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Merseyside Derby: Liverpool and Everton set for biggest derby in decades

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Two of England’s most-storied clubs play Tuesday in a derby that’s taken on much more significance the past few years. At least on a broad scale.

The Merseyside derby has always been a big deal to the people of Liverpool.

Just one point separates the rivals in the Premier League table. Less than one mile separates the two teams stadiums across Stanley Park, and they share one city.

But this derby is bigger than most. It will impact a top four Premier League spot that would seal Champions League qualification, a dream for both clubs (and would bring roughly $100 million in revenue).

With Liverpool boasting the deadly strike duo of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, many would say they’re the favorites at home against Everton’s young and exciting side led by ambitious manager Robert Martinez. So how did they get to this point?

This is the tale of one of the world’s most famous soccer cities and how its intertwining clubs define the people of Merseyside.

HISTORY OF ‘THE DERBY’

Until 1974, the county of Merseyside didn’t exist but then the boroughs of St Helens, Sefton, Wirrall, Knowsley and the city of Liverpool came together as one. The metro area now has a population of 1.38 million people and has three professional soccer teams. The two biggest teams are Liverpool and Everton; Tranmere play in England’s third-tier and are located across the River Mersey, toward Wales. People from this neck of the woods are known as ‘Scousers’ and their harsh Scouse accent is something you have to experience for yourself. Trust me, when you hear it spoken loud and proud by a Scouser you will know exactly what I mean.

Everton were founded in 1878 and were originally based at Anfield before being moved out after the clubs committee and John Houlding, club president and owner of the land at Anfield, couldn’t agree on a dispute. So Liverpool Football Club was born and moved onto the Anfield site in 1892, and the two have been rivals ever since.

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Today they’re both Premier League giants and since 1955 matches between the two have been referred to as the ‘Merseyside Derby.’ Before that it was simply known as ‘the derby’ around Liverpool.

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Luis Suarez bends in an unstoppable free kick against Everton, in yet another pulsating Merseyside derby earlier this season.

Since the first match was played on Oct. 13, 1894, there have been 221 games played, with Liverpool winning 88, Everton taking 66 and 67 draws between the two.

Since 2009-10 both teams have had remarkably similar fortunes, as Liverpool have gained 277 points from 174 games, while Everton have earned 276 points from 174 games. This year Liverpool sit in fourth on 43 points, while Everton are in sixth place just one point behind with 42.

Great players such as Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush, Dixie Dean, Robbie Fowler and Graeme Sharp have graced this game with plenty of dazzling performances over the years, as Liverpool and Everton have always been embroiled in a titanic tussle for superiority in the city of Liverpool.

Dalglish was voted Liverpool’s best player of all time, as he won six league titles and three European Cups during the Reds heyday in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s. Around the Kop he is known as “King Kenny” and despite an unsuccessful period as manager of the club in 2011-12 when new American owner John W. Henry first arrived, Dalglish is still revered around Anfield and is currently working as a director for the club.

While Everton legend Graeme Sharp, who now works as a liaison officer between the club and its fans as well as various forms of media work in the city, was voted onto Everton’s “Greatest Ever Team” side after a glittering career that sees him second in the all-time scoring charts behind Dixie Dean. Dean scored the most league goals, 18, in derby history and a statue in his honor stands outside Goodison Park.

Both teams are immensely proud of their pasts, as you wander around the outside of both Anfield and Goodison you can see the admiration for their heritage as famous managers and players from a bygone era are honored. There’s a joke going around England at the moment that you can only have played for Liverpool if you’re a pundit on TV; with the likes of Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler, Mark Lawrenson, Alan Hansen, Phil Thompson and numerous others all on Sky, BBC or ITV in the UK.

(WATCH: ‘I Was There’ the fan experience of the Merseyside Derby)

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Just 0.8 miles and a stroll across Stanley Park separates the stadiums of these two famous sides.

In recent years this fixture has been explosive. Twenty red cards have been dished out since the Premier League era began in 1992, more red cards than in any other PL fixture. A volatile and feisty atmosphere encapsulates both Goodison Park and Anfield on derby day, and on Tuesday, both teams square off after a 3-3 draw earlier in the season. Bragging rights are still up for grabs.

It will be intense. It’s perhaps the most significant contest between Liverpool and Everton in decades.

Liverpool midfielder Joe Allen played in the memorable draw at Goodison Park in November, as Everton had a lead snatched away from them late on by Liverpool’s Sturridge in front of their home fans. The diminutive Reds midfielder said this match is the one all of his teammates are looking forward to.

“The last few seasons the rivalry between Everton and Liverpool has become even more fierce especially in the league table,” Allen said. “That gives it even more excitement and build the game up even more. These are the sort of games that when the fixture list comes out, you look for them straightaway.”

ARE YOU A BLUE OR A RED? FAMILIES DIVIDED

When you stroll around the city of Liverpool, it’s sometimes difficult to see that there are two teams. In the commercial hub of the city I wandered past three huge Liverpool FC merchandise stores in a short space of time. No Everton club shops. There was also a huge sign of a Liver Bird near the bus station with the YNWA slogan, made famous by Liverpool’s fans who sign the famous “You’ll Never Walk Alone” anthem by Gerry and the Pacemakers before every single home game.

