Arbeloa Carragher Skrtel Dossena
Kuyt Gerrard Babel
Yet another home draw. Frustrating to be sure, but somehow less so because the team came from behind and a replay’s on the horizon. But Liverpool’s still not doing enough to break down resilient teams. And one win in five at Anfield is dreadful any way you slice it.
However, what more can you say about Steven Gerrard? Yes, Howard made a hash of the goal, but that’s two in two derbies, and he’s the sole reason Liverpool’s taken anything from these matches. He has not and will not give up in these matches, and that's an admirable quality. Too bad it wasn't enough.
Liverpool may have had 75% of the possession in the first quarter of the match, but it was Everton that opened the scoring, and in an unforgivable manner. After the sucker punch to end last Monday’s match, it is unfathomable that Tim Cahill should somehow get open for a free header.
But Liverpool conceded a corner, Cahill ghosted towards the penalty spot from the far post, and while Alonso assumed he’d continue a run towards the near post, he pulled back and was open to direct the ball towards goal. Lescott, from point blank range, did the rest. Clever run to be sure – it’s what the annoying twit is best at – but not learning from one’s mistake is a sign of either stupidity or laziness. Neither is a good thing.
And the rest of the half was just like the last match and the two before it. Liverpool had more of the ball, Liverpool struggled to create chances, etc etc etc. Even though the team returned to the 4-2-3-1, with Gerrard playing further forward and Babel on the left.
Thankfully, the captain pulled the team’s fat from the fire nine minutes after the restart thanks to some lovely interplay with Torres – which does seem to happen more frequently in this formation. Gerrard won the header, flicking on for the Spaniard, who showed one of the moments of brilliance we so dearly missed. In three movements, Torres controlled the ball, chested it up, and deftly flicked a waist-high backheel for Gerrard to run onto. Liverpool were lucky to see the ball go under the diving Howard, who should have kept it out, but by getting shots on target, you make your own luck.
Howard made amends three minutes later, saving Gerrard’s shot from ten yards out after Babel, Kuyt, Torres and the skipper all got a touch in the box, but Liverpool didn’t threaten the keeper for the next 20 minutes despite overwhelming possession. Yes, yes, credit to Everton’s durable defense, especially Jagielka, but when it happens time and time again to this team, it’s not all down to the opposition.
Kuyt could have been the hero in the 80th minute, receiving the ball from Gerrard on the break, but shot straight at Howard, summing up his day. All hard work, no end product. Just like the team as a whole – although Kuyt and Babel were the worst culprits by far. Torres’s shot blocked from Gerrard’s cutback and a decent long-range effort from Dossena were the sum of Liverpool other chances for a winner.
Possession-wise, this was the most one-sided derby I can remember. And yet it’s still ending level. Similar to after the 0-0 at Anfield in ‘06-07, Benitez excoriated Everton’s tactics after the match, sniping that the only time his sides have played like that was when he managed the tiny Spanish club Extremadura. And while he’s got a point – you do expect more from Everton in a derby – the tactics worked. They frustrated Liverpool into a replay on their ground, got the kind of goal they’ve been scoring of late, and would have won if it wasn’t for Gerrard and Torres.
Oh, and the omission of Robbie Keane – not even on the subs bench – is sure to raise some fun questions to mull over through the media for the next few days.
As some sort of consolation, I do think it was a better performance. Sadly, probably the best since Newcastle. Liverpool did come back from a goal deficit, it was nice to see Arbeloa back, and Alonso and Mascherano were in charge of midfield (although they had tons of time and space for the most part).
A replay at Goodison (a week from Wednesday) isn’t the worst thing in the world – an extra game’s annoying, but a good performance away from Anfield, where Everton will be forced to come out of their shell a bit more, could provide some needed momentum. But of course, a good performance can’t be taken for granted considering recent results.
The winner of the replay faces the winner of Doncaster/Villa at Villa Park. There’s starting to be an echo in here, but it bears repeating that Liverpool will have to find more of a cutting edge to advance.
Wigan in three days.