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

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

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ALL ROUND TO RAFA’S

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.

LIVE ON BIG WEBSITE

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.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“I was glad that the girls gave everything until the end, did not give up. In terms of character, everything was done … it was another new and valuable experience” – Latvia boss Roman Kvacovs deserves a medal for finding some positives in the 20-0 defeat by England in Tuesday’s Women’s World Cup qualifier.

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

How to tackle misogyny in the game – a Football Weekly Special.

FIVER LETTERS

“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 the.boss@theguardian.com. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … Daniel Stauss.

NEWS, BITS AND BOBS

Kick It Out has accused beIN Sport’s of amplifying homophobia after pundit Mohamed Aboutrika declared on-air that homosexuality is “against human nature”.

Meanwhile, Adelaide United’s Josh Cavallo, who came out as gay last month, has been told he is welcome at the Human Rights World Cup in Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal and punishable with a sliding scale of penalties ranging from flogging to execution. “Nobody feels threatened here, nobody feels unsafe,” grinned tournament organiser Nasser al-Khater most reassuringly.

Reverse psychology corner: Thomas Tuchel hopes his tactic of dropping Andreas Christensen from his Chelsea side will convince the Dane to stay. “We have the hope that it influences the contract situation a little bit,” winked the German.

Jack Grealish has admitted to teething problems at Manchester City: “I thought I’d have more of the ball, get more assists and goals but it doesn’t work like that at all,” he sadtromboned. “I’ve had nowhere near as much of the ball as I used to get at Villa.”

Important update on that Old Trafford handover: “Have I spoken to him?” said Michael Carrick of his conversations with imminent interim incomer Ralf Rangnick. “No.”

Welcome home, Peters and Lee – Graeme Lee, that is, who returns to Hartlepool as manager having spent eight years as a stalwart of the club’s defence from 1995-2003.

And Leeds chief suit Angus Kinnear needs to give his head a wobble after comparing calls for a transfer levy and regulator to politics that led to the Great Chinese Famine, in which up to 45 million people died. “Enforcing upon football a philosophy akin to Maoist collective agriculturalism [and] will not make the English game fairer,” he wailed.

STILL WANT MORE?

Lethal, humble, wise: the making of England record-breaker Ellen White, by Suzanne Wrack. ICYMI: she helped her side edge out Latvia.

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.

Wild two-year twists of fate in third tiers, braces scored while wearing braces and more – it’s this week’s Knowledge.

Finally, Ray Kennedy, an obituary as well as his life in pictures.

And if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!

COULD HAVE BEEN WORSE. COULD HAVE BEEN HYDE

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