Both sides will have been encouraged by signs of defensive improvement in a game of few clear-cut chances. Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren, Brendan Rodgers’ first-choice centre-half pairing, finally showed signs of a solid partnership. Indeed, it is difficult to think of Simon Mignolet being seriously tested until Phil Jagielka’s 91st-minute screamer. Tim Howard was certainly busier, but for all Liverpool’s attractive play in the final third, the American only had two substantial saves to make. If John Stones is set for a long stint in the first-team as suggested, then Everton should be all the better for it.
Steven Gerrard came into the game under much scrutiny following a couple of sub-par performances in the losses to Aston Villa and West Ham, but he will take the plaudits after a solid showing and a fantastic free-kick which looked to have won the game in the 65th minute. Much was made of his 91 per cent pass completion rate, but he only actually completed 32 passes, with his midfield partner Jordan Henderson attempting more than double that tally. Indeed, the newly-appointed vice-captain was magnificent, particularly in the first-half when his usual high-intensity was matched by a few fine defence-splitting passes. Should Rodgers persist with 4-2-3-1, he will need Gerrard and Henderson to continue such performances from the base of midfield, both in defence and attack.
Liverpool may not have begun this campaign in the blistering style they ended the last, but there is still plenty for Roy Hodgson to choose from within this side. Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana picked up where they left off on Tuesday night against Middlesbrough by once again looking the Reds’ greatest attacking threats. Lallana, in particular, largely playing in the number ten role, showed why Rodgers was so keen to sign him with his fleet-footedness and keen pressing always a nuisance to Everton’s back-line. The duo combined well with Henderson (and Alberto Moreno) on the side’s more prominent left-side.
Liverpool’s left-side was, in part at least, more dangerous as a result of Roberto Martinez electing to use Romelu Lukaku in an advanced right-sided role, as predicted in my preview of the match. It certainly makes for interesting watching on that side of the pitch: Everton look more vulnerable defensively as a result of his lack of tracking back, but better going forward. Unlike in the two fixtures against Arsenal when it has previously been used, however, Lukaku did not have the effervescent Seamus Coleman continually overlapping him to provide better balance and increased danger. Given the circumstances of their equaliser, and the Belgian’s lack of impact on the match, Martinez’s choice would have to go down as a failure this time around.
The statistics are not pleasant reading for Mario Balotelli: 10 shots, with only two on target, and only a 62 per cent pass completion rate. But stats can often make any player look good or bad depending on how you use them; in truth, the Italian was somewhere in between, but his work-rate was undoubtedly excellent, and had his strike avoided Howard’s onrushing body and ended in the back of the net, rather than the crossbar, the focus would be on the positives. There is little doubt, however, both Balotelli and Liverpool will improve significantly with the return of Daniel Sturridge, whose brilliant movement in the channels and all-round goalscoring threat is sorely missed.
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