Philippe Coutinho got things rolling from a set-piece situation in a frantic opening 20 minutes, which saw Kevin Mirallas equalize before Luis Suarez’s exquisite free-kick saw the Reds enter the break 2-1 up.
Romelu Lukaku notched up two devastating goals for the hosts to seemingly complete a gutsy turnaround, only for Daniel Sturridge to come off the bench to tie things up right at the death.
Saturday’s Premier League opening game was a spectacle for Liverpudlians and neutrals alike, and displayed to a full extent the attacking philosophies of the respective managers on the Goodison Park touchline.
Here are six talking points from a thrilling Merseyside derby draw between Everton and Liverpool. Enjoy and let us know what you made of it all in the comments below.
The Spotlight Shines on Luis Suarez, Simon Mignolet and Romelu Lukaku
If his free-kick in the 19th minute—an expert low curler from outside the box—was impressive, equally eye-catching and perhaps even more important was his fanatical work rate, desire and commitment to the Reds cause.
Sergio Aguero would have had something to say about this after his barnstorming performance in Manchester City’s demolition of Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, but there’s a very strong argument that Luis Suarez is currently the best player in the Premier League.
If Suarez is the best outfield player in the top flight, surely Simon Mignolet has an equal shout as the best shot-stopper currently in England.
Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool fans will, in the aftermath of the draw, look at the positive side of Mignolet’s nine saves and conclude that he has indeed been an upgrade on Pepe Reina, and ignore all the insinuations that come with conceding so many shots on goal in the first place.
Mignolet has won the Reds many a point and kept them in many a game this season, but Everton’s loan star Romelu Lukaku made sure that the Belgian goalkeeper would have to concede three times before making the return journey across Stanley Park.
The cream of the crop among some fine transfer window business by Roberto Martinez, Lukaku simply had too much for Liverpool as they looked to recover from Joe Allen’s horrendous miss.
With two goals in 10 minutes, Lukaku enhanced his burgeoning reputation as the premier target-man striker in the Premier League and he’s only 20 years old.
Liverpool Hurt by Kevin Mirallas, Phil Dowd and Joe Allen
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
It wouldn’t be a Merseyside derby without its fair share of controversy and drama, and a single dose of Kevin Mirallas provided all the poison this traditionally fiery clash warranted—not that it needed it.
Currently doing the rounds on the Internet are comparisons between Mirallas’ knee-high challenge on Luis Suarez and the other noteworthy referee blunders of the weekend—starring Wes Brown’s sending-off and Wayne Rooney’s petulant lash—but he wasn’t finished there.
A further stamp on Suarez and a bloodying elbow to Jordan Henderson’s face ensured that Mirallas ended the game as the villain. So it was all too fitting that he’d opened the scoring for Everton before any of the above happened.
If Phil Dowd had stuck to the referees’ guidelines of sending players off for dangerous tackles to protect the recipients, perhaps this game would have turned out differently.
As it were, just as we predicted before the match, the referee’s decision and the Fat Lady came to the fore, like it did in both the derby fixtures last season. Mark Halsey was demoted to the Championship after his blunder against West Bromwich Albion a few weeks ago; Dowd might just be fearing the same.
Of course, Liverpool could’ve rendered any outside forces and chance to a mere afterthought if they had taken charge of their own destiny and made their own luck.
We’re talking, of course, about Joe Allen, who found himself clear with just the goalkeeper to beat from a mere 10 yards, and proceeded to fail to test Tim Howard so comprehensively that Everton—as though footballing karma actually exists—completed their comeback almost immediately.
Another “coulda-woulda-shoulda” for Liverpool, who, thanks to other results in the Premier League, keep their spot behind league leaders Arsenal for another week.
Time for a Change to the Reds’ Central Defence
But marshalling the defence instead were Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger, Liverpool’s tried and trusted central defensive pairing back in those days when they didn’t have any quality backup.
The problem, of course, is that the visitors do have alternative options these days, and in not playing Kolo Toure and Sakho, Brendan Rodgers opted—wrongly—for more of the same, and a continuation of old tradition.
Against a busy Lukaku and an energetic Everton midfield, and with a lacklustre and tired central midfield ahead of them, Toure and Sakho would have offered steel, composure, experience, physicality and pace as a defensive partnership.
Alas, the lack of strong defensive options meant that Saturday’s Liverpool had a soft core, and Everton’s approach play almost fully exploited it, like Southampton had done before them.
