The first song they played as the teams walked off for the interval was “A Town Called Malice”. The last thing the players heard before they came back on was Jack Topping, an 11-year-old choirboy from Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, singing “Let it Be”.
This Merseyside derby was something similar, a mixture of the brutal and the sublime but, ultimately, it was a thrilling vindication of football’s values. Luis Suarez had crossed continents to make the game and it was worth the trip.
As his manager, Brendan Rodgers, pointed out, he might have travelled the 7,000 miles that separate Montevideo and Liverpool to be crippled by a challenge from Kevin Mirallas.
He played on. One of the less- remarked-on aspects of Suarez’s personality is his sheer appetite for the game, something all street footballers possess whether they be Wayne Rooney or Johan Cruyff, who kicked a ball in the shadow of Ajax’s old De Meer stadium, where his mother worked as a cleaner.
Given that he had flown from England to Jordan and then on to Uruguay and then back to Merseyside in a private jet belonging to the Liverpool owner, John W Henry, there would have been every excuse for Suarez missing this game. Given he has a new-born baby at home, his sleep deprivation must have been acute.
Suarez merits comparison with Cruyff, not least in his frustration with those team-mates who play their football at less exalted levels. With Liverpool leading 2-1, he wriggled his way through a blue wall of defenders to set up Joe Allen, who could have scored with eyes wide shut. Somehow, he contrived to miss and Suarez, who would have had an open goal had Allen looked up, exploded in fury. To those who ask why he is selfish, here was the answer.
Cruyff, like Suarez, could dish it out and there has been plenty of “previous” between the Liverpool striker and Mirallas, who had been injured by the Uruguayan in the last derby played at Goodison; the match in which Suarez had flung himself at David Moyes’s feet after being castigated for diving in the run-up to the fixture.
There was plenty of talk between the pair and when Suarez, who was hobbling after a challenge, ran for the ball, Mirallas’s studs struck the side of his knee.
This, however, was a breathless rather than a brutal derby and both managers blew hard when confronted by the microphones in the press room afterwards and asked to describe what had gone on.
Naturally, the questions focused on Suarez, who had a hand in the opening two goals. For the first he flicked on Steven Gerrard’s corner for Philippe Coutinho, who controlled the ball with his thigh and then whipped it into the goal beneath the Gwladys End. James McCarthy, on the line, succeeded only in diverting it into the roof of his own net.
The second goal was all his own. Gareth Barry brought him down from behind and, naturally, Suarez took the free-kick himself. There was a gap in the Everton wall. Suarez drove the ball through it perfectly and although Steven Pienaar dashed across to close the hole, it was too late. In between, Everton had scored. All the goals from two teams whose managers emphasise free-flowing football came from set-pieces. Leighton Baines, who was brought off with an injury just after the interval, delivered a free-kick that Mirallas pounced on.
And yet as the second half wore on, Everton looked the likeliest winner as they sort to give manager Roberto Martinez a fitting present for becoming a father on the eve of the match. Despite the loss of Baines, which saw Barry move to centre-half and Sylvain Distin to left-back, they looked stronger and fitter. The Liverpool midfield began to give way. Allen’s game disintegrated after his miss. Lucas Leiva, who had held everything together, was taken off, exhausted. Simon Mignolet denied first Gerard Deulofeu and then Romelu Lukaku in one-on-ones.
Then came the breakthrough. Lukaku took a free-kick from slightly further out than Suarez’s had been. The ball deflected off the wall and was brilliantly turned away by Mignolet only for another Belgian, Mirallas, to turn it back in. Barry slid in to meet it and missed. Lukaku was next and did not.
Then came another set-piece and another goal. Lukaku out-jumped Johnson to meet Mirallas’s corner and Goodison stood to celebrate what was obviously the winner. Only it wasn’t. Daniel Sturridge, who had come off the bench, was allowed to meet another Gerrard free-kick and the ball struck the net in almost complete, bewildered silence.
Rodgers didn’t start Sturridge after criticising England for playing him for 90 minutes against Germany when not fully fit. “He was still nowhere near fit to start,” said the manager. “I said to him before the game he has been a match-winner for us since he came in but he may have to do it from the bench. Thankfully he came in and got a great header.”
Everton (4-2-3-1): Howard; Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Baines (Deulofeu, 50); McCarthy, Barry; Pienaar (Stones, 83), Barkley, Mirallas (Osman, 88); Lukaku.
Liverpool (4-1-4-1): Mignolet; Johnson, Agger, Skrtel, Flanagan; Lucas Leiva (Sturridge, 79); Henderson, Gerrard, Allen (Moses, 68), Coutinho; Suarez.
Referee: Phil Dowd.
Man of the match: Lucas Leiva (Liverpool)
Match rating: 8/10
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