Monday 22 January 2018

Derby stalemate highlights Merseyside rivals' failings

Liverpool 1 Everton1

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 27: Steven Gerrard (R) of Liverpool scores the opening goal from a free kick during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Everton at Anfield on September 27, 2014 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 27: Steven Gerrard (R) of Liverpool scores the opening goal from a free kick during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Everton at Anfield on September 27, 2014 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Dion Fanning

Steven Gerrard and Phil Jagielka scored goals worthy of a Merseyside derby at Anfield yesterday but this Merseyside derby may not have been worthy of their goals.

An ordinary game had an extraordinary end, an end which allowed both managers to claim that the good times are around the corner and both goalscorers to insist they had been written off prematurely.

Liverpool had led from the 65th minute when Gerrard had curled in a free-kick that demonstrated he is still capable of the spectacular even if it also demonstrated Tim Howard might be the only goalkeeper in worse form than Simon Mignolet.

Liverpool deserved their lead. They had created more chances than Everton but Roberto Martinez's side had played without ambition and with a one-track plan that involved moving the ball quickly to Romelu Lukaku on the right, even when it became clear that Lukaku was not capable of moving either the ball or himself particularly quickly.

They both looked like the mid-table teams they currently are and when Brendan Rodgers pointed to the chances his team had to win the game, he could have been highlighting another weakness.

Rodgers felt this performance was close to the intensity Liverpool have played at over the past 18 months, although the scoreline suggested that was an exaggeration, as Liverpool approaching their most intense would have demolished Everton.

There was an encouraging performance from Adam Lallana, while Mario Balotelli followed up his pre-game haircut with a performance marked by moments of industry and by a missed chance that would have won the game. He left the field to a standing ovation. By that stage, Liverpool thought they had won it even if they only led by a single goal. Everton had given no indication they were a threat but even that could be turned into a positive.

Martinez said Jagielka's injury-time equaliser was the best goal he had ever witnessed live.

Kevin Sheedy once scored a long-range shot that came close to matching it for Everton in front of the Kop, while Graeme Sharp's volley at the other end in 1984 may be the most spectacular in the fixture at Anfield, but Jagielka's came close.

Dejan Lovren had headed the ball clear outside the box and Jagielka came galloping on to it with a level of enthusiasm which was frankly unpromising. Instead, he hit the ball sweetly from 30 yards and it headed towards goal, swerving away from Mignolet, who could look forlorn but, for once, not culpable when the ball flew into the top corner.

It was out of keeping with Everton's performance, which allowed Martinez to praise his side's character. He felt Everton should have been awarded a free-kick before Liverpool got the free-kick from which Gerrard scored.

"We had two choices - to give in or keep fighting," he said, and Martinez understandably thought his side had kept fighting, demonstrating the character necessary at a ground where they had last won 15 years ago yesterday.

They were never going to rip up that statistic and could have been in trouble early on if Gareth Barry's early booking had been followed up with a penalty when he blocked the ball with his arm.

Rodgers mentioned a penalty claim and when he was asked which incident, he replied dryly: "The one where it was shot into the box and Gareth Barry grabbed it with both hands. It was nearly a save."

If Liverpool had scored and Barry had been sent off, the game could have resembled last season's demolition but Everton hung on.

Martinez acknowledged his side weren't at their best on the ball, and with Seamus Coleman failing a late fitness test, Tony Hibbert made his first Premier League start since 2012. Martinez felt Kevin Mirallas' early withdrawal after suffering a hamstring injury unsettled the team and Aiden McGeady rarely threatened, although his manager did come over all Trapattoni when McGeady allowed Javier Manquillo to burst forward without tracking his run.

The game had promise in the opening stage from the moment Barry's challenge on Lallana enraged the home supporters and for 20 minutes, the derby looked like it would be decided by traditional attritional virtues.

In midfield, Gerrard and Jordan Henderson fought off the combined force of Barry, James McCarthy and Muhamed Besic, but when Everton got on the ball, they were the more controlled, while Liverpool were the more direct. But then the game found it could go nowhere. Balotelli had a free-kick saved by Howard and couldn't reach an Alberto Moreno cross, but neither side looked like opening up an opposition defence which lived in fear of being torn open.

Liverpool have kept one clean sheet this season and Everton have the worst defensive record, but these statistics didn't matter as moves collapsed outside the box, even if Raheem Sterling remained willing to run at defenders for as long as he could. Balotelli was at his most productive, earning free-kicks including the one which allowed Gerrard to curl the ball over the wall and past Howard. Gerrard felt he had answered the destructive critics.

"I can take constructive criticism," he said. "But people go one step further and say you are finished and can't run any more. That's the frustrating thing. It's nice to remind people that I can still play and am still around."

After Gerrard's goal, Balotelli then volleyed against the bar from a Sterling cross and the game looked like it was going in one direction. "I never felt in any danger," Rodgers said afterwards and few would have disagreed but Everton wasted a set-piece in the final seconds when Liverpool were nervous.

The draw established little new about either side which, in this time of uncertainty, might be enough for both of them.

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