Merseyside misery as Ronald Koeman, Jurgen Klopp fail to justify hype
For a season that was supposed to mark the rebirth of Merseyside as a football force to be reckoned with, Everton and Liverpool head into the international break desperately searching for the reset button after failing to live up to the preseason hype in the opening two months of the campaign.
So much for the prospect of Everton and Liverpool turning back the clock to the 1980s, when the pair battled it out for silverware on a regular basis.
Everton's newfound financial strength, courtesy of majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri, and Liverpool's return to the Champions League, ensured that optimism was high on Merseyside for the two clubs to at least challenge the heavyweights of Manchester and London.
But by the first week of October, the blue skies have been replaced by grey clouds over Anfield and Goodison Park, and the two clubs are threatening to be no more than also-rans once again.
Ronald Koeman, hours after watching his Everton team suffer a fourth Premier League defeat in seven games at home to Burnley, received a public vote of confidence from Moshiri. But Jurgen Klopp spent the aftermath of Liverpool's 1-1 draw at Newcastle United bristling throughout his postmatch news conference, taking exception to journalists suggesting that a point was a fair return after 90 minutes at St James' Park.
While the sun is shining on Manchester right now, with City and United sitting five points clear of the pack in the Premier League, Merseyside's struggling giants simply cannot get out of first gear.
The optimism generated at Anfield by Liverpool's 4-0 destruction of Arsenal five weeks ago has now evaporated as a result of just one win in seven games in all competitions since that victory.
And across Stanley Park at Goodison, Everton's £140 million summer spending spree is showing little, if any, value for money with Koeman's team toiling away in 16th and supporters questioning why the £75m received from Manchester United for Romelu Lukaku was not used to sign a proven replacement for the prolific Belgian centre-forward.
The most concerning aspect for both clubs, however, will be that the problems which are now pushing them further off the pace are issues which should have been addressed in the summer.
Everton were always going to miss Lukaku's goals. The 24-year-old scored 68 in 141 Premier League appearances in his four years at Goodison, so filling that void should have been the priority.
Ambitious efforts were made to sign Diego Costa and Olivier Giroud, with neither pursuit proving successful, so the goal burden has fallen on the shoulders of Wayne Rooney, new arrival Sandro, and youngster Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
These are no more than sticking plaster solutions and although Rooney and Calvert-Lewin have contributed goals, Koeman's decision to hand an opportunity to Oumar Niasse, Everton's forgotten man, highlights the problem caused by the failure to replace Lukaku.
Everton have scored just four league goals all season. They have created 77 chances and hit the target with just 17 of them, so it is clear where Koeman must strengthen when the transfer window reopens in January.
In the Dutchman's defence, £75m of the £140m summer spending was raised from the Lukaku sale, so his net spend of just £65m appears conservative in the current climate. But the lack of a reliable goal scorer is severely hurting Everton now because results are deteriorating and confidence is ebbing away, placing the team in a downward spiral.
Over at Liverpool, Klopp has ample firepower in the shape of Sadio Mane, Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah, with Daniel Sturridge also still in the frame.
Scoring goals is not Liverpool's problem -- despite the numbers drying up a little in recent weeks -- it is keeping them out at the other end. And this is not solely down to Klopp's inability to recruit a world-class goalkeeper or commanding centre-back -- why did they not pursue another defender after missing out on Virgil van Dijk? -- it is also due to the team's repeated failure to spot danger and deal with it before it becomes a threat.
When Liverpool have the ball, they can be devastating, but without it, they are far too easy to play against.
There is no sense of urgency or defensive awareness when the ball is lost, which is perhaps an inevitable consequence of playing with so many attacking players. But United, City, Chelsea and Tottenham possess similarly attack-minded players, yet they do not suffer the same defensive meltdowns as Liverpool.
Klopp is approaching the second anniversary of his appointment at Anfield, but has yet to eradicate the defensive issues which proved the downfall of his predecessor, Brendan Rodgers.
Yet the German can't expect to end Liverpool's 27-year wait for the league title until he is able to mould a team which is as reliable at the back as it is going forward.
Koeman needs somebody to put the ball in the net for Everton; Klopp has to devise a way to stop it going into Liverpool's. But in terms of this season, it may already be too late, thanks to cracks which were there for all to see before the campaign had even started.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_