All six goals from set pieces and a challenge by Kevin Mirallas on Luis Suarez which the Belgian admitted had followed a sharp comment from him to the Uruguayan – and for which he conceded he was lucky not to be dismissed.
The 221st Merseyside derby certainly defied the idea that it would be saccharine. It also scrambled the notion that Everton, the better side in Saturday’s 3-3 draw, are a year behind Liverpool in the art of the passing game.
The match had only just kicked off when Mirallas reminded Suarez of how he put his studs into his foot in last season’s Goodison derby, a challenge which deprived Everton of his services in the second half. “When we were standing close to each other, I said ‘Do you remember last season, you kicked me?’” Mirallas admitted. “He laughed and said, ‘Yes, fair enough.’ But that tackle was nothing to do with a year ago.”
When he went in so high on Suarez, he was preparing to be dismissed. “Sometimes when you put a tackle in you think ‘Oh shit,’ like this one. The first thing I thought was that it was going to be a red card. I was genuinely going for the ball but I know I caught him on the knee.” Referee Phil Dowd was too well positioned to cite this in his match report as something he missed. Retrospective punishment is therefore unlikely.
The post-match inquest on this flashpoint obscured Liverpool’s deeper cause for concern – the sight of Everton comfortably breezing through their midfield to create so many opportunities that it took half a dozen outstanding saves from Simon Mignolet to save them. The holes in that midfield became a fully-formed crater when Lucas Leiva was unfathomably chosen to make way for Daniel Sturridge with the score 2-2.
The Liverpool manager, Brendan Rodgers, ruminated on the uneven levels of commitment he had been offered by his players, questioning how much Sturridge is sometimes ready to give for the cause. Rodgers considers the player’s conduct as questionable as the Football Association’s in relation to his 90 minutes for England against Germany with a thigh injury, which left him too indifferent in training on Friday to make the starting XI. The decision was down to “the Association, the player,” Rodgers said. “ I have seen it before [with Sturridge]. There are maybe some games when he hasn’t played well and that has happened on the back of not training. It is very simple for me: you have to put yourself on the training field. If you do that, you will be in with a chance of playing.”
The contrast with debutant Jon Flanagan’s performance, in the teeth of Mirallas’s threat, was remarkable and it was Steven Gerrard’s analysis which put the 20-year-old’s performance into perspective. “One of the best derby performances I have seen for many years,” was how Gerrard described it. “He’s been fighting hard in training just to get in the 18, never mind the starting 11. He reminds me of [Jamie] Carragher in a lot of ways. I don’t think you would judge Jon in terms of ability or skill, but he is all about heart, desire, determination and fighting for the cause.”
Rodgers expressed bafflement that the single approach to take Flanagan on loan has come from a League One club but Aly Cissokho’s unconvincing start at left-back suggests that the Liverpudlian may profit from Jose Enrique’s two-month lay-off and be staying just where he is.
There was far less noise surrounding Everton’s afternoon. Roberto Martinez’s concerns about his defence’s vulnerability might have been more anguished had Everton not been spared by Joe Allen’s breathtaking second-half miss. “From a technical point of view he has the quality to be clinical in those positions, but confidence is a major thing,” Martinez said of Allen, whom he knows well from their Swansea days. But Martinez’s side played some gorgeous football. Phil Jagielka is the prime example of the fact that relearning the game need not take an eternity. Ross Barkley looks as if Martinez has been managing him all his life.
The Spaniard’s biggest challenge was to douse talk of a top-four finish – “too early; ask in March” – but nothing can disguise early signs he will build a big reputation at Goodison.