Despite Everton’s omission from the high street, in the streets and districts of Liverpool they are heavily supported. Known as ‘The People’s Club’ the blue half of Merseyside have had to put up with a lot over the years as their rivals have taken most of the limelight. In U.S. sports terms, think New York Yankees and New York Mets. Yankees fans have had bragging rights in the Big Apple for some time, but still Mets fans pop up and remind them about the few World Series titles they won, like a little brother poking his elder sibling in the ribs to remind him he shouldn’t be ignored.

Everton resemble the Mets. Liverpool, the Yankees.

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Reminders of both teams are strewn everywhere across the city’s streets.

“There’s households where one child has decided to support Everton. I know households were my friend is a Red but his Dad and his brother are Blues. They are both season ticket holders at Goodison Park and he’s a season ticket holder at Anfield,” explains James McKenna, spokesperson for Liverpool Supporters Group the ‘Spirit of Shankly.’ “The people you interact with for the other 363 days a year, they are your mates or work colleagues. You are from the same city and have the same attitudes I suppose. It is slightly different.”

In Liverpool, there’s a dichotomy that exists like nowhere else in England. Entire families are often split down the middle as to who they support. A father can support Liverpool, but his kids and wife cheer on Everton, and that extends to grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. Everyone has their reasons for choosing a side, but in this city the choice to support Everton or Liverpool is intensely intertwined.

The big question being: are you a Blue or a Red? It’s a question unique to Merseyside.

“I’ve known people from Sheffield and they couldn’t imagine the idea of being friendly with a Sheffield United or Wednesday fan,” McKenna said. “Glasgow is the same with Rangers and Celtic and it is almost like divided cities. On derby day it’s like that here but any other time I don’t really notice it.”

Everton boasts nine league titles and five FA Cups, making it one of the most successful teams in England over the past 50 years. But the last time they won a trophy was the 1995 FA Cup. Over the past two decades they’ve had to sit back and watch Liverpool fight for PL titles, win the Champions League and other European trophies and turn green with envy. Liverpool have won five Champions League titles (more than any British side), 18 league titles, seven FA Cups, eight League Cups and three UEFA Cups (plus countless other pieces of silverware). There’s a lot of envy from Everton fans as their illustrious red clad neighbors like to remind them of their dominance at every opportunity.

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Families are split down the middle, as Liverpool and Everton fans often intertwine. That’s extremely unusual in the English soccer landscape.

“We’re always the top dogs on Merseyside,” said Richard Pedder, Chairman of Liverpool’s Merseyside Supporters Group, with an air of annoyance on his voice. “People disagree, but we are the top dogs and they won’t accept it. At the end of the day they’ve got to accept it. We will prove it on Tuesday.”

Often all of this ‘banter’ happens within the same household.

“The games come round twice a year, we have families who are mixed with Evertonians and Liverpudlians in the same household,” Pedder explains. “That can be rather strange if you’re not winning, one won’t talk to the other, this type of thing. We always look forward to this because this is our match. Manchester United are a big team but this is our local derby, it’s a city within a city.”

REGENERATION – CITY AND CLUBS BOTH RISE

Strolling through the center of Liverpool on a midweek afternoon, the bustling streets around Albert Docks are lined with sparkling new shops, restaurants, bars, hotels and snazzy apartments. This isn’t a place deserving of its reputation of being a harsh place and one where outsiders aren’t welcome.

I first visited Liverpool in 2001. On my recent return, it has changed. Chatting with locals over a coffee, they swooned over the new shopping districts, museums and dockland areas opened up when the city won the European Capital of Culture award in 2008.

That accolade brought a huge amount of funding to build the city back up even more. Britain’s decline during the ‘80s hit Liverpool particularly hard. In the North West of England Margaret Thatcher is not remembered fondly by many, as tough times saw Liverpool become a desperate place in the latter decades of the 20th century. Unions stood up against the regime and the industrial strongholds of England fell by the wayside.

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The Liver Buildings stand tall next to Liverpool’s famous docks.

But through that struggle, both Liverpool and Everton Football Clubs were in enjoying their heyday.

One can sense renewed hope for the city and both their teams from the citizens of Merseyside.

“You go around the city… it’s quite fitting with the football I suppose because we’ve come out of that ‘80s slump and neglect and there’s been a renaissance,” McKenna said, as he struggled to wipe a proud smile off his face. “The city now is fantastic, growing all the time. It’s a lovely place to come. The Merseyside derby epitomizes that. That idea where we said about the fans of both teams getting on for 363 days, then the other two days they don’t, that shows the city’s spirit and passion. That’s shown in how it has dragged itself up and has grown again as a city and become a huge port and is improving all the time.”

Still, as McKenna, notes, there is plenty of improvement needed. The glistening city center papers over the cracks of the harsh council estates that line the road to Liverpool’s training ground, barely two miles from the swanky new developments. Dilapidated and boarded up buildings, scruffy looking corner shops and clapped out transit vans are all easily visible as plenty of areas in Liverpool still struggle with poverty. It is amongst the most deprived areas of the UK, as a study released in 2012 showed that five of the UK’s top 10 most deprived areas were in Liverpool. But with the city rebuilding itself and its soccer teams flourishing once again, that air of optimism can be felt on Merseyside.

