LONDON • Tough Covid-19 restrictions have cast a pre-winter gloom across Merseyside, but at least Everton supporters have something to lift their spirits after their side's storming start to the Premier League season.
Today, Carlo Ancelotti's table-toppers host champions Liverpool at Goodison Park flushed with a rare sense of superiority over their Mersey rivals.
Everton boast the only 100 per cent record in the Premier League of teams who have played four games, are averaging three goals per game, and in Dominic Calvert-Lewin have the division's joint-leading scorer alongside Tottenham's Son Heung-min.
By contrast, Liverpool went into the international break licking their wounds after a 7-2 defeat by Aston Villa and after four games have the joint second-worst defensive record in the top flight. Manchester United and bottom side Fulham have also conceded 11 league goals - only West Bromwich Albion have let in more (13).
It is far too early to be talking about a shift of power from the red to the blue half of Merseyside, but Everton's invigorating football so far and Liverpool's fragility have certainly heightened interest in today's clash outside of the city.
Calvert-Lewin has been grabbing the headlines with his six league goals so far but it is Everton's new signings who have transformed Ancelotti's side from the sterile under-achievers they were last season into potential top-four candidates.
Colombian playmaker James Rodriguez has been a revelation so far in an attacking trio alongside Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison, while the industry of Brazilian Allan and the power of Abdoulaye Doucoure have turned Everton's midfield into a formidable unit.
With back-up options such as new central defensive signing Ben Godfrey, Alex Iwobi, Bernard and Tom Davies, Everton's form does not look like being a flash in the pan.
They have won seven out of seven in all competitions so far but today's derby will be the ultimate litmus test as the Toffees, without a major trophy since the 1995 FA Cup, seek a first league win over Liverpool for 10 years.
Ancelotti, though, has urged caution against the Reds.
He said at his pre-match press conference yesterday: "Liverpool as usual play with a lot of intensity and quality. This will be the opponent we play tomorrow, so we have to pay attention. But we have to be confident to be able to show our quality.
"Everyone knows how important this derby is. Everyone knows how important this game is for this period, we want to keep this period good for the future.
"It will be good for us to have this kind of test. One of the best teams in England for sure, they were the best last season. It's a fantastic challenge, a good test for us."
He added that all his players would be available today. Meanwhile, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has praised the Italian for the good work he has done since he arrived at Everton in December.
"Carlo is a sensational manager. It was clear if he has time to build something and resources to build something, that is what he will do," the German said during his press conference yesterday. "The team look really, really good. You don't need to be a manager to see they have done good business.
"Of course, it is a proper challenger. We have to be ready tomorrow and we can show that."
Naby Keita will be absent for the trip today while Klopp also confirmed that Sadio Mane and Thiago Alcantara, both returning from their coronavirus infections, "look really good and the boys are ready".
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
EVERTON V LIVERPOOL
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