Liverpool finally have the chance to recommence their Premier League title charge today (9pm) when they make the short trip across Stanley Park to take on Everton in the 287th Merseyside derby.
The Reds arrive at Goodison Park with a 22-point lead at the top of the table and knowing that just two more wins will be enough to wrap up a first top-flight crown since 1990.
After 30 years of waiting, Liverpool fans have had to be patient for a few months longer than expected as the coronavirus pandemic halted an otherwise unstoppable assault on the Premier League title.
At one stage, there was the threat that all of Liverpool’s record-breaking achievements would be wiped from the history books and they would be denied the title in the cruellest of ways, with the 2019-20 campaign being declared null and void.
The red half of Merseyside will be happier than anyone to see the Premier League return, then, although the prospect of officially wrapping up the title in the backyard of their closest neighbours was taken away from them by Manchester City’s victory over Arsenal on Wednesday night.
Nevertheless, Liverpool are still only six points away from officially being crowned champions of England for the first time since 1990, adding to their status as champions of Europe and champions of the world.
The unprecedented nature of the coronavirus stoppage will naturally be what the 2019-20 campaign is most remembered for in the future, but Liverpool’s exploits also look set to stand the test of time and they will have their sights set on breaking yet more records over the final nine games.
Having incredibly dropped only five of the opening 87 on offer this season, Liverpool need 19 more points from the last 27 available to surpass Manchester City’s centurions in terms of the highest overall points tally in a single campaign, while they also look certain to win the title with more games to spare than any other club has managed in the past.
Liverpool’s run of picking up 106 points from a possible 108 is almost unfathomable and may never be repeated, although they were in the midst of their first real wobble when play was suspended and travel to Goodison Park having lost four of their last six games across all competitions.
That run includes their solitary Premier League defeat of the season – a 3-0 reverse against Watford – while they were not entirely convincing in bouncing back with a 2-1 triumph over Bournemouth in their most recent top-flight outing before lockdown.
For all of the fears that it could scupper their inevitable title, then, the break may have come at an opportune moment for Liverpool as they aim to continue their remarkably dominant record against their local rivals.
Liverpool have not lost a Merseyside derby for a decade now and have already beaten Everton twice this season, so for the Toffees this is arguably the worst possible fixture with which to return.
There may be optimism amongst Everton that they can capitalise on the unique circumstances created by the three-month stoppage, which will see them play a competitive match in June for the first time ever and Liverpool play only their second – after last year’s Champions League final win over Tottenham Hotspur.
For Liverpool, this match could nudge a prize even more coveted than that sixth Champions League crown to within touching distance, but Everton will relish the chance to prolong their rivals’ wait just that little bit longer.
The Toffees have certainly improved since Carlo Ancelotti’s arrival, winning five and losing only three of their 11 Premier League games under the Italian so far.
However, they – like Liverpool – suffered a slump immediately prior to lockdown, picking up just one point from a three-game spell against Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea – the latter a heavy 4-0 defeat.