(MORE: NBCSN’s Rebecca Lowe discusses the Merseyside divide – video)

During derby week, talk of the upcoming game dominates chatter in the cafes, pubs and shops as the Blue and Red halves of Liverpool get anxious. All roads point towards the docks, as museums honoring Liverpool’s most famous export, The Beatles, line the way as well as a fine array of art museums. The Liver Bird buildings hang over the city – the famous bird also happens to be Liverpool’s FC’s club symbol and adds to the inferiority complex felt by some Evertonians – adorning the very summit of vast limestone buildings that have welcomed travelers from across the globe to one of England’s finest ports.

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Rejuvenated since winning the 2008 European Capital of Culture, Liverpool’s image has altered considerably.

With all of this culture, commerce and tradition flowing, I wander past a newsstand that brags about Everton snapping up a young Irish soccer player ahead of Liverpool. In the air, there’s a sense of building anticipation. In a local bar I went to order a burger, every type of burger imaginable was named after a soccer player. I chose a ‘Gerrard burger’ named after Liverpool’s captain (I had to, right?) There’s a special buzz during derby week, as this soccer mad city is on edge.

Recently I went to watch Arsenal host Everton play at the Emirates Stadium in North London, and the traveling band of 4-5,000 Everton fans didn’t shut up for the entire 90 minutes. Blue smoke flares went off after Gerard Delfoeu scored a late equalizer, as the fans made one hell of a din which drowned out the songs of Arsenal’s 55,000 home fans. On the pitch, Everton dazzled and out passed Arsenal at their own game. That doesn’t happen often. That realization that Everton can actually outplay and beat Liverpool this season means an extra spice has been added to this clash.

Liverpool’s players pick up on that special vibe, and with the Reds at home in front of the famous Kop end on derby day, midfielder Allen knows he and his teammates have to put in a top performance. Add in that this particular derby gives both sides the chance to cement their place in the top four, and it should be a fiery cauldron of noise inside Anfield on Tuesday.

“In the week leading up to the game it is the talk of the city and the people,” Allen said with a ponderous glance into the middle distance, then a smirk on his face. “Everyone is hoping their team comes out on top and they will have the bragging rights that follow that. It adds to the intensity and the importance of the game. The derby and the rivalry is one thing but we’re competing for similar positions in the table, so it gives it that added spice. There’s certainly much more at case when that’s at stake. We realize the importance of the match both from the rivalry point of view, but from picking up points off each other.”

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Liverpool midfielder Allen missed a great chance in the derby earlier this season. He expects another end-to-end clash at Anfield on Tuesday.

That’s what Liverpool’s players think, but what about the fans?

People who don’t even watch soccer or like it know a derby game is on the horizon, as it dominates discussion and is on the minds of every Merseyside citizen weeks in advance. Liverpool and Everton’s fans both get incredibly anxious way before a ball is kicked in anger.

“You talk to a lot of people and there’s a well-known illness that goes around Liverpool called ‘derby belly’ where everyone has this slight butterflies and nerves in them,” McKenna said. “It takes over your being. We both talk about football and matches we have coming up, then Everton and Liverpool fans then have a mutual thing to talk about. It just because a big discussion about who is playing for who. Then you say ‘we won’t talk about it…’ then you end up talking about it. It just dominates.”

FAMOUS BATTLES

As I spoke at length with Liverpool and Everton fans about their favorite derby memories from over the years, I kept getting the same response. They’re all good.

But there was one game mentioned by most. Liverpool striker Ian Rush, who holds the record for the most goals scored in Merseyside derbies with 25, wrote himself into Merseyside folklore with a sublime display of finishing across Stanley Park. A famous 4-4 draw at Goodison Park in 1991 saw the ‘divine moustache’ score four times as Liverpool forced a replay in the FA Cup, ‘Rushy’ was a clinical striker who is a symbol of Liverpool’s domestic and European success. Whenever people of a certain age in England see a moustache, a dodgy perm or a brightly-colored shell suit, they think of the City of Liverpool in the ‘80’s and the players like Rush who helped the Reds win just about everything.

(MORE: Was Everton 3-3 Liverpool the best Merseyside derby in history? Here’s a few contenders…)

Other memorable games have occurred recently, as Liverpool and Everton met in the FA Cup semifinal in 2012 when a late Reds comeback, courtesy of goals from Suarez and Andy Carroll, broke the hearts of Toffees fans.

“We’ve had some fantastic derbies, with the Steven Gerrard hat trick (in 2012) and the Gary McAllister late winner at Goodison in 2003, Fowler scoring in derbies. But at Wembley, to win and get to the FA Cup final by beating Everton. They take the lead and they battered us in the first half, but Andy Carroll heads home while Marouane Fellaini is still trying to figure out where the ball is and that was that. We were just too busy going absolutely wild. Not only have you knocked Everton out of the cup, but in the semifinal, at Wembley. They felt terrible, we felt brilliant. Happy days.”

The Everton fans I spoke about recall the special day at Wembley, but pointed towards it being a “misery” and something you’d rather forget. Andy Carroll had a rather unforgettable time at Liverpool but he will forever be remembered for that late headed winner.

There have simply been too many tremendous battles over the years to list them all, as players are just one kick away from being forever etched into the rich tapestry of one of soccer’s greatest rivalries. Who will be the next hero on Tuesday?

AMERICANS ON THE MERSEY

Both clubs have had huge links with the United States, which remain present.

