Agent Rafa and a Merseyside derby set to be on a rolling boil from the get-go

<span>Photograph: Dave Shopland/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Dave Shopland/Shutterstock

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It’s the 239th Merseyside derby tonight. These things are spicy affairs at the best of times but tonight’s edition is likely to be on a rolling boil from the get-go. For a start, patrons are back, and with the kick-off set for a refreshment-friendly 8.15pm, many will be fully energised with a view to telling it as they see it. Secondly, Virgil van Dijk comes up against his old nemesis Jordan Pickford who, during this fixture last season, clattered into the Dutchman like a toddler high on a cocktail of 1970s orange squash, 1960s instant coffee and 1930s monkey glands, with predictable results. Thirdly, Rafa.

Related: Benítez stays upbeat while Everton fans fear Merseyside derby doomsday

Oh Rafa. His name will be sung heartily from the rafters at Goodison this evening, albeit only by the folk in the away end. Benítez won Big Cup and an FA Cup during his time at Anfield, and his new club’s current run of two points from the last 21 available is proving nearly as popular an achievement with the red half of Merseyside. A Liverpool win on enemy soil for only the second time in nine years may well send the Ev into a flat spin, with Arsenal, Chelsea and Leicester to come in short order. All of a sudden, festive fixtures against Burnley and Newcastle would have the look of six-pointers, and when you’ve got to the stage of a must-win against the Toon, you know you’re in serious bother.

Rafa is as Rafa does, of course, and as ever the inscrutable Spaniard is playing it cool. “It is a massive game for us,” he says. “It’s an opportunity for us to change things and improve everything for the rest of the season.” Full marks for positivity, and should the returning Richarlison put Liverpool to the sword again, as he did at Anfield in February, Benítez will be afforded a bit of slack, even if fans remain unlikely to buy into his recent “I’m a Blue” patter. However should Richarlison get himself sent off again, as he did in this fixture last year for perambulating up and down Thiago’s leg, and Liverpool subsequently do their free-scoring worst, expect the mood of the Goodison faithful to curdle quicksmart. Ah well, at least the folk serenading Agent Rafa will still love him.


Join Barry Glendenning for a Premier League clockwatch at 7.30pm GMT while Scott Murray will be on hand with minute-by-minute updates of Everton 0-3 Liverpool at 8.15pm.


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“Your farcical decision not to award the prizeless letter o’ the day to Pedro Tavares da Silva (Tuesday’s letters) is classic English journalistic failure to understand anything that isn’t English. Maybe that chip on your shoulder couldn’t let you see the beauty of his missive. Cancel my subscription, burn down the disco, hang the blessed DJ!” – Daniel Stauss.

“I’m guessing Pedro Tavares da Silva is unaware of the works of the particular Fiver scribe he focuses his ire on (Monday’s Fiver), as I’m fairly certain Barry Glendenning would be equally delighted if Cristiano Ronaldo continues to keep smacking goals past England goalkeepers for Portugal too” – Jim Hearson (and many others).

“May I share how distressed and surprised I was to discover when reading the piece on the Guardian virtual clean sweep of the FSA awards that Jonathan Wilson is not in fact a giant pulsating brain in a bottle and Glendenning has an ill-advised beard” – Lynda Caines.

Send your letters to And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … Daniel Stauss.


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Manchester United winger Facundo Pellistri, who is on loan at Alavés, gets his chat on with Sid Lowe about putting the wrong signature on a contract, his debt to Ole Gunnar Solskjær and his future aims.

Newcastle feel the hand of Eddie Howe before all the eye-popping spending starts, beams Barney Ronay.

Here’s 10 players Ben McAleer reckons Premier League clubs should target in January.

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