September 25, 2014

The 226th edition of the Merseyside derby between Liverpool and Everton sees both sides at a crossroads of sorts.

After arguably a culture-changing win at Anfield, Jurgen Klopp has the Reds pointed in the right direction with complete faith in his every move. Everton, however, enters Wednesday's match down the road wondering if Roberto Martinez is at the end of his.

A week of pendulum-swinging emotion on the red side of Liverpool began Thursday when the Reds (14-9-9) rallied from a pair of two-goal deficits to defeat Klopp's former team - Borussia Dortmund - 4-3 in the second leg of the Europa League tie. They reached the semifinals opposite Villarreal and kept their path to the Champions League open.

The cauldron of cheers that engulfed The Kop and Anfield - with some recalling memories of Liverpool's improbable rally from a 3-0 deficit in Istanbul to win the 2005 Champions League over AC Milan - gave way to Friday's somber silence that marked the 27th anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy.

It was the final memorial service dedicated to the Hillsborough 96, a decision made by family members of those lost in the 1989 incident.

Both sides, red and blue, were among the 25,000 present at Anfield while the entire city went quiet at 3:06 p.m. - the time when the FA Cup semifinal between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest was abandoned due to the horror unfolding in the Leppings Lane terraces at Sheffield Wednesday.

"It was really emotional. For me, it was really, really special," Klopp told the team's website Saturday after he experienced the service for the first time. "To see how close they still are after this long, that, for me, is one of the most beautiful stories I've ever heard about it.

"This memorial day and how they did it yesterday was really, really special. I only can say that I was glad to be part of it yesterday, only as a visitor, but to be part of it was a big thing."

One could almost have forgiven Klopp and Liverpool had they suffered a letdown Sunday at Bournemouth, where the overachieving Cherries were trying to add another high-profile pelt to their wins list in their first top-flight season.

But with 10 changes to a starting XI that featured Connor Randall, Brad Smith and Sheyi Ojo making their first Premier League starts, the Reds emerged with a 2-1 victory as late first-half goals by Roberto Firmino and Daniel Sturridge saw them through for three points.

"You cannot rest for a tournament, you can only try to find a few more fit players, that's what we tried to do today," Klopp responded when asked if he was focusing on winning the Europa League. "I am responsible for this lineup ... I told the boys you can play football because if it doesn't work, they can blame me and not you.

"We have two more Premier League games before the next European game so we don't think about Europa League."

While Liverpool cannot do the double over their neighbours after playing to a 1-1 draw Oct. 4 at Goodison Park - their last match under Klopp's predecessor Brendan Rodgers - they do carry some lengthy streaks over Everton (9-14-10) into this clash.

The teams have split the points the last three derbies, but Liverpool are unbeaten in the last 10 league games (3-7-0) since a 2-0 loss at Everton on Oct. 17, 2010. The Toffees are 0-8-7 in their last 15 top-flight matches at Anfield since a 1-0 victory Sept. 27, 1999, on Kevin Campbell's goal in the fourth minute.

Martinez has lost to Liverpool only once since arriving at Goodison Park in 2013 from Wigan Athletic, with the other four matches ending in draws. Yet it's hard not to empathise with a fan base expecting more from him and the team than a second straight bottom-half finish in his third season while Klopp has reversed the fortunes of the storied franchise in just six months at Anfield.

Thus, this match and Sunday's FA Cup semifinal versus Manchester United at Wembley Stadium may serve as a final referendum on Martinez's Merseyside tenure. The fact both will not be at Goodison Park could prove to his benefit as the Toffees again were unable to solve their home woes.

Saturday's 1-1 draw with Southampton left them with a mere 17 points from as many home matches this term.

It was the second time in three contests Everton were profligate with a lead, with Sadio Mane netting the equaliser eight minutes after Ramiro Funes Mori scored on 68 minutes for the Toffees. They have not trailed at any point in recording three consecutive draws, but they've held the lead for just nine minutes on either side of their 0-0 stalemate at Crystal Palace.

"Overall, it is disappointing," Mori said. "The goal didn't mean nothing. We drew a game we should have won but we will keep fighting to the end. We don't want to tie, we want to win. It's going to be an intense week.

"We have important games coming up so we will do everything to win against Liverpool and then go again in the FA Cup."

Martinez will also have to make some lineup changes, with Seamus Coleman likely sidelined for both matches due to a hamstring injury. Talisman Phil Jagielka and midfielder Tom Cleverley are in danger of sitting out their third straight match Wednesday and both are uncertain to face United.

Liverpool have won 88 of the 225 matches between the teams dating to 1894, and Everton have won 66. The teams have shared points on 71 occasions.

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