Without a strong right-sided central defender anchoring in beside him, Glen Johnson struggled as well, perhaps predictably, against the dynamic duo of Steven Pienaar and Leighton Baines, in a generally testy and nervy performance by the Liverpool defence.
We will reserve our compliments for Jon Flanagan, who, despite the pre-match doubts of almost all Liverpool fans, put in a shift that Jose Enrique would’ve been proud of. Aly Cissokho went on record stating his hopes of making his loan move from Valencia permanent (h/t Sky Sports)—on current evidence, he’ll need to work a whole lot more.
A Tale of Set Pieces
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
It is curious that one of Liverpool’s likeliest ways to get a goal these days is also one of their most vulnerable areas, and that the main protagonist in the former is also one of the main culprits for the latter.
Let’s mention attacking set pieces first, and salute the deliveries of Steven Gerrard time and again, for it was his corner kick that led to Philippe Coutinho’s opening goal, and it was his free-kick in the 89th minute that made Daniel Sturridge’s dramatic headed equalizer possible.
A week ago, of course, two Gerrard set pieces got the ball rolling at Anfield against Fulham. It’s no surprise that with the captain in such inspired form from these situations, he currently leads the Premier League in assists, with five.
On the flip side, as inventive and effective as Gerrard has been from set piece situations, he has unfortunately been equally lethargic and lacking in mobility as a central midfielder, which would be less obvious if a dominant defensive midfielder were supporting him.
As it is, the combined energy, pace and positioning of Lucas and Gerrard have created holes in the midfield this season that have let opposing midfielders run past them all too easily, especially those with the physicality and power to do so.
This leads to the unfortunate propensity of conceding free-kicks in the Red half. Not an ideal situation, especially given the set-piece frailties that still plague Brendan Rodgers’ side.
Liverpool fans will be fervently hoping that Yann M’Vila, spotted in the stands on Saturday, was doing more than just paying his friend Mamadou Sakho a visit, as was rumoured by the Liverpool Echo.
Young Blues Full of Pace, Power and Promise
After all, both profited from defensive mishaps to score the goals to almost win all three points for the hosts, and with five assists and seven goals respectively, they are high in both charts thus far this season. Mirallas leads the assists table with Gerrard, while Lukaku is joint fifth in goals scored with Robin van Persie and Olivier Giroud.
But many of the excellent performances that Everton have put on this season have been down to their young midfield duo, Ross Barkley and James McCarthy, both of whom put in mature displays on Saturday in one of the biggest matches in the Premier League season.
Barkley’s driving runs from midfield were relentless as they were tormenting, while McCarthy’s composure alongside the experienced Gareth Barry set the platform for the hosts’ impressive second-half comeback.
Just as Lukaku has been a brilliant loan signing, so too has Barry been a real bargain for the Blues. Looking long term, the trouble is whether or not Martinez will be able to replace them in his starting XI. But that’s a problem for another day—for January, or for next summer, perhaps.
For now, this Everton side have added pace, dynamism and an aesthetically pleasing brand of attacking football to their play. Martinez’s philosophies—and his excellent summer signings—seem to have found their place at Goodison Park already.
Daniel Sturridge Has Much to Learn
From Brendan Rodgers’ post-match press conference, however, it seems that this exact attitude may have found its way into Sturridge’s own head, with the Liverpool manager citing “different personalities, different types” while comparing Suarez’s competitiveness to Sturridge’s lack of fitness, according to the Telegraph.
It is indicative of Rodgers’ man-management approach that he has embraced the qualities of Sturridge—qualities that were evident as he scored a dramatic equalizer after coming off the bench—but also that he has seen fit to criticize Sturridge’s fitness in times like this.
When your strike partner is Luis Suarez, though, it means you almost have to improve in every facet of your game.
Suspended for the first five games of the season, Suarez has roared back into first-team action and is already currently tied with Sturridge on nine league goals (just one behind league leader Sergio Aguero). But Suarez also brings with him a tremendous work rate and an eagerness to compete, even in training, which Rodgers has brought to attention.
“A lot of players, especially the top ones, are never 100 percent fit. Suarez will never have been 100 percent in his time here.”
For all the right noises that have been coming out of Daniel Sturridge, there is still plenty for him to learn. Fortunately for him, he’s got the perfect role model alongside him—at least for this season.
This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.