<
>

Liverpool flying before Everton test as Klopp's revolution hits second phase

play
Nicol: Liverpool could bolster defence with Coutinho sale (3:15)

Steve Nicol weighs in on Philippe Coutinho's comments regarding his Liverpool future, suggesting the team strengthen their defence if the Brazilian star leaves. (3:15)

Liverpool go into Sunday's derby clash against Everton with several unbeaten records on the line.

They haven't lost since a sobering 4-1 loss to Tottenham in October. Everton haven't won a derby for seven years, with no Anfield victory since 1999.

That leads to either a pessimistic realisation all good things come to an end or a bubbling confidence in the Reds under Jurgen Klopp finally beginning to look the part -- with a fixture against opposition they usually beat coming up next.

A few weeks ago even local rivalry couldn't stir up much interest in this game yet improvements in form -- by both -- and a third round FA Cup clash to come has rejuvenated expectations.

It may not be a title decider as of old, with the added chagrin of that happening in Manchester immediately after the Merseyside derby ends, but for fans of both sides this means everything right now.

Liverpool can be very pleased with their recent efforts. Scoring 40 goals in 11 games, Champions League progress after topping the group and fourth in the Premier League when some expected them to wilt because of fixture congestion.

That could all be wrecked by more evidence of Everton resurgence on Sunday. The problem with unbeaten runs is that the bigger they get, the harder the fall. Nice to have the problem, anyway.

It's become a tastier clash with the added ingredient of Sam Allardyce, English football's greatest self-publicist. Despite over a quarter of a century of largely desultory football, the Everton job is still one of the biggest in England -- and he didn't have to change his name to get it.

A month ago reds and blues would have shared distaste for the former England coach, but Everton were desperate. Now he's their manager, the grinding of gears being pulled into reverse will become deafening should he put one over Liverpool.

He actually doesn't have that great a record at Anfield, in all of his various roles in English football. All Everton care about it is that he won his last encounter, a 2-1 win for Crystal Palace on April 23 which coincidentally also came during a good run for the Reds near the end of last season.

Everton now have a manager who already had form for trying to get under Liverpool's skin. There were numerous clashes with Rafa Benitez back in the day including an unpleasant, manufactured spat in which the reviled Sir Alex Ferguson predictably waded in. Liverpool fans have not forgotten nor forgiven it.

In football terms it's clear who holds the upper hand this season despite Everton's recent improvement. Liverpool's forward players are proving hard to stop right now, sharing out the goals and camouflaging concerns at the back which still remain.

As with all of Liverpool's massive wins in the past there's always a disregard for the opposition afterwards. Maribor aren't quite the pushover Liverpool made them look, and now it's Spartak Moscow's turn to be derided.

There was admittedly plenty of room for Philippe Coutinho to weave his magic in a 10/10 performance on Wednesday.

The traditionally frenetic Merseyside derby may not be the occasion for the Brazilian to take up a midfield role again but Klopp has spent weeks confounding football logic, especially with his defence at Brighton. Everything's coming off for him right now during this purple patch.

People can criticise Maribor, Brighton or Spartak all they want after such heavy defeats but in those matches Liverpool hit them early. Once they were a few goals in front a drop in opposition discipline and passion was predictable.

Allardyce will not only be coaching Everton not to concede anything early but he'll also know if there should be an early goal for Liverpool then derby passion won't just be switched off. Everton will keep going no matter what happens.

It is a satisfying time for Liverpool fans right now. With the club's successful past comes a restless spirit. Simply enjoying a run of good form for what it is feels complacent somehow.

Avoiding defeat on Sunday would make it a 10-match unbeaten run but in the back of the mind will be the thought that a truly great team would increase it by a further five or even 10.

Klopp is now in phase two of his Liverpool rebuild. Any setback now becomes major. Last season a good run signified the beginning of a return to greatness and was widely appreciated. Defeats and stumbles in form were expected, not exactly shrugged off but understood at least.

A setback now, and against local rivals who've waited years for a win, would be too hideous to contemplate and a test of Liverpool's mentality -- which most people regard as fragile anyway.

Sunday provides a chance to at least delay such a test of their character but in many ways they can still prove they've got what it takes.