Merseyside rivals seek kick-start

Fierce local passion ensures the Merseyside derby is never short of an edge, but the outcome of this weekend's meeting of Everton and Liverpool at Goodison Park will carry added significance for managers David Moyes and Rafael Benitez.

Both men are attempting to kick-start their clubs' season after an underwhelming start to the campaign, and while Everton's Moyes appears to be in greater need of three points, Benitez has already been forced to defend his side despite Liverpool remaining unbeaten in their opening five league games.

Two weeks ago, Benitez's men were hailed as potential champions after an impressive victory over Manchester United at Anfield. But if that win was seen as a turning point for Liverpool, they were provided with a harsh reality check seven days later when they were held at home by newly-promoted Stoke.

For Benitez's critics, that was taken as proof that the Spaniard's current squad is still not capable of finding the consistency needed to end the club's 18-year wait for the title. And the doubters were provided with further ammunition during Liverpool's painfully off-key performance against League One side Crewe during this week's narrow League Cup victory.

With his side sitting third, just one point behind leaders Arsenal, Benitez is certainly not facing a crisis, but in his fifth season in charge at Anfield, he knows a sustained title challenge is an absolute must this season and defeat against Everton will do nothing to help his cause.

Immediate threat
Moyes is facing a more immediate threat to Everton's prospects after a wildly inconsistent start that culminated this week in defeat to Blackburn in the League Cup.

That could be followed by a second cup exit next week, when the Blues face Standard Liege in Belgium in the UEFA Cup, having conceded two goals thanks to shocking defensive errors in the 2-2 first leg draw at Goodison.

The opening days of Everton's season were overshadowed by wranglings about the manager's transfer dealings, but having finally strengthened his squad, Moyes now wants results. So far the performances of the new players have been indifferent, with midfielders Marouane Fellaini and Segundo Castillo both hauled off at half-time against Blackburn.

But the belated appearance of Louis Saha after yet another injury has offered some hope that Everton's improved striking options can compensate for the uncharacteristic defensive failings that have marred recent performances.

The former Manchester United striker made only his second appearance of the season against Rovers, and Saha believes the Liverpool game will provide the perfect opportunity to bounce back.

Saha said: "The only positive we can take from the Blackburn game is a reaction to put it right. I know we are a hard working team and when we are faced with games like this one, we usually take the opportunity to show that. We still have new players adapting to things here. It has been a bit of a rush."