Once again, Luis Suarez and the linesmen took center stage in a Liverpool game, as Liverpool took an early two-goal lead at Goodison Park, only for Everton to fight back with two goals in the 219th Merseyside derby on Sunday.
An excellent early break by the Reds saw Suso set up Jose Enrique, whose cross was collected by Suarez and hammered into the Everton net via a heavy deflection off Leighton Baines.
Steven Gerrard’s excellent set-piece reached an unmarked Suarez, who headed into the bottom corner of Tim Howard’s goal, but Everton hit back almost immediately with an excellent half-volley by Leon Osman from a corner kick.
Hesitant defending then saw Liverpool give up their two-goal lead within 15 minutes as Steven Naismith opened his account for the Toffees by knocking in Marouane Fellaini’s low cross.
Suarez could have and should have won it for Liverpool, only to be denied by a wrong offside flag from a linesman, providing a typically controversial end to a fast-paced clash between the Liverpudlian rivals.
Let’s look at 10 positives and negatives from Liverpool’s derby draw on Sunday—and, as usual, feel free to have your say in the comments below.
The overwhelming narrative from the game will have been the careless way in which Liverpool blew a lead again.
This time, the two major culprits were Brad Jones and Jose Enrique, whose costly mistakes were the only blemishes in two otherwise tidy performances from the stand-in goalkeeper and left-back.
Jones, having kept his place in the starting XI following a series of steady displays in Pepe Reina’s absence (hamstring), was at fault for the first goal as he simply couldn’t get enough power on his punch from Leighton Baines’ corner. The loose ball was slammed home by Leon Osman from the edge of the area.
Enrique, starting again following Glen Johnson’s injury scare, showed clearly why fitness might not have been the only thing that counted against his starting place in Brendan Rodgers’ eyes, as his impressive attacking forays were canceled out by his embarrassing ball-watching in defence. It was his failure to track Steven Naismith that led to Everton’s equalizer.
After three clean sheets in a row, alas it seems Liverpool still haven’t cut out their mistakes in defence. They need to address that sharply.
The silver lining—as Liverpool fans are used to having to find them from most matches these days—is that the Reds did score two goals.
And the first was the result of a brilliant counterattack that saw Enrique figure prominently, collecting a clean through-ball from Suso and drilling a cross across the goal for Luis Suarez to finish via Leighton Baines’ thigh.
The second was straight off the training ground, with Steven Gerrard’s picture-perfect free kick finding an unmarked Suarez.
So, this was a slight improvement on Liverpool’s recent one-goal results, but given the alarming way that they went from getting three points to one, there was not too much to write home about.
In the buildup to the game, I suggested that Liverpool should look to attack from their left flank, and while Jose Enrique and Raheem Sterling did that to good effect, Everton definitely won the day on this.
Leighton Baines and Kevin Mirallas wreaked untold havoc on the Liverpool right, presenting derby debutant Andre Wisdom with an unpleasant welcome to the traditionally hot-headed fixture.
While Everton’s second goal came off a throw-in decision that should have gone Liverpool’s way (courtesy of replays), the story was still the same: Baines and Mirallas simply had too much for Wisdom, who was eventually taken off for Jordan Henderson.
Such was Wisdom’s hesitation at right-back that one wonders if Glen Johnson would have been reinstalled there had he been fit.
But at least Brendan Rodgers noticed the imbalance in defence and made a quick decision at halftime to change things up at the back.
Toward the end of the first half when Everton gained confidence from their impressive fightback, the lack of physicality in the Liverpool midfield was made painfully obvious, and Liverpool emerged from the halftime break having already made two changes, with Sebastian Coates and Jonjo Shelvey coming on for Suso and Nuri Sahin.
By switching to a back three (or a back five, depending on how you look at it), Rodgers ensured that there was a more permanent marker on Marouane Fellaini in Coates, while giving David Moyes more to think about by pushing Everton’s full-backs a bit further back.
The later substitution of Wisdom for Jordan Henderson also injected some much-needed confidence and (relative) experience on the right for Liverpool.
There is a certain merit to Brendan Rodgers’ policy of rewarding in-form players with a continued first-team place, but this was one occasion where, in hindsight, perhaps a different approach should have been taken.
For all of Nuri Sahin and Suso’s technical ability, form was always going to play second fiddle in a Merseyside derby, and while Suso’s pass did set Liverpool on their way to their first goal, Sahin was near anonymous in the Liverpool midfield.
Simply put, up against the giant Marouane Fellaini (who was Everton’s second-most impressive player after Kevin Mirallas), the tenacious Phil Neville and the hard-working Leon Osman, Sahin and Suso came off in every sense second best in Sunday’s match.
