do – the disparate directions in which they are heading could only be gleaned from the words of their managers.
Unsurprisingly, David Moyes took his trademark position. “I don’t want to come in here and talk about cash because that would be probably what you think I talk about every year I come here,” he began, with no hint of irony.
“But it’s a factor. We’re a long way down in competing financially with a Tottenham or an Arsenal or a Liverpool. But today when you were watching the game, you weren’t thinking about that. You were only thinking about two teams of 11 players on that pitch trying to compete.”
Disregarding his futile promise not to discuss the issue, Moyes is exactly right. Though all talk of a power shift last season was nullified by Liverpool’s League Cup win and hat-trick of victories over their local rivals, things have been different this year. Everton have avoided defeat at the hands of the Reds, look certain to finish above them and yet, somehow, disappointment still reigns.
In truth it is because this changing of the guard lacks momentum, as Moyes’ managerial counterpart Brendan Rodgers outlined with his talk of plans for the upcoming summer. “We need to find one or two players that can help make the difference in games like that,” he said. “It’s a lot of draws we’ve had this season and it’s something we need to find the solution for next year.”
Everton must face the fact that such luxuries are beyond them, even if it is an uncomfortable truth which takes all the gloss from the sizeable achievement of overhauling their rivals. The Toffees feel like a team playing at the peak of their powers, the zenith of Moyes’ potential with a restrictive wage bill and negligible transfer budget.
Liverpool, meanwhile, can take bizarre solace from the fact that they remain underachievers with the financial muscle to correct their current malaise. For example, the approaching retirement of Jamie Carragher is not a disaster from which it will be hard to recover - the funds exist to replace him. But you feel that the same cannot be said of his fellow 35-year-old Sylvain Distin over at Goodison Park.
As Phil Jagielka, who was magnificent at Anfield, put it earlier in the week: “Other [teams] can sign five players and be lucky with two. We make two, and if one doesn't work out we have our backs to the wall.” Moyes will soon face that challenge yet again, with Distin joined by Steven Pienaar, Leon Osman and Tim Howard on the list of key players on the wrong side of 30.
Such quandaries may well help the Everton manager make up his mind in the summer, with his contract set to expire and a long list of admirers forming. The Scot may not have ended the club’s 18-year wait for a trophy should he leave, but perhaps toppling Liverpool – if only temporarily – is the most that can be expected.
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