Credit where due and all that. Everton's front three pressed well, upsetting Liverpool's attacks at the base, especially after Lucas went off. And Everton defended in depth, blocking seven of Liverpool's 17 shots, making 29 defensive third clearances. But it was still strange to see Everton play for the 0-0. And they got that 0-0, a result that's far more damaging to Liverpool than Everton.
Injuries made a massive difference to Liverpool. Sturridge wasn't fit enough to start. Neither were Lallana nor Markovic, the former left out entirely, the latter on the bench and replaced by Ibe in the XI. Lucas had to go off after 16 minutes, replaced by Joe Allen – which made it easier for Everton to press Liverpool's midfield and defense, Liverpool missing his positioning, short passing, and ability on the ball far more than his defense. And Coutinho, struggling with a knee problem thanks to one of Everton's many "agricultural" tackles, made way for Sturridge in the 56th, Liverpool finally bringing on its goalscorer but removing its best creator. Michael Caley's Expected Goals chart adequately summarizes the difference that made.
Narratives made a massive difference to Liverpool. You cannot play with passengers in a Merseyside Derby and, as much as it hurts to write, Steven Gerrard was a passenger for long stretches. Yes, he also had two of Liverpool's best chances: a goal-bound acrobatic effort deflected over by Naismith in the 54th and a side-footed shot narrowly wide in the 88th. Otherwise, he did little, slowing down Liverpool attacks and creating just one chance. Liverpool didn't even get the benefit of his set play delivery, wasting the few opportunities he had. He's the best player I've ever seen in a Liverpool shirt, but Liverpool are simply a better side without Gerrard these days. Especially a Steven Gerrard who played 90 minutes just three days ago. Haven't we learned that you play Gerrard in one match a week, not two? Please? And there's no explanation for bringing Rickie Lambert on as the final substitute – for Sterling no less – other than "sentiment." There's no room for sentiment in football. This was a crucial match in Liverpool's quest for fourth place, not a testimonial.
Liverpool took 17 shots, dominated possession, but you can tear through the concrete opportunities in a single line: Ibe's cannon off the post in the 27th minute, the two aforementioned Gerrard efforts, a close-range chance for Sturridge somehow blocked by Jagielka in the 70th. Everton's single line is even shorter: an 87th minute chance for Coleman miraculously saved by Mignolet.
At least Liverpool's defense is light years better than it was the last time these two sides met. Sure, Everton didn't really try to attack – I've never seen Everton so hesitant to attack in a Goodison derby – and they didn't register their first shot on target until that 87th-minute effort. But an awful lot of credit goes to how Can, Skrtel, and Sakho dealt with Lukaku, Naismith, and Mirallas as well.
It's now been 870 minutes since Liverpool last conceded an open play goal in any competition. And it's been 390 minutes since Liverpool last conceded any type of goal in the Premier League. That remains impressive, no matter the opposition. The previous long without conceding under Rodgers was 272 minutes, at the start of last season. The last time Liverpool kept four consecutive league clean sheets was January-February 2011, the beginning of Dalglish's caretaker stint, against Wolves, Fulham, Stoke, and Chelsea.
Everton's ExpG total of 0.25 in their game with LFC today was the lowest figure posted by any home team in the EPL this season. Safety First— Colin Trainor (@colinttrainor) February 7, 2015
That's impressive, and it's because of both Everton's desired tactics and Liverpool's defending.
But it led to a fairly unwatchable match, especially in the second half, where neither side did much of anything going forward. And while we can be pleased with more evidence of Liverpool's defensive improvement, and especially pleased with Ibe and Can's efforts on Liverpool's right, we're yet again ruing Liverpool's impotence in the final third. Stop me if you've heard that one before.
Impotence that has, yet again, made Liverpool's quest for fourth that much more difficult.