In retrospect, they were rightly taken off at halftime, so at least Rodgers made up for his initial oversight by taking quick action.
The introductions of Jonjo Shelvey and Jordan Henderson showed three things.
First, as mentioned in the previous slides, they were a sign of Brendan Rodgers’ decision-making and tactical approach: Shelvey from the physical presence perspective and Henderson from the confidence and experience angle.
Second, Shelvey and Henderson showed their mental and physical attributes. Having already shown his mettle in the Manchester United game at Anfield a few weeks ago, Shelvey added his direct and fearless approach to the Liverpool midfield, while Henderson slotted in seamlessly as right wing-back.
Third, they showed that Liverpool’s priorities in the coming transfer windows should be in attack and, to a lesser extent, in defence. With Lucas on his way back from injury, Liverpool are well and truly stacked with midfield options, and most of them are good prospects for the future as well.
Shelvey and Henderson will have done plenty to justify their manager’s faith.
A lot in Sunday’s game hinged on Marouane Fellaini’s return, and it was no surprise that his 90 minutes of action constituted one of the hardest assignments for Liverpool’s defence and midfield this season.
Just ask Joe Allen.
Poor Allen was never going to win a single aerial duel with the giant Fellaini in the first place, but Fellaini's relentless haggling and physical near-bullying seemed just a bit too much for Allen to handle, especially for a makeshift out-and-out defensive anchor position that he has taken up in Lucas’ absence.
By some distance this was Joe Allen’s least convincing game for Liverpool since his summer arrival from Swansea, but, as with most things, some perspective needs to be brought in.
Allen finished the afternoon with a game high of six tackles, and his passing, while not his usual exemplary self, did reach 86 percent accuracy. (stats courtesy of WhoScored.com)
Say what you will about Steven Gerrard’s age and declining powers on the field, but he remains Liverpool’s leader on the field, and it showed on Sunday.
His free-kick delivery on 20 minutes firmly belonged to the “world-class” category, and if it weren’t for a wrong offside call at the death, he would have provided two game-changing assists from set pieces.
And that’s not mentioning his runs from midfield and still-brilliant passing: An exquisite through-ball to Luis Suarez in the second half could have set the Liverpool No. 7 on his way, but for a clumsy first touch to let him down.
Gerrard tracked back to put in tackles in typical derby fashion and also participated in several debates with opposing captain Phil Neville and referee Andre Marriner as the game boiled on, not least in the heartwarming shielding of Raheem Sterling toward the end of the first half.
What is it with Liverpool and referees these days?
Take nothing away from Andre Marriner’s assured performance as the match referee at Goodison Park, as he kept good balance and flow in the game and recognized the role that passion and full-bloodedness has to play in a Merseyside derby.
There were of course several highlights in terms of the referee’s book on Sunday, including Phil Neville’s comical dive and Luis Suarez’s frankly baffling stamp on Sylvain Distin’s Achilles.
But his team got two offside decisions wrong, one of which would have led to a Liverpool victory in stoppage time, as well as an erroneous throw-in call that led to Everton’s equalizing goal.
And that wrong decision at the end, more than the generally decent refereeing shift, will dominate the post-match headlines.
In the grand scheme of things, though, 2-2 was an even scoreline that probably reflected well on how the game turned out.
Perhaps more important is the continued development and maturation of one of the English game’s hottest young talents.
It was telling that, after Suso, Nuri Sahin and Andre Wisdom were taken off, 17-year-old Raheem Sterling completed the full 90 minutes in one of Liverpool’s fieriest games of the season, having already impressed against Manchester United at Anfield.
After his initial tussles on the right flank against Leighton Baines and Kevin Mirallas, Sterling found himself in hot water toward the end of the first half, when a series of challenges saw him booked and perhaps on the verge of being sent off.
While the enduring image from that stretch of play was captain Steven Gerrard’s shielding of his young protégé, the endearing conclusion by the final whistle was Sterling’s mental commitment and a positional understanding beyond his years.
Having played predominantly on the right flank in the first half, he switched over to the left in the wake of his card-threatening challenges and indeed appeared to play just off Luis Suarez in the second half—and in all three positions—he kept finding space to run into and chances to threaten Everton’s goal.
His weak finish at the start of the second half after being put through on goal was alas a sign of his inexperience, but the silver lining is that the 219th Merseyside derby could well have been the making of Raheem Sterling.
Also check out: Comparing Brendan Rodgers’ Team to Dalglish’s Men Last Season