Despite the build-up and the somewhat desperate sense of circumstance, this was always destined to be a Merseyside derby tinged with failure―and so it emphatically proved.
Everton, following their superb start to the season, were supposed to be up in the Champions League places by now.
The fact that they aren’t of course owes much to the financial muscle of the teams challenging for those very same limited places, but also―and this can only be whispered through the powerful corridors owned by those who might be looking to employ David Moyes this summer―due to their own sense of naivety and some would say fear.
This represented their big chance to register a win at one of the division’s traditional elite for the first time under Moyes, yet they looked too scared to try and go for it.
In the red corner, Liverpool didn’t really look like they knew what to do.
The 6-0 win at Newcastle last week―a victory that with each viewing looks sadly more down to terrible home defending rather than the excellent attacking that was undoubtedly on show―was a blueprint for the Reds to follow as they took on the Blues, but they were never going to get that level of time and space in a Merseyside derby. Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho―so devastating at St. James’s Park―may as well have been playing another sport such was the difference here.
Yet, they manfully soldiered on.
They both tried but they weren’t alone in having little effect in the attacking third of the field.
Marouane Fellaini and Kevin Mirallas―two such impressive elements in this fine Everton season―were laboured. The latter anonymous and the former more intent on committing as many fouls as possible as opposed to anything more useful than an early effort which he prodded wide.
Upfront, Victor Anichebe “put himself about a bit,” but if that is all he’s got then Moyes needs to go shopping in the summer. He is seriously limited in attacking positions.
But then so too are Liverpool on this evidence.
Brendan Rodgers has put a brave face on the fact that the Reds have been below the Blues all season―and will probably remain so after Sunday―because his side has more prospects that Moyes’s does, with or without the banned Luis Suarez.
That point remains hard to argue because of the level of investment that Liverpool’s owners are willing to put in, but without Suarez, Rodgers’ team looks lacking in inventiveness. They are too often relying upon inspiration from captain Steven Gerrard, who incidentally looked as though his gruelling season―a season consisting of every Liverpool Premier League minute, bar the last 17 at Newcastle―was taking its toll here, as opposed to anything other than sporadic influences from others.
Sturridge, Coutinho and Jordan Henderson may have sparkled at St. James’s, but they couldn’t make such an impact here.
Yet the notion that Liverpool are in a better position than Everton can still not be escaped.
Obviously, the league table suggests otherwise, but it is hard to imagine Rodgers and the Reds being as pleased with a point at Goodison Park as Moyes and the Blues seemed to be here. There were even smoke bombs set off in the away end in an apparent triumph. They were purple, just to add to the slightly surreal nature of the day.
It was so odd because there was so little to play for.
Whereas once this game could settle a league championship―it was even an FA Cup semifinal last year―there was none of that here. It’s even pretty hard to get worked up about Sylvain Distin’s disallowed goal given that Chelsea’s win at Manchester United has even further damaged Everton’s European hopes.
They, like Liverpool, will remain on the outside looking in next season, when once again this derby will be a mere sideshow to the main events.
It is up to both clubs to put that right sooner rather than later, or they risk yet more time in the shadows.