To draw one Merseyside derby at home may be regarded as misfortune, to draw two in the space of six days just looks like carelessness. If this really is the first Liverpool team in 19 years capable of conquering English football, then they will first have to conquer the other team in their city, although, as he admitted, the last thing Rafael Benitez needs is another emotionally draining, exhausting local derby.
Liverpool's eyes are on the Premier League, but it is the FA Cup that has grabbed them by the scruff of the neck and dragged them down into another debilitating scrap. The replay at Goodison Park on 4 February will have no direct bearing on the title race, but you get the feeling that if Benitez's side can win there they might leave Goodison that night believing that nothing can stand in their way this season, either in the league or the FA Cup. Lose, and who knows what the effect might be?
Benitez admitted yesterday that, with all respect to the FA Cup, he would sooner have settled this match on the day. It took another rescue act from the captain Steven Gerrard to bail out Liverpool this time after Joleon Lescott had given Everton a first-half lead. Gerrard left the pitch with the kind of expression that suggested he thought it was about time one of his team-mates stepped up to the plate after two key derby goals in the space of six days on Merseyside.
Afterwards, Liverpool were launched by their manager straight into a row over whether David Moyes' side had come to Anfield to play for a draw. Benitez lit the fuse by suggesting that the last time a team of his had played like that was when he was in charge of Spanish tiddlers Extremedura. Moyes responded as diplomatically as possible by claiming that Everton did things with "dignity and style" – a soundbite to put alongside his previous anointing of the team in blue as "the people's club".
That slogan now adorns the side of Goodison where the people of Liverpool's third derby in 16 days will be about as good-natured as a tricky afternoon in Helmand province. Benitez's side will go there reluctantly knowing that they do not need to win but fearful of the consequences of defeat. Moyes' team have the momentum and, with Marouane Fellaini, Mikel Arteta and Louis Saha all back in the side, even a good chance of victory.
As Benitez picked over the details of yesterday's game he dismissed the absence of Robbie Keane from the Liverpool squad as a mere matter of selection. It is evidently much more than that, especially as the Liverpool manager justified picking David Ngog ahead of Keane on the basis that the very average Frenchman had scored two goals in a reserve team game. Keane was not even at Anfield yesterday and his marginalisation on such an important day raises questions about his relationship with Benitez.
Everton may, in Benitez's eyes, have come for a draw but given Moyes' circumstances could you blame him? Arteta's rib injury robbed Moyes of his most creative player, necessitating his replacement with arguably one of his least creative players. Segundo Castillo is a loan signing deemed surplus to requirements by Red Star Belgrade and, on the basis of the Ecuadorian's first few touches, it was not hard to see why Red Star are struggling on without him.
In Phil Jagielka, the watching Fabio Capello will have seen an English central defender who is rapidly pushing his way back into international reckoning. His handling of Fernando Torres was superb, the Spanish striker denied a goal late on in the game by an exceptional tackle from Jagielka. The back-heel from Torres for Gerrard's goal was, in Moyes' words, "exquisite" but otherwise he looked subdued.
Despite fielding one of the smallest teams in the Premier League, Moyes once again managed to outfox Liverpool in the air at a set piece as he had six days previously. The goalscorer that day, Tim Cahill got away from Xabi Alonso to meet Steven Pienaar's cross. The final touch was applied from close range by Lescott to direct it past Pepe Reina. Lescott stared into the Kop in the course of his celebrations, a fair response given that the home support had been comparing him to the elephant man a few minutes earlier.
As for Benitez, he did nothing to dissuade the Everton fans from singing the "Rafa's cracking up" anthem with a mini fit of pique in the first half when Moyes stopped play by engaging Cahill in conversation. The Liverpool manager barged in between the two of them and snatched the ball away before waving his arms at the referee, Steve Bennett. Not quite cracking up but definitely a rare case of Benitez losing his cool.
Awkward individual that he is, Bennett did not have too bad a game. He correctly spotted that Pienaar had managed to trip himself up in the fifth minute when he got ahead of Alvaro Arbeloa in the Liverpool area, although Moyes later claimed that it was a penalty. Jamie Carragher was back at centre-half for the first time since the draw with Arsenal last month and at one point in the first half he performed a perfect Cruyff turn in the Everton area and shot narrowly wide.
Gerrard's goal was a smart bit of opportunism after a brilliant flick from Torres although, unlike last Monday's derby goal, this was as much Tim Howard's mistake. Unforgivably, the American goalkeeper allowed the ball to slip under him at the near post and Liverpool were back in the game. A few minutes later Howard made an excellent save from Gerrard, but it will not be that one which gets remembered.
Like any good Extremedura team hanging on to a hard-fought draw, Everton were forced to defend for the final period of the game, switching to 4-5-1 and seeing off Dirk Kuyt and Torres when they were presented with chances. You get the impression that Benitez regards Everton as a minor irritation, something to be swatted aside before he gets on with the real business. But even the Liverpool manager would have to admit now that their local rivals are rather more than that. In fact, they now have a bigger say in his club's season than he would like to admit.
Goals: Lescott (27) 0-1; Gerrard (54) 1-1
Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Reina; Arbeloa, Skrtel, Carragher, Dossena; Alonso, Mascherano; Kuyt, Gerrard, Babel (Riera, 75); Torres. Substitutes not used: Cavalieri (gk), Hyypia, Aurelio, Benayoun, Leiva, Ngog.
Everton (4-4-2): Howard; Hibbert, Jagielka, Lescott, Baines; Osman, Neville, Castillo (Rodwell, 75), Pienaar; Anichebe (Gosling, 71), Cahill. Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Yobo, Van der Meyde, Jacobsen, Jutkiewicz.
Referee: S Bennett (Kent).
Booked: Liverpool Alonso, Carragher; Everton Cahill, Pienaar.
Man of the match: Alonso.
FA Cup Fifth-round draw and fourth-round replays
Sheffield United v Hull City
Watford v Chelsea
West Ham v Middlesbrough
Sunderland/Blackburn v Coventry
Derby/Nottingham Forest v Manchester United
Swansea City v Fulham
Liverpool/Everton v Doncaster Rovers/Aston Villa
Cardiff/Arsenal v West Brom/Burnley
*Ties to be played 13-15 February
Tuesday 3 February
Arsenal v Cardiff City
Burnley v West Bromwich Albion
Wednesday 4 February
Aston Villa v Doncaster Rovers
Blackburn Rovers v Sunderland
Everton v Liverpool (ITV)
Nottingham Forest v Derby County
*Other TV details to be confirmedReuse content