Richard Hercock: Expect red-blooded derbies to favour the red halves of cities

Steven Gerrard will play in his last Liverpool derby today.
Steven Gerrard will play in his last Liverpool derby today.
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TODAY is a derby day in the Premier League and it is weekends like this when I realise how much Sheffield misses the Steel City showdown between Wednesday and United.

It has now been three years since the Sheffield clubs played each other, Wednesday getting the edge that day, Chris O’Grady netting in a 1-0 Hillsborough win on February 26, 2012.

History, of course, shows the Owls went on to gain promotion from League One at the end of the season, while the Blades missed out in the play-off final to Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield Town.

With the Blades now out of both cup competitions after Tuesday’s replay defeat to Preston, Nigel Clough’s side now have no excuses as they turn all their attentions to the league campaign.

In the Premier League today, there is a small matter of the north London derby between Arsenal and Tottenham.

This is always a cracking match-up and, even with the emergence of Chelsea in recent years, remains my favourite London derby.

Then this tea-time sees the Merseyside derby between Liverpool and Everton at Goodison Park.

A 5.30pm kick-off for television purposes does raise some eyebrows. Could you imagine South Yorkshire Police allowing a Sheffield derby to kick-off at that time, after the pubs had been serving all afternoon?

This fixture used to be all about title battles, but such is the changing landscape of top-flight football that Everton v Liverpool today is merely a mid-table clash as far as anyone without a Scouse accent is concerned.

Just look at where both clubs were even a year ago.

After 23 games of the 2013-14 season both teams occupied top six spots: Liverpool were in fourth, with just four points separating them from eventual winners Manchester City, with Everton only four points further behind them in sixth.

This season’s fall from grace has been particularly unpleasant for Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers, who now find their sides with a combined points tally of 64 compared to the 88 they had amassed at the same stage last year.

Everton in particular have struggled, regressing from 42 points after 23 games in 2013-14 to their current total of 26. No team comes close to that 16 point year-on-year drop, with the nearest being Arsenal’s 10-point difference. Liverpool themselves have the third greatest drop, being eight points worse off.

At least the return to fitness of Daniel Sturridge for Liverpool is a welcome tonic – as is Danny Welbeck’s return for the Gunners in north London– and I expect the red halves of both derby camps to be celebrating victory later today.

Whether the red half of Sheffield will be celebrating come May is another matter.

But manager Clough has invested wisely, and the Blades squad is now the envy of many in League One and evensome Championship clubs.

For me, they still need that poacher of a striker, but their all-round strengths should mean a place in the League One play-offs is all but ensured. But can they finish in the top two?