Liverpool yearn for the keys to the penthouse but their own residence three floors below is coveted fiercely by most of the Premier League's occupants. Everton, comfortably beaten in everything other than the tally of goals, lack the means to achieve the high life. With a five-point lead over their neighbours, Rafael Benítez's squad has more or less clinched a place in next season's Champions League, or at least the qualifying rounds, before it starts this week's quarter-final, with Arsenal, on Wednesday.
When it comes to frustrated ambition, Everton have the most intriguing case history in recent times. Just three years ago they finished fourth in the table, immediately above Liverpool. Since then the Goodison manager, David Moyes, has improved the calibre of his squad, only to discover to his frustration that the Anfield club is pulling away from him.
That sort of daunting realisation is not unique to the Scot. The Premier League is a place of severe distinctions nowadays. Last weekend, Liverpool themselves were beaten 3-0 with scornful ease at Old Trafford. To take the title, if Manchester United are any guide, it now appears that a profusion of talent in the team, on the bench and sometimes left to watch from the stands is going to be required.
While Liverpool are not equipped to that degree, they have been able to retain Steven Gerrard, who has twice been on the verge of leaving for Chelsea, and to attract the £26.5m Fernando Torres. The Spaniard scored his 21st Premier League goal of the campaign, with 19 of them recorded at Anfield, to settle this derby. Gallingly for Everton, it was overwhelmingly avoidable.
With seven minutes gone, Yakubu Ayegbeni went back towards his own penalty area. It is always debatable whether this readiness to help out the back four should be a cause of fear or gratitude among defenders. On this occasion, the Nigerian was a liability and was robbed of the ball by Xabi Alonso. Possession moved from Dirk Kuyt to Torres, with the striker staying calm to slip a shot past Tim Howard.
"I think I have scored 15 out of the 19 goals in front of the Kop," he said. "I can't explain it but I'm always confident when I am facing that end of the pitch." It was, though, Gerrard who dominated the game and it is verve of his sort that makes the Premier League so marketable and thrilling. He was also the object of ugly chants from unappreciative Everton fans. "I am really pleased for some players because I didn't like what I heard at some times," said Benítez. "It's a lack of respect."
Gerrard was not distracted. Moments before half-time, a spectacular ball from him to the back post would have been cherished as it deserved had the move not concluded with a scruffy effort from Kuyt. The lack of a second goal had irksome consequences for Benítez. With the match in the balance, he could not take off Gerrard or Torres until it was nearly over. Instead of a rest, they at least had the restorative power of ovations from the crowd.
Everton once more displayed the traits that make them admirable. They are tenacious and Moyes, altering his personnel and tweaking the tactics as the afternoon proceeded, stopped his side from being belaboured by Liverpool. They even occupied territory, but there was not the refinement or sharpness to bring a proper save out of José Reina. The nearest Everton came was a burst inside the box from Yakubu, after 61 minutes, that was halted by a perfect tackle from Sami Hyypia.
Liverpool went through a period this season when leads were not protected so efficiently. "We should have been further ahead by half-time," said Benítez. "We missed a lot of chances and with the experience we've had this year I was concerned that Everton would score."
That menace existed largely in the manager's imagination. By challenging with more purpose and order, Everton mainly ensured that the match would get tedious. Liverpool sized up the situation and concentrated on barricading any avenues down which Everton tried to progress. Spectators had to make do with savouring the occasional memory of the time when there had been more gusto to the play.
Gerrard, for instance, had been exciting when he stepped on to a Torres knock-down and, from the fringes of the area, struck the post a few minutes before half-time. Perhaps, despite the dourness that eventually descended, a more exhilarating Liverpool will emerge in time to come, but no one expects to catch a glimpse of it at the Emirates this week.
Man of the match Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
07' Torres 1-0
Jose Manuel Reina, Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyypia, Martin Skrtel, Xabi Alonso, Steven Gerrard (Peter Crouch), Lucas Leiva, John Arne Riise, Ryan Babel (Yossi Benayoun), Dirk Kuyt, Fernando Torres (Jermaine Pennant)
Tim Howard, Tony Hibbert, Joleon Lescott, Phil Neville (Leighton Baines), Joseph Yobo, Mikel Arteta, Lee Carsley, Phil Jagielka, Leon Osman, Steven Pienaar (Henriques Manuel Fernandes), Ayegbeni Yakubu
Referee: Webb, H
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