LONDON (REUTERS) - Liverpool's Premier League title aspirations will be under scrutiny again on Saturday when they make the short trip across Stanley Park to face city rivals Everton.
The last time Brendan Rodgers' side took on genuine contenders for the crown, they were well-beaten 2-0 at Arsenal, a defeat that deflated the early-season optimism at Anfield.
They responded with a 4-0 drubbing of Fulham, however, and as the Premier League cranks back into action after the international break, they are only two points behind leaders Arsenal who host high-flying Southampton on Saturday.
Victory over Everton would put Liverpool top for a few hours at least though Everton's start to the season under new manager Roberto Martinez has been almost as impressive.
Martinez's managerial breakthrough came at Swansea City where the Spaniard introduced a cultured playing style that Rodgers continued when he took the Welsh club into the Premier League for the first time.
Martinez, who was linked with the Liverpool job when Kenny Dalglish left in 2012 only to remain at Wigan Athletic for another season, has quickly stamped his trademark at Everton, championing a more patient build-up to the direct approach of former boss David Moyes.
It is working too, with Everton up in sixth place, five points off the summit having lost only once in 11 games.
In recent seasons, matches between Liverpool and Everton have lacked the edge of a "top of the table" battle but with the Premier League wide open this year, Martinez says Saturday's clash has added significance.
"It's a massive game, it's a glamorous game, one that is always followed worldwide because of the passion between the clubs," Martinez, who described the derby as unique in world football, said in a news conference yesterday.
"But besides being a derby, this match is even more important because both teams are in the top six and have had strong starts to the season."