Thursday 17 October 2019

Jagielka ensures Liverpool fail to find a way through

Liverpool's Jordan Henderson (right) and Everton's Seamus Coleman battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool.
Liverpool's Jordan Henderson (right) and Everton's Seamus Coleman battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool.

Liverpool 0 Everton 0 Chris Bascombe

They call it 'bragging rights' on derby day, but you'll struggle to find anyone on Merseyside boasting about being at Anfield on this particularly insipid afternoon.

It was a draw that ensured Everton consolidated sixth and Liverpool can finish no lower than seventh, a docile encounter echoing the mild-mannered climax each can expect for the last fortnight of an unrewarding campaign.

Everton manager David Moyes had suggested before kick-off he had never known relations between the Merseyside clubs to be so cordial. Maybe that was part of the problem. The reputation of the mutually respectful friendly derby was enhanced but conviviality does nothing for the quality of the football.

At its most impassioned this fixture can resemble 'The Tempest'. This was 'Much Ado About Nothing'. There was a distinctive lack of bite, and it wasn't just to do with Luis Suarez's absence.

appreciation

The meeting ended as it began – with displays of common appreciation – but had little in between other than indicators as to why Everton and Liverpool currently languish as little more than the best of the Premier League's also-rans.

A Kop mural before kick-off offered thanks for neighbourly support during the Hillsborough campaign for justice. On the final whistle, Moyes hunted Jamie Carragher to offer congratulations for completing his entire Liverpool career having lost only once at Anfield in the fixture that meant most to him.

It was that kind of afternoon. Admirably affable but – a groan about Sylvain Distin's disallowed goal apart – bereft of aggravation. A little of the former is to be welcomed and appreciated, but a dash of the latter never goes amiss, either.

This game used to be about two heavyweights slugging it out for the title but at times this felt like an exhibition bout. It used to be bone-crunchingly passionate, but this often veered towards tippy-tappy politeness, although it wasn't entirely without agitation, albeit of the mildest tones.

Referee-baiting is a long-standing derby tradition and Michael Oliver was not spared. He blew his whistle just as Distin headed what would have been 55th-minute winner from Leighton Baines' corner. Oliver spotted a block by Victor Anichebe on Pepe Reina.

Moyes complained about never getting decisions at Anfield, the viewing consensus placing the incident in 'seen them given' camp both for and against. It still won't be joining a compilation of greatest derby injustices.

It all felt like there was not enough at stake, presumably because there wasn't. If you want to assess the roots of any derby loathing it is when one side sees the other flourishing while they toil, or better still if success is achieved directly at the neighbour's expense. See the last few years in Manchester for further details.

At this particular juncture in their history, neither Everton nor Liverpool are doing anything to prod the other's nose, ensuring those obligatory feelings of jealousy, rage and bitterness required to penetrate the most competitive rivalries are absent.

Attempts to whip up some kind of commotion on the basis of this being a battle for sixth – not, it must be stated, emanating from either club – were embarrassingly misplaced. No-one here was buying it.

The sun was shining, shirt sleeves out, and Liverpool's most effective attacking player a diminutive, twinkle-toed Brazilian, Philippe Coutinho.

So we were left to look to nostalgia again on Merseyside, largely in the form of Carragher continuing his sequence of goodbyes with a defensive performance worthy of his successful derby career. In many respects he was ending how it began. Sixteen years ago he was thrust into this fixture against Duncan Ferguson, the height disadvantage of no consequence as he demonstrated his courage and growing pedigree.

This time Marouane Fellaini offered a similar aerial threat, but Carragher and Daniel Agger repelled to the extent that the Belgian could point only to a first half volley, an inch wide, as a shot at glory.

Having struck six at Newcastle, this time Liverpool showed how life without Suarez would not always be as peachy as it seemed at St James' Park. The temperature of Daniel Sturridge's performances veer between the Sahara and the Arctic. He stalled two minutes into the second half when found by Coutinho with only Tim Howard to beat, enabling the Everton 'keeper to save comfortably.

timid

Sturridge also fed Steven Gerrard for the chance of the afternoon 16 minutes before the end, but Distin was able to clear a timid left-foot shot off the line.

Neither side was unduly pressured but, when they were, there was a class act in both defences to swat away problems.

The natural successor to Carragher on Merseyside will not be playing for Liverpool. Phil Jagielka possesses the same quality of ubiquity wherever there is threat to his goalkeeper. As a series of attempts were blocked in the first half, there was little requirement to double-check the identity of the defender.

Jagielka is currently England's bravest, most accomplished and probably most underrated centre-half, the Goodison faithful reckoning the 30-year-old is playing 180 miles too north in order to get the recognition he's deserved. He was the game's most outstanding performer, although busier in the first half, but he's been examined much more than this recently.

The stalemate effectively ended both clubs' hopes of moving a place higher up the table. The quest to find anything to brag about on Merseyside will have to wait until next season. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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