Gerrard revives but Liverpool may pay price
Liverpool 1 Everton 1:WITH THE hymn of the Anfield crowd perpetually in their ears, Liverpool players should be authorities on walking through a storm. As it is, they now appear like men being forced to a standstill by the buffeting of the fixture list. Consecutive matches between historic rivals tax both parties and Rafael Benitez’ side have now had two 1-1 draws with Everton in seven days.
Deadlock in this FA Cup-tie incurred a replay at Goodison. The danger for Liverpool is that the entire programme will turn into an unproductive trudge. Their equaliser here, after Joleon Lescott had broken the deadlock, came from Steven Gerrard and he, too, was the engineer of a general revival. That was soothing and disturbing in equal parts. Demonstrations of his prowess will always be celebrated, but Liverpool’s dependence on him is still too marked. It was Gerrard who had opened the scoring in the previous meeting.
Benitez’ line-up has drawn three consecutive games in all competitions, notching a total of two goals, thanks to the captain, in the process. Everton, well-drilled and neater than is usually realised, are the last team to let anyone off the hook. Liverpool will have to relocate and reapply the ebullience that seemed to be emerging at the end of 2008 when they beat Bolton 3-0 here and Newcastle United 5-1 at St James’ Park.
Much as Benitez lauded his side’s domination there was no profusion of chances. He must have been thinking primarily of the territory his men occupied. Gerrard’s goal, indeed, ought not to have been conceded and if the manager dwells on it he will do so because of the proof it contained of the return to prowess by Fernando Torres now that his hamstring problem is hopefully forgotten.
The Spain striker juggled the ball before putting an exquisite back-heel volley into the path of Gerrard after 54 minutes. There should have been trouble in converting the chance from an angle, but the shot from the left beat Tim Howard at his near post. It was untypically scrappy work by a goalkeeper who had excelled on all other occasions.
Howard atoned when he made a superb save from Gerrard three minutes later. It was the Liverpool midfielder who also engineered later openings for team-mates who could not get the better of Howard. While Everton regret their lack of means, there is a small dividend in the pride they take in competing so well.
Moyes also reminded people that he can look forward not just to Mikel Arteta’s return but also to the re-emergence from suspension of Marouane Fellaini. While, in addition, he mentioned Louis Saha, the striker’s unavailability feels, sadly, more like a normal state of affairs than a cruel misfortune.
By comparison with Liverpool and many other Premier League clubs, frugality is a way of life for Everton. When they found themselves with severely restricted means at Anfield it did not have any effect on morale. Seeing Arteta ruled out by a rib injury was no more than another handicap to be added to a list that was already far too long.
The Spaniard is the most talented of Everton’s players. Even when he experienced difficulty in bringing his gifts to bear on the draw in the Premier League last Monday his beautifully executed free-kick near the end had set up the equaliser from Tim Cahill.
If Everton are the club of limited means, the problem for Liverpool lay more in the variety of their options. Benitez made four changes to the selection sent out six days before and had no place even on the bench for Robbie Keane, who had barely seemed present in that game. Some of the alternatives such as Ryan Babel yesterday are looking ineffective.
Nothing much was clarified. Gerrard took up a more advanced position in a trio of attacking midfielders, but initially that put him in areas too crowded for even his gusto to express itself.
When he did enjoy licence it was because fatigue eventually made opponents leave gaps.
Nerves had been tightening because, as commonly happens in derbies, nothing much was occurring. Everton took the lead from a set-piece, having already punished Liverpool in comparable fashion during the previous encounter.
Little could infuriate Benitez more, since he is a manager whose emphasis on organisation is supposed to be his forte. As it was, Steven Pienaar’s corner, after 27 minutes, was headed into the goalmouth by Cahill so that Lescott could glance the ball home from close range.
Everton do not have the means to vie with their city rivals for the major honours, but they are making it harder for Liverpool to lay their hands on any trophies.