05 May 2013

Liverpool 0-0 Everton

Well, that was feeble.

I guess it's somewhat fitting that defenses ruled the day in Carragher's last derby. Everton blocked all of Liverpool's best opportunities, whether through a couple of crucial first-half tackles from Jagielka, Howard standing tall when Coutinho put Sturridge through soon after the interval, or Distin cutting out Gerrard's shot after the captain rounded the keeper in the 74th.

Meanwhile, Liverpool dealt well with Everton's crosses and long balls – restricting Baines, averaging just over three chances created per game, to just one opportunity (none from open play) – and all but two of their set plays. In the first half, Fellaini shinned a shot narrowly wide when wrestling with Carragher. In the second half, Oliver blew for a foul just before Distin bulleted a header past Reina, somewhat karmically mirroring Suarez's non-goal at the end of the match at Goodison.

Americans fans will remember a similar situation from the USA/Slovenia World Cup match in 2010, when Koman Coulibaly chalked off Mo Edu's "winning goal." Oliver had warned Anichebe prior to the set play, and there were subsequently three soft fouls – Anichebe on Enrique and Reina, then Distin climbing on Carragher. Yes, they were soft, but we've seen softer. And we've seen refs stop for similar many, many times. Oliver was calling it back whether or not Distin even made contact with the delivery. I'm obviously biased, but I'm still far angrier at Suarez's goal negated in the reverse fixture for no good reason than Everton fans should be today.

Otherwise, dross, at least in attack. From both sides.

Combined, Liverpool and Everton took 29 shots, but put just five on target. Three from Liverpool, two from Everton. There was only one shot on target in the first half, a slow roller from Mirallas that Reina casually picked up; Liverpool didn't register its first until the 59th minute, again a tame effort, this time from Coutinho straight at Howard.

Liverpool were marginally better in that start to the second half, improving from a first half final third accuracy of 53.3% to 66.7% for the full match, leading to that Sturridge chance smothered by Howard, followed by Sturridge's shot into the side netting followed by a dangerous Enrique cross eluding Downing, capped by Coutinho's shot easily saved. But then, Everton had a couple of half-chances sail well wide before the sides settled back into comfortably numb mediocrity.

Neither team's substitutions changed matters much, whether Borini for Henderson, with Liverpool shifting to 4-4-2, or Jelavic for Mirallas. Coutinho miscued an attempted chip, Gerrard had the aforementioned pass/shot cleared from the six-yard box, and then a knock to Downing forced Rodgers into a switch to 3-5-2, bringing on Skrtel, replicating the second half formation from the previous meeting. Agger glanced a header (really, a shoulder) wide, another dangerous Enrique cross just missed Borini, but Everton ended stronger, racking up set plays which amounted to catching practice for Reina.

This is the way the Carragher ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.

It was the first 0-0 these sides have played since February 2007, the match where Everton threw a fit because Benitez had the temerity to say "When you play against the smaller teams at Anfield you know the game will be narrow" after the match.

Well, today, both sides played like small clubs. Cagey, tentative, and almost wholly lacking in quality. I'm not used to this from Merseyside derbies. Yes, both sides defended well, while Gerrard effectively sprayed Hollywood passes around the pitch, involved in almost every good move Liverpool somehow conjured, but that's about it.

It's no surprise Liverpool used all its scoring up last week. It's this season defined. Far more routs than we're used to, which is nothing to scoff at, but often followed up by disappointment, with Liverpool unable to find the needed goals in the narrow games. Liverpool have now played every team which will finish above it twice. One win, four losses, and seven draws. Seven. 10 points from the 30 available. And yet, somehow Liverpool will finish with a better points total than last season, and probably the season before that as well.

There's at least still progress in the goal difference, in the way Liverpool have handily dispatched teams which held them to draws last season. There's at least still progress in another Liverpool clean sheet, its sixth in the last 10 league games.

But it's still not enough progress to get Liverpool over the all-too-familiar mid-table mediocrity hump.

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