Roberto Martinez made no pretence about the contrast between the Liverpool side which tore his Everton team asunder 4-0 last January and the one which participated in one of the most drab Merseyside derbies in recent years at Anfield on Saturday.
“The difference back then was that everyone knew what Liverpool was: very dynamic, any time you leave yourself two v one against [Luis] Suarez you will be in trouble and that is not there any more. And that is a big difference.”
Given that Suarez is ancient history, and that Mario Balotelli offers brief shafts of promise rather than anything more substantial, the Liverpool narrative centres on another yearned-for presence, Daniel Sturridge.
“Of course,” Brendan Rodgers said to the question of whether he had concerns about the Englishman’s extended absence, having seen Phil Jagielka’s late equaliser punish his side for their anaemic threat to Tim Howard’s goal. “At 1-0 down the opponent has to come on to you and that bit of pace through the middle can help,” Rodgers said.
Given that Sturridge was not even close to making it as a substitute against Everton, he is unlikely to start in Basel in the Champions League on Wednesday night. By keeping him out next Saturday against West Bromwich Albion too, Rodgers can avoid England having any call on a player whose calf problem was allegedly caused by his training against his wishes with the national team.
Everton looked a side stung into survival mode by last January’s catastrophe. “I think in possession we all know that we weren’t anywhere near our standard,” Martinez admitted. “I thought on the counter-attack if we had made a couple of better decisions then we had very good options. But I thought the team was fatigued mentally. We couldn’t find a pass. We couldn’t be ourselves on the ball. But today became a mental battle and a psychological exercise.”
Everton, for whom Jon Stones revealed a monumental improvement in quality since that January defeat, have plenty of talent to come back: Seamus Coleman, Ross Barkley and Steven Pienaar. Kevin Mirallas’s injury on the half hour damaged them. But Romelu Lukaku does not look like the player Martinez paid £20m for in the summer. For Rodgers, Adam Lallana’s display and sense of defensive responsibility suggested £23m has been well spent.
Rodgers said he was willing to think the best of Mamadou Sakho after learning he had left the stadium before the game, having not made the squad. “I’ll find out. There might be a different reason. Something could have happened to his child,” the manager said. Sakho subsequently apologised for a “bad decision” and is likely to be disciplined. Both sides lie in the bottom half of the table, a point separating them. Merseyside wonders where the golden football days of last autumn have vanished to.Reuse content