Liverpool are currently owned by Americans John W. Henry and Tom Werner. Their Fenway Sports Group have had a calming and progressive influence at Anfield since they took over the club from two other Americans in 2010; the previous two weren’t exactly crowd favorites.

As for Everton, their links with America are also strong as U.S. international Tim Howard is their starting goalkeeper, while in the past USMNT stars such as Joe Max-Moore, Brian McBride and Landon Donovan have all dazzled for the Toffees. There’s also a strong band of Toffees emerging in the U.S. too, as fans of the Blues have come together to create a fans network known as ‘Everton USA.’

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USMNT star Landon Donovan, left, excelled when on loan at Everton and the club has a strong link with the U.S.

Using social media, the Evertonian group now has 45 clubs across the USA as Americans gather together in bars from California, to Nebraska to Boston, to watch their beloved Blues play every Saturday.

The two men behind the network are Dermot O’Reilly and Dave Kurtz. They’ve been using the wonders of modern technology to help Evertonians supporting the club from thousands of miles away feel like they’re on Merseyside.

Looking ahead to the derby, O’Reilly has been lucky enough to attend games at both Anfield at Goodison while also traveling from Boston to London three years ago for the FA Cup semifinal between the two sides.

A derby, no matter the match location, is a unique atmosphere.

“It is hard to explain the intensity, you have to experience it yourself in the derby,” said O’Reilly, a Dublin native who began supported the Blues in his childhood to annoy his older brother who was a Liverpool fan. “It’s not always about singing in the ground, it’s about following everything that occurs. The kind of reactions you get at Anfield and Goodison to things happening on the pitch, it’s not just about tifos and banners. It’s about the will to win that game and get one over your rivals.”

Kurtz began supporting the Toffees in 2004 from Los Angeles, following Wayne Rooney’s wondergoal as a teenager vs. Arsenal. He is pretty blunt about Tuesday’s derby implications.

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A young Everton fan takes in the sights in and around Goodison Park.

“It’s number one across the board. We’ve had these two games circled for a very long time,” Kurtz said. “This is life or death for all of us. A great goal in this derby will make you immortal forever. I will always love Dan Gosling, wherever he ended up, for taking down Liverpool a few years ago.”

Everton’s growing band of fans don’t stay state-side, either. About 50 members are making the pilgrimage to Merseyside to take in a few games this March. O’Reilly is delighted with how Everton are resembling their nickname as the ‘School of Science’ as Martinez’s innovative approach to management is flourishing and believes the only way is up for the Toffees.

Kurtz believes the future of the Merseyside derby and Everton is going only one way — up. Well, just as long as they finish above Liverpool in the PL.

“Finishing ahead of Liverpool has to always be on my list,” Kurtz said. “For a transitional year, with a lot of loan players, Martinez couldn’t have done a better job. We have been playing beautiful football and to be honest I can’t wait to see what year two is and the players we plan to bring in. For Evertonians this season seems like a preview for at least five years of good football ahead for us.”

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Bill Shankly was one of Liverpool’s greatest ever managers and helped set the foundation for decades of success. His statue now stands outside the Kop.

As for Liverpool, the future is looking bright after several turbulent years which saw American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett (former owners of the Dallas Stars, Texas Rangers and Montreal Canadiens between them) angered many fans with their outlandish remarks and broken promises in 2007, as outraged supporters demanded them to leave the club.

One group hell-bent on removing Hicks and Gillett started in 2008 in the Sanford Pub, the birthplace of Liverpool Football club back in 1892. Their aim was to remove the two controversial American businessmen. The ‘Spirit of Shankly’ became an iconic group in the struggle Liverpool’s fans faced to try and force their owners from doing anything they wanted to the club. Against all the odds, they succeeded as Hicks and Gillett walked away.

The fact that the group was named after legendary Scottish manager Bill Shankly, who delivered several European Cups and English league titles, shows how entrenched in history Liverpool’s fans are and how prestigious past glories are still remembered. Their rich history is a badge of honor, that they aren’t letting any owner or group of people strip away.

Spokesperson for ‘Spirit of Shankly’ James McKenna recalls the impact American owners have had on the club.

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Liverpool’s American owner John Henry, far right, is joined by club legend Kenny Dalglish and Chief Executive Ian Ayre sat behind him.

“They are very different American owners” McKenna says with a puzzled look on his face.” I’ve got an Evertonian friend who laughs and says you were the only campaign group that was successful in getting rid of two American owners… to replace them with two more American owners!”

That joke of course refers to the Fenway Sports Group.

“If you look at the back record of Hicks and Gillett and how they acted in American sports compared to John Henry, they are very different,” McKenna said. “The view so far is that they’ve [Henry and FSG] moved the club forward an awful lot. We are now beginning to see what looks like a philosophy and an idea of how the club should be, with a young manager like Brendan Rodgers in charge and a clear idea of how we should play. For a lot of people it’s still a case of cautious optimism. We are progressing and we’ve closed that gap to the top four.”

UNITED AGAINST MANCHESTER

A loud roar went up from a large group of fans congregated in a sports bar. Everton were not playing, neither were Liverpool…. But Sunderland had just scored in the League Cup against Manchester United.

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Can Suarez lead Liverpool to the top four at Everton’s expense?

That ascent toward the top four is being made that much sweeter by the sharp decline of Liverpool’s fierce rivals to the north: Man United.

