A goalless draw was the outcome of a strangely subdued Merseyside derby on Sunday, as Everton and Liverpool matched each other on the pitch in a game that never bubbled over in the manner of recent meetings between the sides.
The occasion was still fraught with tension for supporters – a Merseyside derby will never come and go without that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach – but it never crackled on the pitch. There was barely a foul – not even a booking in the first-half – and what tackles that did go in were generally fair – certainly not of the ilk seen from both sides in years past.
Marouane Fellaini’s flailing arms was probably the closest the fixture got to an unseemly incident. The Belgian does get pushed and pulled at every set-piece but his go-to response cannot be to dig his arm into his opponent’s face, and nor can he wave an elbow in the direction of a midfield presser as he did to Steven Gerrard. Southampton’s Gaston Ramirez was rightly sent off for something similar just a few weeks ago.
But that aside, the controversy was limited to the disallowed Sylvain Distin goal. The referee was about the only person who saw a foul – or rather, the only person who saw a foul worse than the usual nonsense that occurs at a corner, and at that very corner was going on to a degree further than anything the Frenchman seemed to do. Everton may feel they were robbed of a win; Liverpool probably had the better chances. A point’s fair, then.
But why was the match played in a comparatively sterile manner? Perhaps the late season scheduling was a factor. Anfield pretty much always hosts the final derby of the campaign, with the first at Goodison Park taking place in October. But last season Everton crossed Stanley Park two months earlier, on March 13. The year before was earlier still, January 16, while before that the game was held in the first week of February.
Each of those games had more riding on it. With longer to go in the season, with more points up for grabs, the potential impact of a win was greater. But for all the will in the world, if Liverpool had beaten Everton on Sunday there was only so far up the table they could climb. The Champions League places were long out of reach. Everton kept up competition for a top four finish much longer but even in their case, it’s highly unlikely and even fifth is probably expecting too much.
The absence of controversy-magnet Luis Suarez likely came into it too. Evertonians had reason to greet Suarez with a hail of jeers before he tried to gnaw on Branislav Ivanovic. Not only was his exaggeration chiefly responsible for getting Jack Rodwell sent off in a recent Goodison derby, but this season saw the Uruguayan belly flop in celebration at the feet of David Moyes. His absence meant that ire went unvented.
With two games to go and a five-point lead over Liverpool maintained, victory over West Ham in the season’s final home game will confirm Everton’s status as the top-ranked team on Merseyside, despite the stalemate.
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