Where to start with this one? In one of the greatest Merseyside derbies of recent memory—a fixture that, it should be noted, rarely lacks for excitement—a late goal from substitute Daniel Sturridge eventually saw Liverpool claim a 3-3 draw in a ding-dong battle with Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday.
Sturridge, struggling with an injury that left him unable to train following his appearance for England on Tuesday, watched from the sidelines as Liverpool twice went ahead in the first half, before Romelu Lukaku’s second-half brace put the home side on course for a scarcely believable 3-2 win.
Sturridge had the final say, however, heading home Gerrard’s free-kick in the 89th minute—although fellow substitutes Victor Moses and Gerard Deulofeu both had chances to win the game even later than that.
Philippe Coutinho, Kevin Mirallas and Luis Suarez scored the contest’s first three goals—with Suarez’s 30-yard bending free-kick arguably the pick of the bunch.
“The best experience I have ever had in club football,” Lukaku told BT Sport in a televised interview during the game’s aftermath. "To play in such a derby is an honour, and to score two goals is great.
“The only shame is that we did not win, but I hope we can do that next time.”
Lukaku could barely have said it better. It is hard to truly do justice to the excitement this early kick-off produced, over the course of a 90 minutes during which there was almost always a controversial incident at one point or another.
The first three minutes were perhaps the quietest, but by the fourth, the game had its first goal. Everton had edged the opening exchanges, but it was the Blues who found themselves behind, and from Liverpool’s first attack of note.
The Reds won a corner after a speculative long ball from Gerrard, and from the delivery Coutinho managed to wriggle away from his marker Lukaku to beat goalkeeper Tim Howard—and Phil Jagielka on the line—with a low drive.
The home side were unable to celebrate for long, however, as Everton needed just another four minutes to get on terms. It was far from beautiful, but it was certainly effective in its execution, as Leighton Baines lofted a deep free-kick into the box that Ross Barkley rose to head down, with Mirallas proving more alert than Steven Gerrard to prod a final effort into the roof of the net.
The game continued to flow from end to end, but it took a mere 10 minutes for the game’s next goal. It came from star forward Luis Suarez, who won a free-kick after a clumsy tackle from Gareth Barry before stepping up himself and curling a pinpoint effort around the wall and inside Tim Howard’s near post.
From that point Everton immediately went on the offensive—in one case perhaps too literally. Kevin Mirallas was perhaps fortunate to avoid a red card for a horrible late challenge on the back of Suarez’s leg, a challenge that left the Uruguayan needing treatment on the pitch.
Eventually he hobbled back into the fray, although the brief delay as physics worked their magic seemed to disrupt Everton’s fluency more than their rivals', as the Blues went into half-time 2-1 down.
Few could have expected the second half to produce even more drama, but as both managers committed to going for the victory, there were spaces left at both ends of the pitch.
For Everton the half got off to a terrible start, as Leighton Baines was forced off with a toe injury sustained at the end of the first half
It was Liverpool, however, who arguably had the chance to kill off the contest before the opponents had a chance to clamber back into contention. With an hour gone, Joe Allen found himself played in clean through on goal with only Howard to beat, but with Suarez waiting for a tap-in to his left, Allen somehow contrived to slide his attempt on goal well wide.
“We should have gone to 3-1, and that probably kills the game,” Rodgers noted, somewhat ruefully, to BT afterwards. “But then we were too loose in possession and after that they got back into the game.”
That miss, understandably, seemed to galvanise Everton, although they found a renewed vigour was not enough on its own to beat Simon Mignolet, who made a number of smart saves to deny Lukaku.
Mignolet’s fellow Belgian would have his moment(s) eventually, however. The first of them came with 20 minutes remaining. Everton won a free-kick in a similar position to Suarez’s goal in the first half, an opportunity Lukaku blasted at goal—only to see it turned away by Mignolet.
But the ball did not go out of play and Everton did not give up, as it was eventually played back in for their striker to finally find the target with an authoritative side-foot.
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That sparked Rodgers into life, as he withdrew Lucas—on a yellow card—to give Sturridge a 15-minute cameo. But that did not immediately turn the tide, as moments later Everton found themselves ahead for the first time in the contest.
Again it was Lukaku with the goal, this time showing his aerial prowess as he powered home a corner at the near post.
That set up a frantic conclusion, with the ball being spread from end to end with intent and remarkable energy. In the end, however, it was yet another set piece that produced the final goal—Gerrard curling in a delightful ball for Sturridge to plant in the far corner.
Another goal might have been too much for observers to take, although both sides had a couple of chances—with Moses going particularly close as he headed over after beating Howard to Suarez’s free-kick.
When the final whistle came, however, seconds after James McCarthy’s close-range attempt had been blocked away, a draw was probably a fair result.
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“It was a really good game,” Everton boss Roberto Martinez told BT Sport. “It’s fair to say the two teams played the game in the right manner, but we feel we dropped two points because we conceded three goals from set plays.
“But, overall, a fantastic football game and a real taste of the two squads.”
Rodgers added: “It was a terrific game, these games are real heartstoppers. When you come to one of your rivals it is very important not to lose if you can’t win.”
Everton return to Goodison for their next Premier League match in a week's time, as they welcome Stoke City. Liverpool have an extra day's rest before their next encounter, which sees them make the trip to the KC Stadium to play newly promoted Hull City.
(Note: All GIFs created by B/R UK; quotes obtained from BT Sport's live post-match coverage.)