Everton and Liverpool split spoils despite frenetic finish
This energetic stalemate between Everton and Liverpool saw Steven Gerrard’s Merseyside derby adventures ultimately peter out with a whimper, despite the Reds skipper’s best attempts to give his tale a blockbuster ending.
Gerrard, who looks to have made his final ever appearance in this bitter cross-town battle, came close to making the difference on several occasions, but saw his dipping set piece tipped over, as well as an ambitious volley deflected.
Liverpool fans may not have been able to enjoy seeing their hero carve his name into Merseyside folklore one last time but, as Gerrard appeared to bow out, there was a new Anfield academy graduate creating waves.
Derby debutant Jordan Ibe offered a constant threat down the right flank, and came closest to breaking the deadlock with a stinging shot in the first half, only to see his sensational effort cannon off the woodwork.
Exciting Ibe was the accelerant in Liverpool’s attack, befuddling stand-in left back Bryan Oviedo. The youngster may not have been facing Leighton Baines, but his pace, strength and quick feet saw him stay on for the full 90 minutes, whilst Raheem Sterling and wasteful Philippe Coutinho were both hauled off after the break.
The Reds had by far the lion’s share of chances, but ultimately caused Everton’s defence few real issues, and were aided by the Toffees’ containment strategy, which saw Roberto Martinez deploy three midfield anchormen in James McCarthy, Mohamed Besic and Gareth Barry.
Tasked with shielding the backline, the tenacious trio gave Everton the solidity and stability they have often been craving this campaign, but the Toffees consequently sacrificed much in attack.
Far from the swashbuckling side of last season, who went toe-to-toe with the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United, the hosts seemed content to allow their rivals to dominate.
Aside from the frantic opening exchanges, which often saw Seamus Coleman and Kevin Mirallas causing Brendon Roders’ Reds strife down the right, the home team created little of note.
It took the late introduction of exuberant Ross Barkley to see Everton record a shot on target, as the England international laid a perfect pass on a plate for onrushing Coleman, but Simon Mignolet was quick to deny the flying full back.
A late flurry from the hosts, sparked by both Barkley’s introduction and a fiesty altercation between Jordan Henderson and Steven Naismith, came too little too late.
Brendan Rodgers will surely be appeased by Liverpool’s domination, as well as keeping the club’s fifth consecutive Premier League clean sheet on the trot.
The Reds boss, who threw on strikers Daniel Sturridge and Rickie Lambert in an attempt to carve out a late winner, will still be concerned by his wobbly rearguard, however.
Centre back Mamadou Sakho continues to look uncomfortable as part of a back three, with his dithering decision making and awkwardness on the ball making him the weakest link by far.
The Frenchman was at fault for giving possession away on at least four occasions and was easily panicked, causing Martin Skrtel to rush to his aid more than once.
Everton have also given Martinez much food for thought. Critics have been calling for the Catalan coach to become more defensively savvy, but as a result the Toffees now look lacklustre up top.
Greater balance is clearly required for the Goodison Park side to return to their pomp, but, after this revealing stalemate, both teams’ resurgence looks set to continue.