There was disappointment for both Merseyside teams in Europe this week.
On Tuesday night, Liverpool allowed a 3-0 half-time lead to disappear in Seville, leaving them needing a result in the final match of their Champions League group in order to reach the last sixteen.
The result was described as feeling like a defeat, but with a little perspective, it won’t have been difficult for Liverpool’s players or manager to realise that they still top Group E, and have the job of finishing as group winners firmly in their own hands.
In contrast, Everton’s home loss to Atalanta on Thursday will have felt every bit like the 5-1 scoreline suggests it should. Playing for nothing more than pride having already exited the group stage at the earliest possible opportunity, the match offered a chance to demonstrate to the Goodison faithful that the team is up for the fight of salvaging a campaign which has so far been bitterly disappointing.
The form of Everton has been one of the most surprising elements of the season, particularly after a summer of spending which saw £145million worth of signings brought to the club.
Given the current situation, it’s easy to forget that Everton started the season relatively well, with goals from Wayne Rooney securing a home win in the first match of the season, and a very credible away point against Man City in their second match.
A potentially tricky Europa League qualifier against Hadjuk Split was handled with the minimum of fuss, and a solid start to the campaign gave weight to predictions made by some experts that Everton would be among the teams challenging for a top four place in the Premier League.
At the very least, there was little argument that the club was in a strong position to make significant progress, with the squad possessing the greater strength-in-depth needed to balance the demands of domestic and European football.
But rather than building on a decent set of results in August, Everton have crumbled in the weeks since the point collected at the Etihad stadium. Losses against sides such as Chelsea, Spurs and Man United won’t have in themselves created too much panic, but the manner of the performances attracted angry responses from supporters. So strong was the feeling of anger that even the Mayor of Liverpool began using social media to publicly criticise the players.
In the Europa League, what appeared to be a relatively straightforward group for a Premier League team quickly became anything but a distraction from domestic results. A heavy away loss to Atalanta – competing in their first European campaign since 1990/91 – might have been nothing more than an early slip-up, but instead became a result which set the tone for everything that has subsequently followed.
Even placed in the context of a bad season, Everton’s 5-1 home loss to the same opponents earlier this week was a new low, equalling the heaviest European home loss suffered by an English club. Never before has an English club been dumped out of a Europa League or Champions League group so emphatically, and failure to win the last group game away to Apollon Limassol will set a new record for the lowest group stage points total achieved by an English team in either the Europa League or Champions League.
David Unsworth’s appointment as caretaker boss might have appeared to have been bringing about a change in fortunes when his side battled back to win against Watford after being 2-0 down with less than 25 minutes remaining.
But after conceding five times in another late capitulation in front of their own fans – albeit far fewer than in previous home games, with more than half of the ground empty – questions are yet again being asked of the attitude of the players.
Fingers of blame might also be directed at the owner or manager, but the overwhelming focus should remain with the players.
That fans voted with their feet and stayed away in such large numbers only emphasises the discontent felt towards a team of players containing too many who simply don’t appreciate the privilege it should be to wear the shirt of a club with such great history and tradition.
There’s more than enough time for Everton’s situation to improve, but it requires a huge improvement in the work-rate and attitude of the players.
Such improvement cannot come soon enough for the fans, and the players will now know that the spotlight is firmly on them – along with expectations that they will finally start to deliver.