Everywhere I walked around Liverpool I heard conversations about United’s demise. “I thought Christmas was over,” cried one cameraman at Liverpool’s training ground. “It’s the end of the January and United are still shocking… it’s the gift that keeps on giving!”

The messy aftermath of United’s loss to Sunderland continued, as an upset and drunken fan called 999 and spoke to a Police operator. He asked to be put through to Sir Alex Ferguson to discuss United’s demise.

Somebody amongst the assembled media, played the audio of that call and roars of laughter filled the air as the tribulations of Manchester United this season have been gleefully celebrated by Liverpudlians of all ages.

Despite the smugness of Liverpool’s fans, as United struggle to make it in the race for the top four after winning the Premier League title last season, this rivalry runs much deeper than on the soccer pitch.

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two heavyweights of English soccer for so long, a rivalry match between Liverpool and Man United is till the highlight for some.

“It isn’t just football based but it is Liverpool and Manchester based,” McKenna said. “It is the divide between two big cities so close to each other that goes back to the industrial revolution and the ship canal, they were famous for cotton and we were a port. Manchester as the city has grown, there is almost a feeling from us that we want to poke and prod at them and show them that we are still here. Obviously we were both competing for honors and were the successful side in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, they then took over and dominated in the mid-‘90s.”

Still, the soccer savvy folk of Liverpool, of which there are many, know United will rise from the rubble and be a perennial powerhouse of English and European soccer once more. Fans of Liverpool are the most bitter towards United’s recent success, but Everton’s faithful aren’t far behind after the Red Devils poached Moyes as their manager and keep trying to nab the Toffees best players. That Liverpool vs. Manchester battle continues.

It always will.

But Liverpool and Everton fans are enjoying the demise of United, while it lasts.

“You’ve got to remember in the ’60’s, ‘70’s and ‘80’s Liverpool had an incredible time in music, football and I suppose in some ways this last 20 years has been Manchester’s time,” said Manchester United legend Gary Neville. “With bands like the Stone Roses and Oasis, United winning the league… it has been Manchester’s time. But the two cities have got a lot of similarities. Lots of spirit and fight, the honesty and integrity of the people and there’s a tribalness to it. Why shouldn’t there be?”

BACK TO THE FUTURE?

The Liverpool-Everton rivalry was right up there with the biggest in English soccer for over two decades as Liverpool marauded around the continent winning European Cups, while Everton tasted success on the domestic stage.

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Will Liverpool and Everton be battling it out amongst the PL’s elite for years to come?

Statistically Liverpool is the most successful soccer city in England, with 27 league titles going to either Liverpool or Everton and not one top-flight campaign has taken place without one of Liverpool’s two sides being present. Winning has become an obsession, and a reality, on Merseyside for generations.

But since the early ‘90’s there have been no league championships for either side. Yes, Liverpool have won the Champions League, UEFA Cup and other trophies, but no champion of England has been crowned on Merseyside for almost 25 years.

Everton won the FA Cup in 1995, and then most years it was a struggle just to stay in the Premier League. Since the turn of the millennium and under the tutelage of Moyes they turned into a top 10 team, and only recently have both teams began to get back to the ‘80s heyday.

“Both Liverpool and Everton have got new managers in the last few year, they are both very positive,” Pedder said. “They’ve been astute in the signings they have signed. The future looks good for Liverpool and Everton.”

(MORE: Tim Howard on Everton vs. Liverpool – “We’ll be heroes if we win”)

As things stand after 22 games of the PL season, Liverpool occupy fourth place on 43 points, while Everton are in sixth place with 42 points. Both are battling it out for a Champions League berth that finishing in the top four brings and with young, ambitious managers in charge of vibrantly talented squads, soccer in Merseyside may be about to enter another heyday.

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“Welcome to the most successful football city in the UK…”

Liverpool midfielder Allen, who spurned a glorious opportunity to score in Liverpool’s pulsating draw with Everton in November, knows better than most what the pressure cooker atmosphere of the derby is all about. Is he expecting a similar test vs. Everton under the floodlights at Anfield on Tuesday?

“I’m sure from a tempo point of view and the pace of the game it will be very similar, almost every derby game is,” Allen said. “I was impressed that Everton had the courage to fight back from a losing position but then so did we. That game had everything. Hopefully it will be as exciting, but that Liverpool come out on top and we win quite comfortably.”

More often than not, at least recently, Everton have come out on the losing side as they’ve recorded just two wins in the last 17 contests between the two famous English clubs.

As we keep hearing, this season the battle for Merseyside is tighter than it has ever been. Everton’s USMNT ‘keeper Tim Howard told me his thoughts on the rivalry before the last derby match.

These sentiments still ring true as the two giants of Merseyside lock horns on Tuesday with pride, and the potential to achieve their Champions League dreams, on the line.

“I think it will add something extra,” Howard said with a smile on his face. “I don’t think the derby ever needs extra motivation… but yeah I think both teams have been doing brilliantly. I think we’ve quietly crept in there and Liverpool have stayed quite near the top and we’re maybe one result from really getting to that top level. It will be a really good derby, in that regard.”

FA Cup draw: West Ham-Man City, three more all-PL matches

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 28:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City is challenged by Winston Reid of West Ham United during the Premier League match between Manchester City and West Ham United at Etihad Stadium on August 28, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images
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There will be four All-Premier League match-ups when the top two tiers enter the FA Cup in early January.

