It has been nearly 13 years since a Liverpool side was so good that they merited a three-point deficit to overcome. They are now four away from equalling that feat and using it as a springboard to top the Premier League table.
Few observers at Goodison Park expect Liverpool to be a solid 10-point lead by the time they arrive on Merseyside in three weeks’ time, perhaps none as pessimistic as Rafael Benitez, who has won three top-flight titles with Newcastle and two League Cups.
“I’ve never seen the champions this good, so I don’t see them losing to Everton,” the Merseyside stalwart said. “They’ve got that quality, they’re dominating the league, and the real test is coming.”
Pressure has been mounting on Liverpool over the Christmas period after wins in three successive matches against Chelsea, Tottenham and Swansea – last-gasp victories that have left them in a league and cup tie with Reading at the top of their respective divisions.
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Defeat on Sunday would only increase the fear among fans of a second season without a trophy, as the Everton boss will be spared the role of analysing his counterpart, Jurgen Klopp, and attempting to pick the points out of the Liverpool team and have them questioned by reporters.
“It’s been very satisfying to watch,” said Benitez. “They’ve had some players who were involved in the title, so they’ve had those players who know what it takes to be the best side in the league.”
Benitez is still in the eye of the Manchester and Merseyside storm and had criticised Liverpool and Manchester United for announcing plans to share the Alderley Edge training ground, alleging they were “going against the spirit” of the game.
Klopp, when asked on Friday what would be the official reaction of Liverpool’s supporters if they lost to Everton, said: “No reaction. Football is about winners, not losers.”
Liverpool are the top side in the Premier League on a mean record of 31 points, ahead of Chelsea on goal difference, a position that has been taken by Newcastle without winning a trophy since 1969.
The Toon have lost only once since Benitez arrived from Real Madrid in January 2011, but after running fourth last season, they still sit 12th and need to arrest their losing run which now stands at five matches, having also drawn with Crystal Palace and Tottenham.
Worryingly for them, with midfield battle-axe Fabian Schar set to leave and Frenchman Florian Thauvin injured, the problems in defence look likely to be compounded.
Benitez’s team are determined to be positive as they seek to avoid the humiliation of a third defeat in five matches against Klopp’s side – after defeats to Brighton, Stoke and Stoke in the Premier League and Watford in the FA Cup.
“It’ll be strange because we’ve never had the chance to do it here against Liverpool,” said Benitez. “It’ll be a big game and we know it, but we can’t change it. We need to start winning and we can be a massive danger. We need to be calm.
“After the game against Swansea, we didn’t feel any pressure. I thought the game was over. For two or three weeks it was okay, but they kept the same quality and it’s difficult for us to change that in a day.”