Arguably the biggest story of the 2013/14 Premier League season is the rise of Merseyside.
Sorry, Jose Mourinho.
Apologies, Manuel Pellegrini.
You’re welcome, David Moyes.
No question the narratives involving Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United are highly important to the storyarc of this Premier League season but they have nothing on what’s been going on at Liverpool and Everton.
The similarities in management, style of play, personnel and achievement are what make these two clubs so remarkable.
Blessed with innovative managers in Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez, both clubs are dedicated to possession-oriented, attacking football. The two former Swansea bosses are tactical geniuses, constantly shuffling formations and personnel given the opposition.
This season Rodgers and Martinez have deployed formations of 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2, 4-4-3, with the former also utilizing 3-5-2, a shape that the latter favored while at Wigan but has prudently held off using at Everton. With the exception of the occasional Steven Gerrard Hollywood-ball or the Sylvain Distin panic-clearance, both Merseyside clubs prefer their football played on the carpet, and with blistering pace.
Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson are flyers for the Reds, much in the same vein as Kevin Mirallas, Ross Barkley, Gerard Deulofeu, Romelu Lukaku and Aiden McGeady are lightning for the Blues.
The result? Bags of goals scored from all over the park.
The main difference between the sides is money and therefore, talent, to which Liverpool enjoys the obvious edge. At least, for now, Lukaku is by no means a striker of the same quality of Suarez or Sturridge. Similarly, Gareth Barry is not on the same level as Gerrard although the City loanee has been a revelation since pulling on the Toffee blue and will likely sign a permanent deal with the club this summer. Yet in a world where big money trumps all and Rodgers enjoys the backing of a rich board eager to pay huge sums to make European dreams a reality, Martinez’ fixed budget requires a bit more clever finessing to build a squad.
The other slight leg up Liverpool has on Everton is in leadership. True to the chant, there is only one Steven Gerrard. Captain Fantastic. Stevie G. Whatever you call him, he leads the men around him with such an infectious air of confidence that his impressive toll of 13 goals and 9 assists serves as a mere footnote. Everton captain Phil Jagielka, notably, is a tremendous leader as well, one of the many reasons he will be a surefire starting center-back for England in the 2014 World Cup. But when all is said and done and Gerrard retires there’s little question he’ll go down as the best leader to have served a Premier League club.
The fact then, that Liverpool and Everton are each in prime position for a massive achievement this season makes sense. Liverpool were not title favorites coming into the year but beating the likes of Manchester United, Tottenham, Everton and Arsenal, as well as ripping off nine straight wins to head into the final stretch of the season has a way of making that a reality. Similarly, the Toffees tossed aside Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal this season while winning six on the bounce to put them in position to finish 4th and qualify for the Champions League.
Not to get ahead of ourselves or jinx either squad. The story has yet to run its course and neither side will be patting itself on the back with just five weeks remaining. It’s difficult, however, to have gone through the last two years of Manchester domination and not feel, even at this point in time, like we are witnessing the rise of Merseyside.
Against each other Liverpool and Everton are rivals but together, they are brothers linked by a city, an accent, a philosophy, a style of play, and, as we will see this weekend, the 25th anniversary of the greatest tragedy in British football.