Everton and Liverpool played out a remarkable 3-3 draw in the early kick-off at Goodison Park. Matt Stanger picks out some of the key issues from an entertaining encounter between the Merseyside rivals...
By Matt Stanger. Last Updated: 23/11/13 10:39pm
And breathe. We were expecting a tense and tactical Merseyside derby between two teams who have generally been impressive at containing opponents this season, but that prediction disintegrated with two goals inside the first eight minutes as anarchy ruled at Goodison. "It is going to be a fiercely competitive game," said Brendan Rodgers before kick-off, and the momentum swung back and forth at a frantic pace, leaving us feeling rather dizzy after Liverpool twice threw away the lead, conceded what looked like an 82nd-minute winner for Everton and then grabbed a late equaliser through Daniel Sturridge. It's difficult to grasp who will be happiest after such an open game - not Joe Allen, that's for sure...
What a horrendous miss from the Liverpool midfielder that would have given the Reds an insurmountable 3-1 lead on the hour mark. With Everton gradually taking control of the match at the start of the second half, a break-away goal for Liverpool would surely have knocked the stuffing out of the hosts and allowed Rodgers to re-jig his team to kill the remaining half-hour. But despite Luis Suarez creating a gilt-edged chance for his teammate with a mazy dribble through the Everton defence, Allen somehow side-footed wide under absolutely no pressure. It wasn't the brightest thing to do on his first Premier League start of the season and we expect he'll suffer a few sleepless nights after being hauled off by Rodgers just ten minutes later. It really is difficult not to think that Allen is £15million poorly spent after the first 15 months of his Liverpool career.
Was Rodgers' decision to replace Allen motivated by his frustration at that miss or is that maybe a little disrespectful towards the manager's ability to retain composure on such a fraught occasion? Whatever the reason, Allen's substitution for Victor Moses only served to make Liverpool even more vulnerable to Everton's counter-attacks after Gerard Deulofeu had already missed a brilliant chance when he was put clear at the start of the half. Rodgers beamed with satisfaction in his post-match interview, emphasising his team's "resilience and mentality to fight back", but had he been a little more cautious in his changes Liverpool may have gained more than a single point.
"We went through a spell where we couldn't keep the ball, we were too loose in possession," said Rodgers. "It's very important you don't lose if you can't win." It was a sensible reflection from the manager but entirely inconsistent with his approach as he sent on Daniel Sturridge for Lucas at 2-2. It was a decision that saw a fortunate Rodgers get out of jail in the dying stages, but he put his bird in the hand at peril by hunting two in the bush. After Liverpool threw away a two-goal lead in the first half of this fixture last year, Rodgers made two half-time substitutions and changed his team's shape to contain Everton after the break, effectively killing the game. On Saturday he decided to be bold - often a commendable trait in a manager - but nearly lost everything before Sturridge popped up with his late header.
Roberto Martinez was equally risky in his reaction to Leighton Baines' foot injury as Everton trailed 2-1. Instead of making a more conservative change - such as bringing on John Heitinga for Baines and moving Sylvain Distin to left-back - Martinez opted to introduce Deulofeu in a decision he may have immediately regretted as the youngster struggled to adapt to the pace of the game. However, as Deulofeu began to compose himself, Everton began to tick and the 'Barceloanee' managed four shots on target - second only to Romelu Lukaku on the pitch - as he buzzed across the final third. Martinez's adventure was duly repaid by the Spaniard, while his decision to start Ross Barkley ahead of Leon Osman - the only change from the 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace two weeks ago - also aided Everton's play in the final third, if not their resilience in the centre of the pitch.
A loan spell that started with Lukaku giving Jose Mourinho food for thought has now become a big wedge of humble pie lodged in the Chelsea manager's gullet as the striker continued to embarrass his permanent boss. Although he was a little quiet in the first half, partly due to a lack of quality service, the Belgian grew into the game after the break and was twice thwarted by Simon Mignolet before eventually scoring his two goals. According to Opta, of everyone to have more than ten shots in the Premier League this season, only Mesut Ozil has a better shooting accuracy than Lukaku. He's been a simply outstanding signing so far, as we all knew he would be.
In fact, Everton were enormously accurate as a team on Saturday, hitting the target with 12 of their 18 attempts and creating much better chances than their rivals only to be denied by the excellent Mignolet on several occasions. There was one moment in the second half when the keeper failed to claim a bouncing ball in the box that Daniel Agger had to hook to safety, but other than that he excelled, demonstrating his alertness as he twice rushed from his line to block Lukaku efforts. Rodgers will be eager for the keeper to improve his distribution, but he proved his worth with a string of fantastic saves on Saturday.
