There was a time when a search for the best two teams in England wouldn’t have needed to take place outside of a park on Merseyside.
Ahead of Manchester United and Arsenal, and far better than Chelsea and Manchester City, were Everton and Liverpool, the two clubs separated by a stretch of grass known as Stanley Park, and who reigned over the rest of the country’s football clubs for much of the 1980s.
For 10 seasons between 1978/79 and 1987/1988, only once did the league championship trophy escape the grasp of a team from Merseyside. They were the two of the best sides in the land and they knew it, and so whenever they met there was much more than just local pride on the line.
In the last few years though, times have changed.
Football has moved on and we’ve been left with other titanic, eagerly anticipated fixtures. The Merseyside derby would always compete for the public’s attention, but even if it got that attention it wasn’t going to be savoured by the neutrals for long.
This Saturday that will all change.
Not only does the early afternoon meeting between Everton and Liverpool at Goodison Park herald a welcome return for Premier League football following yet another international break, but it is also a meeting of two of the more impressive teams in the division this season.
A Liverpool victory over their rivals will see them move to the top of the table, whilst an Everton win would ensure that they’d go level on points with the second-placed Reds. Suddenly it’s like the old days again.
Of course the fact that the Blues and Reds will have a headstart on the rest of the teams in action over the weekend – and also the fact that it’s November – means that it’s far too early to start projecting greatness onto both sides just yet, but no-one can doubt that things are looking up for both clubs at the moment.
Although hampered by back-to-back goalless draws against Tottenham and surprisingly Crystal Palace in their last two games, Roberto Martinez’s Everton have still impressed this season, with their tally of just one defeat only matched by table-topping Arsenal.
They’ve been held back somewhat by five draws – four of which were 0-0 – but the Spanish boss has quickly made his mark since leaving Wigan Athletic in the summer, combining his own football philosophies with the steeliness and desire that David Moyes brought to Everton over his 11 years at Goodison.
Across the park, things have been going well for Liverpool too.
Brendan Rodgers’ second season in charge has featured impressive building on the foundations he laid during his first campaign.
Of course keeping hold of Luis Suarez was always going to be key to that, but we’ve also seen the team blossom in several other areas, most notably in the quality of their possession-based football and their increased goal threat through Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.
Both teams are on a high then, and both should be full of confidence.
It makes for what should be a cracking contest at Goodison on Saturday, when both sides will enter the derby safe in the knowledge that everyone will be watching them.
This time it is more than just a local squabble played out by teams who will both finish in mid-table come the end of the campaign, and instead the tackles, the passion and the commitment will all transmit towards tangible progress at the top of the table for one of the sides.
Whoever wins will take the all-important bragging rights of course, but they’ll also be able to take a huge step forward and a huge injection of confidence with them.
These two might not be the best two sides in the country again just yet but they’re getting closer, and that could be there for all to see on Saturday.
Still no appointment at the Palace
Does anybody out there actually want to be the new Crystal Palace manager?
At the last count the list of names linked with the Selhurst Park job was longer than the list of defensive errors that the club have committed this season, but still chairman Steve Parish has yet to decide on the appointment of the new man to lead the Eagles.
The former Chelsea defender Dan Petrescu is the latest of a long line of bosses to have seemingly jumped to the front of the queue to take the job, but is this really the right kind of position for a young boss looking to make his mark in England?
That is the thought that you suspect crossed the mind of one-time favourite Aitor Karanka, who instead opted to move down to the Championship with Middlesbrough.
Given the situation Palace are in, then perhaps experience should be turned to.
Former Eagles boss Neil Warnock or the divisive Tony Pulis might not be popular choices with all supporters, but they could be a safe pair of hands.
Back City to enjoy home comforts
Manchester City might still be maddening on the road, but home is where their heart is.
They should see off an unconvincing Tottenham side at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, and they might well do it with room to spare.