Is Tuesday's Merseyside derby going to be the biggest in years?

Anfield

Liverpool face Everton at Anfield on Tuesday in what could be a season-defining clash for both sides.

With 16 games to go, two bitter rivals are separated by just one point.

The aim - as it always has been - is Champions League football and, for the first time in a long time, the likelihood as things stand is that one of those rivals will finally get it.

For Everton, reaching the group stages of the elite competition is a dream never to have yet been fulfilled. 2005 was the year the Toffees got closest to Europe's top table, finishing fourth but being knocked out of the qualifying rounds by Villarreal the next season.

And Liverpool, for all their illustrious history in Europe, haven't qualified for the Champions League since 2009, a decline started in Rafa Benitez's last campaign at the club and continued through the reigns of Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish.

Brendan Rodgers, on the other hand, needed a season to get to grips with life at Anfield but is now setting sail for a top-four finish. Yet the problem for Reds fans is that Roberto Martinez is doing the exact same thing at Everton.

“We’re not going to go to Anfield feeling inferior. We are not going there looking for a damage-limitation performance,” Martinez told reporters ahead of the clash.

“We have great respect for Liverpool, don’t get me wrong, but we will be going to Anfield looking to show our own qualities. Beating [Manchester] United at Old Trafford was a big result for us but there have been other landmarks this season."

Rodgers, though, feels Liverpool, too, are ready for the huge clash, which leaves both sides at a bit of an impasse.

Neither team, of course, will want to give any ground in an occasion of such importance - and yet both will need to display their attacking credentials if they are to really push for the ultimate goal of Champions League football.

As always, it will come down to who wants it more: enormous amounts are at stake.

Liverpool, level on points with Tottenham, can pull four points clear of their Merseyside rivals, preserving their long-time dominance against the Toffees at Anfield, while at the same time giving them a satisfying tally of four points from a possible six for the season against their great rivals.

Victory will far from guarantee a top-four finish, especially with Spurs and Manchester United yet to show their hand, but it will give the Reds with a psychological boost very few other wins could ever provide.

For Everton, though, triumph would be even more significant, with the blue half of Merseyside not being able to celebrate a win at Anfield since 1999.

Indeed, if Martinez could conjure the impossible in one respect, why can't he go on to secure a Champions League place? That might just be the question on Everton fans' lips - if their side can achieve a famous win...

Clearly, however, victory would be just as precious for both sides, which suggests the very probable outcome of a draw. For that very reason, neither team could get the better of each other when they first met at Goodison Park this season, when a thrilling spectacle saw them draw 3-3.

But then a point each would just help Tottenham and United catch up, leaving both sides in a collectively worse position than they are in right now.

Boy, there certainly is a lot riding on Tuesday night...

Is this the most important Merseyside in years?

image: © Sanjiva

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