Wembley Stadium is not the only thing to have changed since Merseyside last converged on the capital 35 days after the Hillsborough disaster. Old footage has circulated this week of the all-Merseyside cup finals of 1984, 1986 and 1989. What strikes you, apart from people risking their lives to leap through open windows 30 foot above ground, is the complete lack of segregation on the transport networks and inside the ground. It wasn't necessary. On Saturday there are separate trains, from different stations, even a guide to different pubs for the Everton and Liverpool supporters attending the FA Cup semi-final. Divided, and yet united still, for this is a cup tie with profound implications for the two men who will be stalking the technical areas come 12.30pm.
As player-manager when Liverpool beat their local rivals in the 1986 FA Cup final and manager when they repeated the triumph three years later, Kenny Dalglish does not require education on the importance of facing Everton at Wembley; a game that falls on the eve of the 23rd anniversary of Hillsborough and will be preceded by a period of silence and floral tributes from the two captains, Steven Gerrard and Phil Neville. Yet he refuses to countenance potential consequences for himself should Liverpool lose to an Everton team whose current form, league position and cost condemn their own. There are plenty, should Fenway Sports Group decide a Carling Cup is not enough for a £120m outlay on new players, as Damien Comolli discovered after lunch with John W Henry and Tom Werner this week.
How David Moyes would like that problem. Unlike Dalglish, the Everton manager entered this season at his lowest ebb, with money flowing out of his squad and into the banks. Now, his team revitalised by astute dealing in the January transfer window, he approaches a second FA Cup semi‑final in four seasons insisting: "I have total belief in these players at this moment in time. The belief and trust I have got in the players is full, 100%; the way they are playing, the way they are going about their job, the way they are preparing themselves." Though he cannot say the same about his own future at Goodison Park.
Victory over Liverpool at Wembley plus the club's first trophy for 17 years would be a fitting way for Moyes to mark 10 years as Everton manager. It is too early to say whether it would provide a fitting farewell or improve the prospects of Bill Kenwright, the chairman, securing Moyes on a new contract when his current deal enters its final 12 months this summer. The Scot says: "Whatever happens, win or lose, I will have a conversation at the end of the season with the chairman, and we'll see where we are, how the club is. I am really comfortable with that. That's the way I am planning it to remain until a couple of weeks after the end of the season."
Thanks to immediate impacts from Nikica Jelavic and Darron Gibson, signed for a combined £6m and offset by the £5m sale of Diniyar Bilyaletdinov in January, plus the loan signings of Landon Donovan (now back at LA Galaxy) and Steven Pienaar (ineligible for the FA Cup), Everton are the form team ahead of the semi-final. History is against them. The showpiece occasion against Liverpool has unfolded only one way since Everton's success in the 1906 FA Cup semi-final. Three times they have met at this stage since – 1950, 1971 and 1977 – and three times they have faced each other in a final – the 1984 Milk Cup, the '86 and '89 FA Cups – and Liverpool have won every one.
Everton's derby torment precedes Moyes but has not eased under him, with the Scot yet to win in 11 visits to Anfield and often reserving his tactical gambles for the Merseyside derby in a bid to stifle Liverpool's strengths rather than play to his own. Total belief in his players suggests that will not be the case on Saturday.
"I continually get told I lose these games quite regularly. I don't feel that way," he said when it was put to Moyes directly that he had a psychological problem with Liverpool. "If you look at the bigger picture, we have always acquitted ourselves well in the games. They have been tough games for me, I have to say. Games against Liverpool have always been hard. But we have had our results as well. We have not gone without results against Liverpool. I am relaxed because of the form my team is in. My team has made me feel quite relaxed. It comes from how my team is playing. I feel good because my team is playing good."
Dalglish has preached similar belief in his players all season, regardless of a recent league run that was Liverpool's worst since 1953, and received firm support from Werner, the Liverpool chairman, in the wake of Comolli's dismissal as director of football on Thursday. Werner and Henry returned to Boston to watch the Red Sox play Tampa Bay Rays night rather than attend the Merseyside cup derby. All those who remain employed at Anfield, Dalglish included, have been left in no doubt that FSG views the league campaign as unacceptable and will act ruthlessly when and where it sees fit. A Carling Cup and FA Cup double would represent a fine return from the manager's first full season back in charge. The Carling Cup alone, and pressure will follow Dalglish into next season.
"The form hasn't been great and we have all had criticism," Jamie Carragher admits, "but the manager gets it more than most. I think some of the criticism towards the manager in recent weeks has been disrespectful and crossed the line to a certain extent because of who he is. For me, he is the most iconic figure in British football. You have great players and great managers and he is in both camps. Stein, Busby, Ferguson, Paisley, Shankly, Clough, Dalglish – all these great managers and he is in there. And he is in with all the great players as well. None of the others are in both camps.
"I'm not saying that should absolve him of any criticism, but some of it has crossed the line. It goes a bit far considering what he has done since he came back to the club. It is not about judging the last six games. We have to remember where we were when he came in. We had a great end to the season. We hadn't won a trophy for six years, we have won a trophy, we are in a semi-final. OK, we're not in the top four where we would all like to be but it is not easy getting in the top four. It is a lot harder now than the years when we were getting in it. It's a top six now."
Wembley derbies appeared routine to Carragher as a boyhood Evertonian – "Hopefully I won't come back crying this time," he reflects – and the significance of the semi-final cannot be lost on someone from Bootle. He adds: "It's great for the city that we can have a game like this and hopefully we can go show the country what the two supporters are like and make it like it was in the 80s. It hasn't been like that for a while for Everton and Liverpool and we've all got different ideas about why that is but hopefully this is a chance to show the rest of the country what we're about.
"People might say we should beat Everton because of money spent or who we are but that doesn't work. It's not just a derby game, for both of us it's about winning the FA Cup. For a club with the support Everton have got, a great fan base, their history and tradition, it's probably been too long for them. So there's pressure on them too."
Moyes immediately installed Liverpool as favourites following Everton's impressive quarter-final replay win at Sunderland. Dalglish, with his first- and second-choice goalkeepers suspended and third-choice Brad Jones set to make his FA Cup debut for Liverpool, is unimpressed. "What difference does it make who is favourite?" he says. "We're just going out there to play a game. You don't walk out with a plaster across your head saying: 'We are favourites.' What we do on the day is going to be far more important than what we've done at any other stage of the season. The buildup is irrelevant." The aftermath is not.