The most intriguing of the bunch, should the sides go close to full-strength, is West Ham United hosting Manchester City.

Five relegation candidates also have to face Premier League opposition: Burnley goes to Sunderland, Hull City hosts Swansea, and Leicester City is off to Everton.

[ MORE: Premier League Playback: Ranking superstars ]

Alluring for Manchester United fans is the return of stalwart defender Jaap Stam to Old Trafford, as the big Dutch manager brings Reading to town.

The matches will take place between Jan. 6-9.

FA Cup third round draw
Ipswich Town vs. Lincoln/Oldham
Barrow vs. Rochdale
Manchester United vs. Reading
Hull City vs. Swansea
Sunderland vs. Burnley
QPR vs. Blackburn
Millwall vs. Bournemouth
West Ham United vs. Manchester City
Brighton vs. MK Dons/Charlton
Blackpool vs. Barnsley
Wigan Athletic vs. Nottingham Forest
Birmingham City vs. Newcastle United
Chelsea vs. Peterborough/Notts County
Middlesbrough vs. Sheff Wednesday
West Bromwich Albion vs. Derby County
Everton vs. Leicester City
Liverpool vs. Newport/Plymouth
Wycombe vs. Northampton/Stourbridge
Watford vs. Burton Albion
Preston North End vs. Arsenal
Cardiff City vs. Fulham
Stoke City vs. Wolves
Cambridge United vs. Leeds United
Bristol City vs. Shrewsbury/Fleetwood
Huddersfield vs. Port Vale
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Aston Villa
Brentford vs. Halifax/Eastleigh
Bolton vs. Crystal Palace
Norwich City vs. Southampton
Sutton United vs AFC Wimbledon
Accrington vs. Luton Town
Rotherham vs. Oxford/Macclesfield

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Premier League Playback: Ranking the superstars, so far

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WHICH STARS HAVE BEEN TOP-CLASS, SO FAR?

This season the Premier League is littered with glittering superstars. Wherever you look, star players are lining up for the top teams but have all of them lived up to the hype?

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Below is a look at how the so-called “world class” players have performed so far this season, with a mark out of 10 for each of them.

There are two players from each of Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham with the main attacking talents deemed to be the “world class” by most, although plenty of other players can certainly be classed in and around this upper echelon.

It’s time to grade the stars…


Alexis Sanchez – 10/10 – They don’t call him “El Nino Maravilla” for nothing. Sanchez has been on another planet this season and his sensational hat trick against West Ham this weekend (see video above) summed up how dangerous he is. He can beat players with pace and power, plus has stunning technique and can finish. His best role is probably out wide but he’s being used as a central striker and is ripping teams apart. Easily the best player in the Premier League this season. Easily. His new contract value must be going up by the day as Arsenal try and lock him down long-term.

Diego Costa – 10/10 – Okay, so Diego Costa isn’t far behind Sanchez and the Spanish international has been a huge part of Chelsea’s incredible eight-game winning streak. With 11 goals and five assists, he has been the focal point of Antonio Conte‘s attack and Costa looks more controlled this season. He is focused and fired up to prove the doubters wrong. Boy, is he doing that. An absolute beast of a striker when he’s fit and focused.

Mesut Ozil – 9/10 – The Gunners playmaker has flown under the radar this season but his numbers, especially in terms of goals scored, are impressive. The big arguement about Ozil is his end product but clearly the German international is getting it right in the final third. He’s already scored eight goals this season which matches his tally from the whole of the 2015-16 campaign. Like Sanchez, he is currently in talks about signing a new deal and in this form he has Arsenal fans dreaming of another league title.

Philippe Coutinho – 9/10 – Such a shame that he’s gone down with an ankle injury and will miss five to six weeks in a busy stretch of the season. The Brazilian playmaker has been the creative heart of Liverpool’s high-pressing unit and delivers quality, goals and assists by the bucket full. Along with Adam Lallana, Sadio Mane (more on him shortly) and Roberto Firmino, that quartet has delivered hope to the Kop that Jurgen Klopp‘s project can yield trophies. Coutinho makes Liverpool tick.

Harry Kane – 8/10 – He is back fit after a lay off and Kane is on fire. After signing his new long-term deal at Spurs last week, he has now scored six goals in his last five Premier League games. Kane’s importance to Tottenham is undoubted and at the age of 23 he’s only just getting started.

Eden Hazard – 8/10 – Talking of getting started, Hazard has got going again and is on the way back to his best. You still feel like the Belgian wizard is playing in fourth gear but he can crank it up to fifth whenever he wants. In the 3-4-3 system at Chelsea he has more freedom and more cover from Marcos Alonso on the left flank. That is allowing Hazard to flourish.

Sadio Mane – 8/10 – The Senegalese flyer has been a revelation since arriving at Anfield in a big $45 million transfer from Southampton in the summer. Mane has scored seven goals and added three assists in 13 Premier League games, but it is his searing pace which terrifies opponents and is a perfect blend for the trickery of Coutinho and Lallana. A fine start to the season and Mane is becoming a bonafide star in the PL after two-and-a-half stellar campaigns.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic – 7/10 – We know Zlatan can talk the talk but he has also proved he can walk the walk. Despite a lean spell when he failed to score in six games, he has scored 12 goals in 21 games in all competitions for United. Ibrahimovic is United’s main attacking threat and their top goalscorer. At the age of 35, he still has star power and he’s being managed perfectly by Jose Mourinho… as things stand.

