Thursday 14 December 2017

Sturridge rescues Reds in six-goal derby classic

When Phil Dowd blew the final whistle at Goodison Park yesterday, there was a moment of silence as the crowd realised that this astonishing Merseyside derby was finally over and then all corners of the ground burst into applause. There was something old-fashioned about it. This was an electric game, full of passion and intensity but in the end the supporters applauded almost as if they were neutral, certainly as if they had been privileged to witness this game.

"How long have you got?" Roberto Martinez replied when asked about the day. "I was so proud and honoured to be part of it. There is a lot of negative press surrounding football but I thought today was an example of how to behave and enjoy football."

Both managers shared the view – "Wow!" was Brendan Rodgers' immediate reaction – but both will feel that their teams contributed to the game in ways that handed the other an advantage.

There had been an expectation that with two managers who emphasised possession football, the game would be a patient and cerebral, a new kind of Merseyside derby. Instead it was a weakness in their shared philosophy that created the conditions for the thrilling match. Five of the six goals came from set-pieces and when Daniel Sturridge headed in Liverpool's third goal and the equaliser a minute from the end, the only surprise was that nobody scored again in the remaining few minutes. Both sides would have to be happy with 3-3 and both sides had reasons for believing they deserved more.

Everton were the better side, slicker in their passing, more adept at creating chances and more cohesive in their build-up play. They missed more chances and Liverpool had Simon Mignolet to thank for a series of impressive saves.

Liverpool had reason to complain as well, primarily because Kevin Mirallas remained on the field as a key influence after he had lunged at Luis Suarez in the first half and should have been dismissed for his knee-high tackle.

"I thought he should have been sent off," Rodgers said. "It would have been interesting if Luis had made that challenge. Mirallas is an honest player but that was a real, real bad challenge. It could have ended his career."

Martinez didn't put up much of a fight. "I can see why they think that but it wasn't a red card because it wasn't malicious."

Mirallas remained and while Liverpool went in at half-time a goal ahead, that was hard to believe as Everton had been the better side. "They didn't have a shot on target from play and they were 2-1 up," Martinez said later.

Even harder to believe was a miss from Joe Allen in the second half. Allen started his first league game since March and he may be some time returning after his only moment of note in the game involved him calmly placing a shot from eight yards wide of the post after a typical Luis Suarez run had created the opportunity. The game was full of opportunities and errors. Liverpool had an early lead when Philippe Coutinho was unmarked at the far post from a corner and scored at the second attempt. It lasted less than three minutes before Liverpool showed their failings at set-pieces as Martin Skrtel got the wrong side of Ross Barkley and Mirallas swept in the knockdown.

Barkley wasn't in the side to win headers but he provided an attacking impetus too as Everton's midfield of Barkley, Gareth Barry and James McCarthy dominated Liverpool's.

There were moments of great skill and there were moments of calamitous errors but neither side could exert control. After Coutinho had jinked past a couple of players, he was soon reminded of the context by a heavy Jagielka tackle. Trying to enforce a passing game was like trying to perform heart surgery in a Jamaican dancehall.

Liverpool couldn't get on the ball but they could still score. Suarez dominates these games even when there is so much going on. He was exceptional again yesterday in all the usual ways, including putting Liverpool ahead for the second time with a low, curling free-kick from 25 yards and being booked after a ludicrous attempt to wrestle substitute Gerard Deulofeu to the ground. Everton could have built a better wall but Suarez was irrepressible.

"He can look after himself," Rodgers said of a player who arrived back from South America late on Thursday night and gave a performance of such energy it was as if he had spent the international break in a health spa.

He was limping before Mirallas' tackle and he took some time running it off but he, along with every other Liverpool player, had his head in his hands when Allen put the ball wide.

Martinez made a bold substitution when Leighton Baines went off five minutes into the second half. Deulofeu, on loan from Barcelona, came on and began to skip around Liverpool challenges. Mignolet kept Deulofeu out and then began a personal battle with Romelu Lukaku. Mignolet won most contests but then Lukaku drove home an equaliser after a Mirallas cross had been helped on by McCarthy.

It was Liverpool's turn to demonstrate weakness from set-pieces when Lukaku shrugged off Glen Johnson and outjumped Jon Flanagan to give Everton the lead.

Liverpool had started without Sturridge, a result of his performances for England. "I told him in the team meeting that he might have to be a matchwinner from the bench," Rodgers said. Sturridge was a match-saver but Martinez complained that Steven Gerrard – anonymous in open play – stole a few yards for the free-kick which Sturridge headed in. Suarez had time to make a couple of more contributions, crossing for Victor Moses and volleying at Howard.

The game ended with Everton making one last attempt to win it before both teams took the crowd's applause.

Martinez was present at the birth of his first child, a girl, on Friday night. "I did very little," he said. He may well have experienced a similar feeling of helplessness at times during yesterday's game.

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