Red and blue collided at Anfield in the first Merseyside derby of this year’s Premier League campaign.
While only six games into the new season, given the each team’s early struggles, this match already looked like a crucial clash. It proved to be the most dramatic match of the season yet, as Everton snatched an unlikely equalizer in stoppage time, courtesy of a Phil Jagielka wonder strike, for a 1-1 draw.
Little motivation is needed to get up for a Merseyside derby, and the six new Reds making their first appearance in this classic fixture were introduced to just how hot blood can run from the opening whistle. It took little more than a minute for the first yellow card to be issued by referee Martin Atkinson.
As Liverpool came out flying down the pitch, Adam Lallana slashed his way across the pitch at speed, just outside of the penalty area, when Gareth Barry hatcheted him down.
Five minutes into the contest, Everton’s Romelu Lukaku broke into the Liverpool box, colliding with Alberto Moreno, without a call. As Lukaku reached an arm across Moreno, looking for a penalty call, Moreno may have masked a slight tug. Still, play continued and bodies continued fling into tackles all over the pitch.
In the 9th minute, the kind of controversy familiar to this derby flared when Raheem Sterling unloaded a lash from outside the left corner of the penalty area and into the outstretched arm of Gareth Barry in the box. While it could be argued that the arm was high to protect his face from the blast, many a penalty have been given for less.
Then less than a minute later, Barry was fought dawdling on the ball when Mario Balotelli worked hard to dispossess him only to be hooked by an embarrassed Barry. After this second incident it was curious how Gareth Barry remained in the match. Perhaps Barry actually benefitted from such an early caution, that referee Atkinson was reticent to send off a player less than 10 minutes into a match.
Yet, it almost didn’t seem to matter, as the Reds looked eager to score from the onset. Lallana won a free header on a Steven Gerrard corner, but could only force a sprawling save from Tim Howard.
Still, Liverpool looked much brighter from the start of this one, showing a refreshed sense of urgency to their game. Adam Lallana, in particular, is growing in confidence as he gets on the ball more and continues to play his way into form after the early injury. Also, Sterling remains the most menacing player in red on the pitch and looks to forge a partnership with Balotelli, despite generating no goals yet.
In the 26th minute, Leighton Baines beat Lazar Markovic to a ball in the Liverpool final third, before driving a low, hard cross dangerously across the Reds net, which Dejan Lovren hastily cleared. Markovic has yet to look up for the physicality of the Premier League and is definitely lacking confidence to make a genuine impact.
A few minutes later, Jordan Henderson unleashed a strike that was repelled by Howard. In the ensuing counter, however, he quickly recovered to stop Kevin Mirallas on the other end, before Mirallas pulled a hamstring in the effort. In the 31st minute, Aiden McGeady would replace the injured midfielder.
Liverpool fullbacks continued to whip crosses into the area from either side of the field, and Moreno nearly found the head of Balotelli, who seemed to simply miss-time his jump when attacking the aerial ball. Balotelli also seems to still be finding his way in the side, struggling to know where to be, what positions to take, and often dropping deep to get on the ball and glean some touches.
Just before the half, Henderson won the ball and started a counter, where he found a streaking Sterling, angling into the box on the left but lacking the finish. The moment seems to sum up the first half for Liverpool, who were energetic and at times surging forward but lacking a cutting edge.
The second half was more of the same, as Liverpool continued to firmly control the match, creating chances but unable to find the finish.
In the 48th minute, Sterling fond Markovic flashing down the center of the pitch with a beautiful through ball behind the Toffee’s defense, only to find Markovic unable to keep control and eventually going to ground when challenged. Markovic would eventually yield way to Philippe Coutinho in the 60th minute.
The match took a turn, when in the 63rd minute, Balotelli, again dropping outside the area got the ball on the right and looked to cut into the middle when he was fouled by Baines 20 yards away from goal, in a dangerous position right of the goal. Then Gerrard bent a spectacular drive over the wall and into the upper near-post corner, pinging off a desperate Howard palm, for the game’s first goal. There was no stopping the strike by the Red’s captain.
Moments later, Lukaku would mirror Balotelli’s missed header in the shadow of the Kop End, which launched a counter that saw Sterling slip behind the defense and cross the ball to Balotelli for a quick finish. However, Howard got the slightest of touches on the ball, sending it to carom off the crossbar and out of play. It was a missed chance that would prove costly.
Everton gained possession for stretches of the second half and Liverpool seemed all too content to contain and defend the attack far from the goal. Yet, the Reds dropped deeper as the half continued, conceding ground to the visitors. When they yielded a corner in the 90th minute, albeit only the second of the match, concern was not out of order.
Then heartbreak hit, as a weakly cleared header by Dejan Lovren bounced just left of the arc where Phil Jagielka would rip an unstoppable, slicing, 20 yard strike into the far corner of the net. There was nothing an outstretched Simon Mignolet could have done to even get a touch on it, and a draw that feels more like a loss was sealed.
Despite the a draw at the death, Liverpool showed definite signs of progress. The Redmen played with a much higher tempo and attacking threat than their recent Premier League fixtures. This match even showed a somewhat refreshed industry to create more chances, but Liverpool continue to struggle to find the incisive final pass and suffer from a failure to finish. Both the team and the match longed for the return of injured Daniel Sturridge.
If Liverpool can build on the positives and forget the draw at the death in time for their Champions League trip to Switzerland, the newfound energy could help propel them to greater strength in performance. Still, Sturridge cannot return to the lineup soon enough.