|Money from Rooney transfer was well spent
Manchester United's win at Arsenal in midweek have given them a huge psychological advantage in the race for the Premiership runners-up spot and Liverpool's meeting with Everton next month could prove as decisive in the battle for the last Champions League place.
Given that Chelsea are so far ahead at the top, the contest between the two Merseyside clubs for fourth place looks more fascinating than the supposed one for the Premiership title. Everton, of course, have far, far exceeded any possible expectations when the season kicked off and a Champions League place would be a massive prize for them.
For Liverpool, however, finishing fourth is their minimum requirement and would be seen by their fans as sneaking into Europe via the back door. Therein lies the heart of their problem. Liverpool have been such a great club and such a successful one for so long that it is hard for them to come to terms with the reality that, at present, they're almost one of the also-rans. My mate, Alan Hansen, is not the only one who finds it hard to relate to the fact that things are not what they used to be at Anfield. Some supporters still seriously believe that Liverpool should be fighting with Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United for the title when, looking at their squad, that's not a feasible proposition.
If you listen to the rumours, you might come to the conclusion that Everton improved their fortunes simply by getting rid of Wayne Rooney, who, according to urban myth, was a corrosive influence in the dressing room. Yet, I would not have thought that he was an unpopular boy there and in all my playing days, I can never remember a situation in which the majority of a team wanted a particular player out.
I think that what might have happened at Goodison is that, in hindsight, Everton looked at the huge amount of money they got for Rooney and realised that they were fortunate to be able to use it to bring in players who, while of lesser ability, were in just the key positions they were weak in.
Manager David Moyes deserves credit for identifying those players, for getting the team superbly organised and for forging a fabulous team spirit. It proves you do not necessarily need Roman Abramovich's money to put together a good, competitive team.
Both Merseyside clubs played their joker card in the January transfer window, Everton bringing in James Beattie from Southampton and Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez signing Fernando Morientes. Beattie had a really good goalscoring record at Southampton, who are not one of the bigger clubs, and that says much for him. But now he is taking a step up and it is a question of whether he can handle it.
You certainly cannot compare him to Morientes, a proven, top-class striker who has played for big clubs throughout his career and who has a wonderful track record. He is a class act, a great player who has also had an international career that few can match. I can't see him failing to get plenty of goals, but unless the results come with it, Benitez will find himself under increasing pressure, which is a bit unfair after less than six months. As I have said, expectations are unreasonably high at Liverpool, yet Benitez is a successful coach, he obviously knows what he is talking about and I don't see the point of bringing someone of his stature in from Valencia and then putting him under pressure after a couple of bad results.
Having said that, I think he made a mistake playing a weakened side in the FA Cup, which lost the team momentum, because at times, in two and three-game spells, they have looked to be going in the right direction. When I spoke to Steven Gerrard the other day, he was singing Benitez' praises as a coach, although there is still constant speculation that Stevie could be at another club come next season.