Everton remained resolute and Liverpool were stuck in first gear as the 233rd Merseyside Derby ended in a 0-0 draw on Sunday, a potentially critical blow for the Reds in their title push.
Mohamed Salah spurned what were far and away the two best chances of the game in tough conditions at Goodison Park, bearing down on Jordan Pickford twice but failing to capitalise on either.
The first came on 28 minutes when Fabinho’s first time tackle-cum-pass fed the Egyptian in on goal, but his touch took him too wide and as he attempted to open up his body and finish with his left foot, Pickford flung out a strong right hand to keep him at bay.
Michael Keane ensured the shot on goal never eventuated on the second occasion, as just before the hour mark, Liverpool’s top scorer was again made to rue a loose touch as he gave Michael Keane the opportunity to make a last-ditch tackle in the box.
Everton themselves were starved of real opportunities to score, with a Dominic Calvert-Lewin header from a corner that was well saved by Alisson proving to be their biggest chance at knocking down Liverpool’s door.
Draw plagues Liverpool again
In the 26 seasons of the Premier League, Liverpool have finished second just three times and never won the competition, and one of those second-placed finishes seems awfully similar to how this season is panning out.
Cast the mind back to the 2008-09 season. Fernando Torres is the best No.9 in Europe, Steven Gerrard is at his peak and forming a formidable midfield trio with Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano with Pepe Reina and Jamie Carragher marshalling the back line.
Liverpool lost just twice that season, but despite this, and despite convincingly winning their final five games of the campaign, they saw themselves fall four points short of Manchester United, who lifted what was their 18th English league title and in doing so matching Liverpool’s record at the time.
Only once has a team finished a Premier League season registering just one defeat, being the 2004-05 Chelsea side that up until last season held the record for most points in a single campaign, and then there is Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ of 2003-04.
Aside from those two seasons, the least amount of losses of any single team is Manchester City’s all-conquering campaign last season, and that 2008-09 Liverpool side. The difference between the two is glaringly obvious; the seven extra draws on Liverpool’s end compared to City’s season nine years later stands out.
In that campaign, they had five more draws than United – most of which were against the likes of Wigan, Fulham and Hull City – meaning that turning just two of those into victories would have given them the title, as they also finished with a superior goal difference to Sir Alex Ferguson’s men.
Draws were Liverpool’s achilles heel last season, one where Jurgen Klopp’s team played some of the best football in Europe, reached the Champions League final, but could only manage a fourth-placed league finish due to their tally of 12 draws; third highest in the league.
It seems all too familiar this season, as only Southampton have endured more stalemates than Liverpool have, and the manner in which the Reds have surrendered the two points has taken a toll on each occasion. Of the seven draws in this campaign, three have been 0-0, and the other four have ended a goal apiece. Of those four 1-1 draws, Liverpool led three.
Perhaps a lack of experience, a submission to the pressure or fatigue in the legs, but whatever the cause, Klopp could be looking back at the end of May with the same thoughts that Rafa Benitez had in 2009; wondering what could have been.
Not a win, but Toffees delighted
Across Stanley Park and into the Everton camp, there is sure to be plenty of celebrating over the fact that they have brought an end to their bitter rivals’ reign at the top of the league for the time being.
This draw makes it 19 derbies without tasting victory since a David Moyes led Toffees outfit trumped Roy Hodgson’s dismal Reds, and in fact means that 10 of the last 17 clashes in the league have ended with the points being shared.
Since Klopp took over, only three times has either side scored multiple goals in a derby, being the German’s on all three occasions with two in the league and last season’s FA Cup third round victory. Five of the last six Goodison derbies have also been drawn, with Sadio Mane’s last-gasp winner in 2016 the only outlier.
A trend is beginning to show itself in these matches. Everton sit back in defence, play a gritty and determined match befitting a tense derby while Liverpool are left searching for answers.
Sooner or later Everton must eventually win a Merseyside Derby, but for now, they will take a well earned point and bask in the glory of hampering their neighbours’ bid for the title.
Not over yet, but a mountain to climb
Reaction on social media and in front of television cameras from the players after the game says it all; the key message is ‘it’s not over, we will fight until the end’ masking the doubt, fear and disappointment.
Four draws in six games – four games in which victory was there for the taking – have left an ill-feeling in Liverpool stomachs, and all too familiar thoughts of ‘here we go again’ are naturally creeping back into the psyche. Before any overreaction is made, however, Liverpool fans ought to know best that any number of things can happen late in a season.
The Reds themselves were five points clear with three games to go in 2014 and failed to win the league. City are now just one point ahead with a massive nine games to play, practically a quarter of the season. City are now favourites.
They are in top form while Liverpool are not; they have the greater experience in title challenges and the better squad. However, just as Liverpool find themselves in a rut, City lost twice back to back in December and again soon after as Liverpool suddenly shot to top spot.
City have to face Tottenham at home and Manchester United away within four days of each other, as well as tricky away trips to Crystal Palace and Burnley and are still competing in two other competitions. Apart from home fixtures against Spurs and Chelsea, Liverpool play only Wolves in the top half, and their other six games are against the bottom five and 14th-placed Newcastle.
Perhaps the Reds are better suited to the role of ‘hunter’ rather than ‘hunted’, having been on top for so long and now finally surrendering that position after some stuttering performances since taking the mantle.
Alarm bells are justifiably ringing, but there is no reason for panic to set in just yet. It is time for a string of results and a swing of momentum in Liverpool’s favour though.