Kevin De Bruyne – 7/10 – It has been a stop, start season or KDB so far but that’s mostly been down to injury. 7 out of 10 may be a little harsh, especially after his dominant displays at Manchester United in the PL and against Barcelona in the Champions League, but De Bruyne has gone missing in some games which is unlike him. He’s been played centrally by Guardiola and he still seems to be figuring out the best way to be dangerous in that role.

Sergio Aguero – 6/10 – Like KDB, this ranking may be a little harsh, especially when you consider Aguero has 10 goals thus far. However, he also has a bit of an issue with lashing out and he was lucky to get away with a vicious elbow on Winston Reid earlier this season and has since been banned four games for his horrendous lunging tackle on David Luiz last weekend. All of that has soured Aguero’s fine finishes a little.

Dele Alli – 5/10 – Tottenham’s playmaker just hasn’t got going so far. Again, he’s had a few injuries but he’s also been involved in plenty of controversy with a few dives for penalty kicks in the box. Alli had such an incredible first season in the Premier League that there was bound to be a drop off but just three goals and one assist thus far prove he’s well below the standard he set for himself last season.

Paul Pogba – 5/10 – Well, when you become the most expensive player on the planet plenty is expected of your right away. Just ask Gareth Bale… Pogba has scored a stunning goal against Swansea and a header against Leicester and apart from that he’s been in and out of games with Mourinho struggling to find his best position on the pitch early in the season. As the campaign has worn on, Pogba has looked more comfortable in an attacking midfield role in the center yet he still has plenty of work to do to prove he’s one of the best midfielders on the planet.


CHELSEA WIN BATTLE OF BACK THREE

It was one of the most eagerly-anticipated tactical battles of the season between two new managers who had excelled at top teams across Europe.

Antonio Conte beat Pep Guardiola in the tactical battle as both deployed three central defenders and wing backs.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

In truth, the 3-1 scoreline in Chelsea’s favor doesn’t tell the whole story of a game which had everything. Guardiola’s City looked uneasy early on but found their feet and deservedly led at half time through Gary Cahill‘s shocking own goal. But as Chelsea has shown in recent games, they’re now capable of handling a blow and striking back.

Diego Costa took the game by the scruff of the neck in the second half as he scored the equalizer and set up Willian for the go-ahead goal and Eden Hazard clinched the win late on to put some extra gloss on the scoreline.

[ MORE: Recap as Chelsea win ] 

From an attacking standpoint there wasn’t much in this and if anything City had better chances but failed to take them via a combination of bad misses (Kevin de Bruyne hit the bar, somehow, from four yards out) good goalkeeping from Thibaut Courtois and goal line clearances. Big calls also went Chelsea’s way, especially in the first half when Aguero and Luiz tangled, but overall Chelsea proved that their defensive solidity will help them grind through games and get wins.

City’s defense looked shaky for most of the game as their two wings backs were basically wingers in Leroy Sane and Jesus Navas in a 3-1-4-2 formation. Neither could defend and as the game wore on Chelsea’s wing backs in a more conventional 3-4-3 formation dominated with Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso providing plenty of width and attacking intent. Without Vincent Kompany in central defense, City struggled and the decision to not play the likes of Pablo Zabelta in a wing back role really backfired for Guardiola. Defensively his side must improve if they’re going to challenge Chelsea, and others, for the Premier League title this season.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Conte won the battle of the three-man defenses and his Chelsea team also put down a huge marker of how good they are with an eighth-straight Premier League win which in turn hands Guardiola plenty of food for thought.

BONUS: The fact that Pep will be without leading scorer Aguero for four games and influential midfielder Fernandinho for the next three will also be concerning for City, as a mass melee at the end of the game ensued. Aguero’s horrendous tackle on David Luiz started it all off and Fernandinho‘s pushing and grabbing of Cesc Fabregas’ throat meant he joined Aguero in getting sent off as City finished the game with nine men.

On top of that, both teams have been charged with failing to control their players by the FA which should result in hefty fines. That said, this incident highlighted just how much this game meant to both sets of players as the title gauntlet has been thrown down earlier by Chelsea. Now, can City find a way to respond and kick on Guardiola’s project quickly?


BIG SCRAP AT THE BOTTOM

The race against relegation is quickly getting ugly and frenetic.

At this point of the season there’s usually one or two teams cut adrift from the rest. That’s not the case this season and it is making plenty of players, managers and owners nervous as we gear up for the busy festive period.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]   

Looking at the table below (before Middlesbrough’s game against Hull City on Monday) you can see Bob Bradley‘s Swansea City are rock bottom as they suffered a 5-0 thumping at Tottenham Hotspur. The Swans have nine points, and a rather favorable schedule coming up, and are just two points off safety.

