Lukaku 72' 82'
Two managers who value style, sometimes at the expense of substance, with progressive passing philosophies. Surely this won't be just another blood and thunder Merseyside derby?
Ha. Hahaha. Yeah, right.
There's no escape from the crushing weight of inevitability and there's no escape from chaos in this fixture. Uncontrollable chaos and disorder and anarchy and insanity and my heart, my heart, I think I'm having a coronary.
Six set plays goals, missed sitters and miraculous saves, mental defensive mistakes and marvelous last-ditch stops, obvious red cards ignored, Phil Dowd being Phil Dowd. The opening goal within five minutes, the final goal in the 89th, the highest scoring Merseyside derby in league history.
Phew. I'm exhausted. Just spent. Utterly, utterly spent.
Everton as expected, 4-2-3-1 with Barkley preferred to Osman for more attacking impetus. Liverpool without Sturridge thanks to Roy Hodgson's brilliance, bringing in Joe Allen to pack the midfield, with both Allen and Gerard ahead of Lucas in something of a 4-1-4-1.
Last week's first two goals against Fulham proved the importance of set plays. Liverpool's become surprisingly good at them. That remained the case today. A corner won from Liverpool's first attack, Gerrard's defense-destroying long ball awkwardly headed behind by Coleman, Gerrard's corner to Suarez leading to a blocked shot but Coutinho wide, wide, wide open at the back post to flick into the net. Unbridled ecstasy, but a clear memory of when Liverpool took an early lead on this ground last season.
Which would prove appropriate within three minutes, when Everton took advantage of their first set play: Baines' free kick following Coutinho's foul, Henderson out of position and Skrtel caught on the back foot, out-muscled by Barkley and only able to head directly into Mirallas' path for another back post tap-in.
Liverpool should have conceded a second thanks to a giveaway in midfield but were saved by Mignolet – both of these would happen a few more times – then Liverpool scored a second, again from a set play. Suarez's swirling, unerring free kick, bent around the wall in defiance of Newtonian physics, as he's done time and time again for Liverpool.
But that'd be Liverpool's last shot of the half. Everton dominance, roared on by the Goodison crowd, pinning Liverpool back as they did on this ground last season, but failing to make the most of the possession, with Mignolet called in to action just once, reacting late but outstandingly to push Barkley's half-shot, half-cross past the post, with three other chances well wide of the target.
Then, controversy, as only Everton and Liverpool and Phil Dowd can provide.
That's a red card. That's a red card every day of the week. Two red cards on Sundays, in fact. This fixture's seen more red cards than any other in the Premier League, but this is the same fixture where this wasn't a red card. I wish I were surprised but I'm not surprised I've seen this movie before. Also, it was probably Luis Suarez's fault anyway.
Between Liverpool's second and Everton's second, Mignolet made three outstanding saves: the aforementioned first on Barkley, denying Defoleu and Lukaku twice, three of those chances coming on the break, all three starting with Liverpool giveaways.
Amongst those chances came Liverpool's first open play shot, directly on the hour mark. A trademark Suarez dribble somehow someway breaking through a wall of three defenders, falling perfectly for Joe Allen, somehow someway placed wide on the near post when unhindered from 10 yards out. Head in hands, heart in stomach.
Having failed to seize the moment, it was little surprise when Everton finally equalized for the second time. Mignolet called into action yet again, palming away Lukaku's deflected free kick from the same position where Suarez scored his, but Liverpool unable to clear, the set-play taker finding the net from 12 yards out, unforgivably in acres of space to fortunately receive a re-directed pullback.
Another chance for a Liverpool third, conjured from nothing, Gerrard's outstanding cross sent straight to Suarez at the back-post but headed straight at the sprawling Tim Howard. Another Everton break, again foiled by Mignolet, but followed but another Everton set play and another punch to the midsection, again from Romelu Lukaku. I don't know why the burly Belgian man child was being marked by Johnson and aided by Flanagan, but needless to say, it didn't work well. Mushroom cloud atom bomb, yet another seemingly undeserved setback despite so much that's gone Liverpool's way this season.
But maybe there's some justice in this universe because there was still time for one more Liverpool set play. And one more goal from a Liverpool set play. Moses, on as a substitute 20 minutes earlier, fouled by Distin on the right flank. Gerrard lines up, takes the lob wedge out of the golf bag, asks his caddy for the distance to the pin, and sends in a perfect cross for Sturridge between three defenders, flicked in from the near post. If only Liverpool could just bring the captain on for set plays. I've said it before, and I'll hopefully get to say it again. For all the holes in Liverpool's midfield, partly of Gerrard's making, his delivery's better than it's ever been.
And that's not all folks. It nearly ended 4-3 for the good guys, but Moses could only head over from Suarez's cross, Suarez's snap shot was well parried by Howard, and Sturridge was well, well offside when ramming the subsequent corner into the back of the net. It'd have been fitting were it given after what happened with last season's late offside decision on this ground, but there isn't that much justice in this universe.
There's little point in tactical analysis for this fixture. It was interesting to see Allen preferred in Sturridge's absence, leading to two midfielders ahead of Lucas as holder, but Liverpool's midfield still went missing at inopportune times. Maybe it's a different match if Sturridge is fit enough to start (thanks again, Roy!) but maybe Everton are even more dominant in possession without the third midfielder. Liverpool's good on set plays, but sometimes not so good at defending them. Mignolet's been a revelation, better than the most optimistic could expect, but he shouldn't have been put in most of those positions by his midfield or defense. Suarez and Sturridge continue to carry Liverpool. Flanagan, despite a couple of frights, made the most of his chance, and will probably continue to feature in Enrique's absence.
A draw's probably a fair result, but there's a lot to rue from Liverpool's point of view.
Just another Merseyside derby after all.