With the full time whistle coming to an end and the Everton fans losing their hope of a rare point at their city rival’s home Phil Jagielka stepped up with a bullet of a half volley from 30 yards which cancelled Steven Gerrard’s precise 2nd half free kick from a similar range. Jagielka’s goal of the season contender stole two deserved points from Liverpool’s grasp as the 223rd Merseyside Derby ended at 1-1.
The build-up to the game for both set of fans was nervous as their clubs have endured tough starts to their respective seasons with defensive issues a major worry for both the teams. Everton fans would have certainly felt more nervous, with Everton losing 4-0 last season here. Moreover, Everton haven’t beaten Liverpool since 1999.
Coming off a tiring league cup game against Middlebrough, which lasted 120 minutes, Breandan Rodgers made 7 changes to his side with only Simon Mignolet, Adam Lallana, Lazar Markovic and teenage sensation Raheem Sterling keeping their place in the eleven. Suso made the bench after his impressive cameo vs Borough and Rodgers welcomed Phillipe Coutinho back in the dugout with the Brazilian international missing Liverpool’s last two games with a slight knock. Mamadou Sakho was left out of the squad completely.
Liverpool started with a 4-2-3-1 with Henderson and Gerrard forming a double pivot and Lallana playing as the advanced playmaker. Two pacey European youngsers, Raheem Sterling and Lazar Markovic-bought in the summer from benfica- provided the width as Mario Balotelli led the front line. Out of the 11 only 5 had played in a Merseyside derby before as Rodgers offered 6 players a debut in this game of high intensity and passion.
Roberto Martinez’s side suffered a sound defeat the Liberty stadium as Swansea beat them 3-0 in the league cup midweek. Because of his poor form, Distin was left from the squad and young English Centre Back John Stones replaced him to pair up with Club Captain Phil Jagielka. Everton also missed their dynamic right fullback Seamus Coleman and was replaced by veteran Tony Hibbert who started his first league match for 666 days. The front three of Everton was a carbon copy of their front three against Arsenal last season, with Lukaku and Mirallas out wide and Steven Naismith playing as the “False 9”. Besic who made his debut in this derby made the midfield pair up of McCarthy and Barry look even more formidable and solid.
As both the teams started the game off brightly, Martin Atkinson, the referee, had his work cut off fairly early as both the teams had strong shouts for penalties but Atkinson ruled out both of them. American goalkeeper Tim Howard was called into the action a fair number of times in this half starting off with diving save off a Lallana corner to start with. Tim Howard also make some excellent saves to shots by Jordan Henderson and Mario Balotelli from 20-25 yards. On the other end, Simon Mignolet was tested by Romelu Lukaku who was restricted to take shots from out of the box with an unusually solid looking back four of Liverpool. The best chance of the first half fell to Raheem Sterling late in the first half when he put in one on one by Henderson against Howard but the goalkeeper’s excellent positional sense made the save look quite easy.
The second half started off slowly and the game suddenly kicked to life when Phillipe Coutinho came on for the Serbian winger Markovic who looked quite underwhelming and definitely would need to step his game up if he’s going to justify his price tag. The introduction of Phillipe Coutinho gave Liverpool a new dimension and his interplay with Sterling, Lallana and Balotelli looked promising. The deadlock was broken when Steven Gerrard steeped up to take a free kick from 25 yards. The talismanic captain got the ball up and over the ball and beyond the reach of Howard whose valiant effort to palm it away were fruitless. Gerrard scored his 10th Merseyside goal and celebrated it in style answering his critics with not only a goal but also a brilliant performance over all.
Gerrard: “I would agree with the constructive criticism. People say that I can’t run anymore and that frustrates me.”
Next chance landed to Balotelli as Sterling flew past Hibbert and put in a cross but Balotelli’s effort was excellently parried towards the bar by Howard. Liverpool fans would regret this chance as when all 3 points seemed certain, out of nowhere, Phil Jagielka’s right foot volley flew into the top right corner giving Simon Mignolet no chance to get anywhere near it.
The best player on the pitch on the pitch was definitely Liverpool’s new vice-captain, Jordan Henderson who was constantly running from box to box creating chances, spraying long balls and making decisive tackles. He was closely followed by Adam Lallana who looked impressive in that role of a 10 and his link up play with Sterling was fundamental to Liverpool’s attacking threat. For Everton, John Stones definitely looked solid and is surely one for the future.
Roberto Martinez’s tone and the manner in which he spoke after the match, clearly suggested that he was happy with a point after getting outplayed for the majority of the game. He also complimented his team’s DNA and the character shown by them. Brendan Rodgers on the other hand was left to rue his players’ missed opportunities and thought that his team deserved all three points in the end.
Rodgers: “We were clearly the dominant side of the game. Sometimes you don’t get what you deserve in football.”