Overall, there are seven teams separated by just three points from 19th to 13th and there are some big teams down there struggling.

pl-table-dec-5-2016

 

Reigning champions Leicester City continue to falter after losing at Sunderland (see video, below) and Claudio Ranieri‘s side are yet to win away in the Premier League this campaign. Making simple defensive mistakes is costing the Foxes dear and up top Jamie Vardy has just to goals in the Premier League this season, while Riyad Mahrez is struggling to create. Leicester is in real danger of getting dragged into the thick of the relegation battle and so is West Ham after they were smashed 5-1 by Arsenal. Manager Slaven Bilic admitted after that hiding that his team is in a relegation battle but he has already received the dreaded vote of confidence from the owners.

With all three newly promoted teams down at the bottom, plus Swansea, Sunderland, Leicester, West Ham and Crystal Palace in and and around the bottom three, we are all set for plenty of “relegation six-pointers” in the coming weeks.

It seems very soon to be saying that but with so many tights tightly bunched together at the bottom as we approach the halfway point, the relegation battle this season is proving to be yet another tight one.


Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

Watch Live: Middlesbrough vs. Hull City (Lineups, Live Stream)

MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND - AUGUST 13: Alvaro Negredo of Middlesbrough celebrates scoring his sides first goal with team mates during the Premier League match between Middlesbrough and Stoke City at Riverside Stadium on August 13, 2016 in Middlesbrough, England.  (Photo by Steve Welsh/Getty Images)
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Middlesbrough host Hull City at the Riverside Stadium on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) in a crucial game between two teams fighting for survival in the Premier League.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

It is not too early to call this a relegation six pointer up in the north east of England on what will be a chilly December night close to the North Sea.

In team news Boro make once change to the team which drew at Leicester as Viktor Fischer comes in for Adama Traore.

Hull make five changes to this side which beat Newcastle United on penalty kicks in the EFL Cup quarterfinals last week with Ryan Mason, Michael Dawson and David Marshall coming back into the starting lineup.

LINEUPS

Middlesbrough: Valdes; Barragan, Gibson, Chambers, Fabio; Clayton, De Roon, Forshaw; Fischer, Ramirez, Negredo. Subs: Guzan, Nsue, Bernardo, Leadbitter, Traore, Downing, Stuani

Hull City: Marshall; Elmohamady, Davies, Dawson, Robertson; Snodgrass, Clucas, Livermore, Mason, Henriksen; Diomande. Subs: Jakupovic, Maguire, Meyler, Huddlestone, Weir, Tymon, Bowen

CONMEBOL declare Chapecoense as 2016 Copa Sudamericana champions

ADDS NAMES - In this Nov. 2, 2016 photo, players of Brazil's Chapecoense team pose before a Copa Sudamericana soccer match against Argentina's San Lorenzo in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Top row from left, goalkeeper Marcos Danilo Padilha, Bruno Rangel Domingues, Helio Hermito Zampier Neto, Cleber Santana Loureiro, Willian Thiago. Bottom row from left, Guilherme Gimenez de Souza, Ananias Eloi Castro Monteiro, Tiago "Tiaguinho" Da Rocha Vieira, Matheus Bitencourt da Silva, Dener Assuncao Braz and Jose "Gil" Gildeixon Clemente de Paiva. A plane carrying the Brazilian soccer club Chapecoense team that was on it's way for a Copa Sudamericana final match against Colombia's Atletico Nacional crashed in a mountainous area outside Medellin, Colombian officials said Tuesday, Nov. 29. (AP Photo/Gustavo Garello)
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Chapecoense have officially been crowned as the 2016 Copa Sudamericana champions.

The Brazilian Serie A club tragically lost 19 players, plus its head coach and many of its backroom staff and directors in a charter plane crash last Monday in Colombia as Chapecoense traveled to play Atletico Nacional in the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final.

[ MORE: Latest on Chapecoense tragedy ]

In total, 71 of the 77 passengers on board died as the plane was reportedly short on fuel and suffered a complete electrical failure leading it to crash in a mountainous region just south of Medellin, Colombia.

Now, following a request from Atletico Nacional to award the trophy (the South American equivalent of the UEFA Europa League) to Chapecoense, the title has been officially ratified by CONMEBOL, the governing body of soccer in South America.

In a statement on their website, CONMEBOL confirmed that Chapecoense would receive the trophy and “all the honors and prerogatives of the 2016 South American Cup Champion” which go along with it.

CONMBEOL stated that the decision was made after they received a latter on Nov. 30 from Atletico Nacional asking “to hand over the title of the South American Cup to Chapecoense to honor its great loss and to act as a posthumous homage to the victims of the fatal accident.”

The governing body also confirmed that Atletico Nacional had been awarded a “Centennial Conmebol Fair Play award” for their remarkable act of fair play in such tragic circumstances.

Since the tragedy which has shocked the world occurred, the soccer community has come together to honor Chapecoense.

Last Wednesday, on the night the game between Chapecoense and Atletico Nacional should have taken place, fans of Nacional packed the stadium in Colombia and honored the victims in a memorial service and songs. Brazilian soccer has also acted to propose that Chapecoense is immune from relegation from Brazil’s top-flight for three seasons, plus plenty of the biggest clubs in the nation have said they will not charge loan fees for players if Chapecoense needs them.

The team from the small city of Chapeco in southern Brazil was on the verge of its greatest ever week as a club as they had battled up from the fourth-tier of Brazilian soccer in 2009 to the final of a continental tournament in 2016.

Now, they’ve been crowned the champions of the Copa Sudamericana to honor Chapecoense’s players, staff and all of those lost in the tragedy.