The wizard of Oz did it again! Just when Rafa had begun to relax, even took off Torres to bring on Lukas, and was thinking about what to say at the press conference, a Tim Cahill header silenced the Anfield stadium. The game ended 1-1.
Liverpool were out there with a point to prove. Rafa left out defensive midfielder Mascherano, and had Keane and Torres up front, with Xabi Alonso making a start to keep Gerrard company in the midfield. Everton had little resources to choose from, with their injury worries, and all their offensive strategies were built around Tim Cahill and Anichebe.
It was evident that the Merseyside derby was going to be a tough game right from the start, with Phil Neville's rather harsh challenge on Gerrard early in the fifth minute. But surprisingly, the game did not see any red cards, or any big confrontations either. In fact, it was an open game, and played at a high tempo.
Reina had to make two great saves quite early on in the match, first from Anichebe and then from Cahill, as Everton showed that they weren't just lost tourists. Despite their recent problems with strikers and Feilani suspended, they looked positive.
However the best chance of the first half undoubtedly fell to Fernando Torres. He did everything right to control a long ball from the midfield between the two Everton defenders, stayed on his feet, saw Howard go to the ground, and gently lifted the ball above the Everton goalkeeper. But much to Rafa's disapointment, his effort wasn't even on target.
Everton continued to play positively but without any major chances, and when the first half ended, it was 0-0.
The second half started much in the same fashion, but slowly Liverpool started building pressure, and that kind of pressure had to tell eventually. Keane was replaced by Benayoun. And soon after, Everton thought they should have won a penalty when Anichebe went down inside the Liverpool box. But while they were still appealing for the penalty, at the other end, the inevitable happened. A 67th minute strike from Steven Gerrard was low and powerful, and went past Tim Howard, and submerged the stadium into celebration.
Steven Pienaar was the pick of the Everton players. Despite getting a yellow card in the first half, he showed his skills and caused the Liverpool defense a few problems. Anichebe was a menacing presence as well, but nothing the Reds defense couldn't handle.
With less than ten minutes remaining, Rafa decided that the 1-0 scoreline was comfortable. He took off Torres and brought on Lukas. All seemed to be going their way, when out of nowhere, in the eigthy-seventh minute, Yosi Benayoun gave away a needless free kick about twenty-five yards out. Mikel Arteta launched a powerful ball into the box. Tim Cahill, who is notorious for his heading ability, was completely unmarked, and he carressed the ball into the back of the net.
The draw meant that Everton still stayed in the sixth position, but closed the gap on Arsenal, and continued their nine game unbeaten away streak.
Liverpool on the other hand, despite level on points with Manchester United, remained in the second spot, due to inferior goal difference. And with a game in hand, looks like Man Utd will be firmly the title favorites, now more than ever.
Questions will be asked about Rafa's tactics. Everton surely gave a gritty performance. But Rafa's side seemed content with just the one goal lead, and sloppy defending at the end from Skertel meant that their city rivals did Man Utd a favor by drawing the game level.
In the post match interview, Benitez seemed positive though, claiming that they were still in a good position, and although it was a game they should have won, they should only look to the future.
Can Liverpool maintain pressure on Man Utd, or will Ferguson's side run away with the title yet again? Only time will tell.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!