Mirallas horror tackle
Kevin Mirallas should have been sent off for his appalling challenge on Suarez in the first half, no matter the tenuous justification of schadenfreude that rang across Twitter. It was wild, reckless, dangerous and all those other adjectives we like to use when a player somehow escapes a red card for a shocking tackle. Rodgers had every right to feel aggrieved after the final whistle as he questioned Phil Dowd's decision and, had the referee made the right call, the complexion of the game would have changed entirely.
Not only did Dowd fail to appreciate the severity of Mirallas' challenge, but he also took a ridiculously long time to produce the yellow card. Perhaps he was waiting for advice from one of his assistants (if so, they weren't much help) or maybe he enjoyed having his new leaner figure in the spotlight for a moment. The reason isn't really important - the delay failed to diffuse an already tense situation and could have led to more problems as temperatures rose.
Martinez also came out of this badly after the game as his attempt to deflect attention from Mirallas' challenge by questioning Gerrard's 'elbow' was rather shameless. "I was a little bit disappointed with Steven Gerrard's elbow on Gareth Barry," said Martinez. "It did not contact his face but it was not a natural position to have an elbow and that could have been a nasty incident." It was clearly an accident and any suggestion otherwise should be met with the ridicule it deserves.
With five of the six goals coming directly from set-pieces - and the sixth resulting indirectly from Lukaku's direct free-kick, if that isn't too much of a tongue-twister - both managers will be disappointed with their team's defending. While Philippe Coutinho was rather clever with his darting run to shed his unenviable tag of being the player to have the most shots without scoring in the Premier League this season, Lukaku should have been more aware of his opponent as he left the Brazilian unmarked in the box. After five-and-a-half hours without conceding, it was a frustrating way for Everton to go behind, while the Toffees' defence should also have got closer to Sturridge when he flicked in his late equaliser.
Martinez will be disappointed with his team's resolve at set-pieces on Saturday - especially Steven Pienaar's role as Suarez's strike squeezed through the Everton wall - but that issue is a bigger burden to his counterpart as Rodgers again watched Liverpool concede two goals from dead ball situations. "We've got to be stronger than that defensively," said Rodgers in his post-match interview, but he should be worried that his warnings have not been heeded.
"It's something that we need to address, for sure. We have to be more aggressive and more switched on. It's concentration," said the manager after the 2-2 draw against Newcastle in October, in which Paul Dummett gave the Magpies the lead by heading in a free-kick. "The goal at home to Crystal Palace (in the previous fixture) was disappointing. That was a poor goal to give away, but thankfully it never cost us."
On Saturday, however, the perceived lack of concentration - particularly relevant when Steven Gerrard lost Mirallas for Everton's first equaliser - did cost Liverpool, and six of the 13 goals they have shipped in the top flight this season have come from set-pieces.
Despite creating three chances for teammates (the most of any Liverpool player), Gerrard was rather subdued, but he wasn't the worst of Liverpool's players as Glen Johnson delivered an awfully sloppy performance. The right-back's error in the first half set Lukaku free down the left before Lucas came across to cover and it was his throw-in that somehow resulted in Mirallas feeding Deulofeu for a brilliant chance at the start of the second half. Not content with those mistakes, Johnson then played a part in both of Lukaku's goals - giving the ball away in a dangerous area that led to the Belgian's free-kick, from which he eventually converted, and then losing the striker in the box not long later. Perhaps Johnson is not quite at full fitness following his stop-start season thus far, but he will need to greatly improve on Saturday's display if Liverpool are to avoid giving away more soft goals.
Jordan Henderson may give Liverpool 'tactical flexibility', as Martinez claimed on Friday, but he frequently looked like a square peg in a round hole in an attacking position on the right. It's better to have specialists than utility men, but Rodgers' varied use of Henderson could see the midfielder pop up at his second international tournament in a row if he remains a key part of the Reds' success.
And finally, it would be impossible to write about a Liverpool match without mentioning Suarez and the striker's whipped free-kick put him equal on goals with Spurs in the Premier League (nine) in four fewer matches. It was not all joy for the Uruguayan, though, as he was forced to start the match without his strike-partner in crime and his pass accuracy of 69% goes some way to explain several promising Liverpool attacks breaking down in the final third as Everton began to dominate in the second half.
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