It is obviously complete coincidence that the Merseyside and Manchester derby fall on the same weekend. If you can overlook the cringe-worthy over-advertisement of the afternoon as a spectacle, it is an ideal afternoon. A storm is about to sweep across most of the country, and there’s not much better than spending an afternoon on your sofa gorping at the television for hours. Even better when it’s two enormous, feisty derbies.
Of course, braving the chilly winter weather for a trip to the pub all afternoon is equally as appealing.
The two traditional northwest giants are the hosts this weekend. Liverpool have not lost to Everton at Anfield since 1999, and, prior to 2008, Manchester United had not lost to Manchester City at Old Trafford since the 1970s.
Manchester City have lost just once in the league at Old Trafford since the historic 6-1 victory in their Premier League title winning 2011/12 season.
United were dominant of City, Liverpool are still dominant of Everton.
Forget the past
We can be sure to hear those records repeatedly before the matches actually kick-off. You can decide whether they matter or not.
Manchester United’s, albeit slim, chance of winning a first Premier League title since 2013 rides on this match. The eight-point gap is already a mammoth challenge, but it would be on the cusp of impossible if it became 11. Closing it to five points has been a condition of any potential title contest this season.
Liverpool, meanwhile, face an Everton side who have won two matches in a row without conceding in the league. Sam Allardyce has arrived, and the perils of relegation have already faded into irrelevance. This match is tailor-made for the self-promoting journeyman.
Meeting of managerial rivals
The Old Trafford encounter brings together two familiar foes. Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City have been playing majestic football this season. Record-breaking, entertaining stuff. Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United have often been a trademark Mourinho team, which means a bit less entertaining. Though they have been working on their own record-breaking: being unbeatable at home.
Draws were the bane of Mourinho’s 2016/17. Another home draw in 2017/18 would be curtains for any sniff of title optimism. It would be as hurtful as a defeat in this rivalry for the former Chelsea manager, and make it two seasons without a Premier League trophy.
Guardiola might not realise it himself yet – given his perfectionism – but he would surely take a draw on Sunday. That will not stop City playing to win, mind.
For years, these fixtures were an expectation for United. Expectation leans on City this time, but the hosts are the team under real pressure.
Superiority brings pressure
Liverpool annihilated Spartak Moscow in midweek. Jurgen Klopp has his side playing attacking football as good as any team in the world. They are playing a team who are sat in 10th, and have suffered a catastrophically dysfunctional first half of the season.
That all seems like a simple Liverpool win. The Reds are flying, have lost just twice in the league all season, and are going to be able to name all of the Fab Four from the start. If it was not for the derby, this would be a 3pm kick-off with little interest in it.
The rivalry changes a smidge, but Allardyce changes it even more. Klopp’s Liverpool have often struggled against teams that sit deep. They have also had their woes with set pieces. Now, they sound a bit like two things that Allardyce specialises in.
Failure to win will likely see Liverpool drop out of the top four, and six points behind Chelsea in third. Everton can play with minimal expectation, without the looming shadow of the bottom three.
Allardyce and Everton can only come out of this positively.
Derby is season defining, not season Ending
Derby day in the northwest will not be ending any seasons just yet. Everton and Manchester City have the least to lose, mind.
It is much a return to the early 2000s, the onus is on the two giants to win, anything less would be a harmful failure. Harmful beyond their own cities, too.
History is what makes derbies the fierce, bitter days they are. Manchester United must reverse the clocks, while Liverpool need to extend their Merseyside superiority.