Defeat in the Merseyside derby may have been unjust, but Everton will look to draw some comfort from their performance in Athens tonight. The Europa League may not have been a priority for David Moyes at the start of this season. A nuisance perhaps as he hoped to focus on the league and build on last season's fifth place. But just like Liverpool, Uefa's secondary competition now offers consolation for Moyes as his side struggle in the Premier League.
Just one win in 11 games and a position fifth from the bottom makes sorry reading. This is not the Everton of last season. The side that beat AEK 4-0 at Goodison in September was, and a similar performance in the return game will be welcome as they bid to reach the last 32. The players profess that they are too good to be relegated, but words are not enough and performances are needed. Moyes agrees. "If you have good performances it ends up getting you good results," he says. "I have been critical of performances this season but I couldn't be critical of Sunday because I could see things - because of that extra effort - starting to go for us."
The return of Steven Pienaar in midfield has helped, offering some creativity that has been missing. Having been out for two months with injury, his confidence has not been affected by the malaise in the side following their poor form. The South African said: "We go into Europe determined to make things right. We did feel we played well against Liverpool, that is a boost for us even though we lost.
"Now we must take that level of performance into Europe and then the next league match because we have been dragged into the relegation fight. We did not think we would be in this position at the start of the season, but sometimes you have a bad run and that is what is happening. "But there are a lot of games still to go, and if we get a couple of wins in a row we'll be right back into midfield. This situation is nothing to panic about.
"Sometimes in football you get an opportunity to make things right quickly and this game is one of those opportunities. We want to take it." AEK are enduring similar fortunes to Everton. Off the pace in the league and out of the Greek Cup, it is desperation time for them. Another Liverpool player could haunt Everton if he figures. Krisztian Nemeth, the Hungarian striker, is on loan to AEK from Rafa Benitez's side. But it is another striker, the Argentine Ismael Blanco, who will be key as AEK look for the win that will help them overtake the visitors in Group I.
"Our season hasn't gone well and sadly we are probably too far behind to win the league so going far in the Europa League is crucial to the fans and players," said Blanco. "It will be a tough match; a final for us because we cannot lose. But the fact that it's an all-or-nothing game is because we lost a good opportunity to beat BATE [Borisov, the Bulgarian side] at home. We still have a thorn in our side over the way they [Everton] stuck so many goals past us."
Group B offers a similarly intriguing finale for the top two spots. Valencia have yet to lose in their four games, but defeat at home to leaders Lille tonight could see the Spaniards face a fight to qualify. Genoa will overtake them in second with a point at Slavia Prague. @Email:email@example.com