For the second time in seven days, Liverpool and Everton produced so much blood, so much thunder and not a great deal of end result. The two clubs will have to replay the week after next after a draw at Anfield which raises further questions about Liverpool’s ability to be able to last the course in a head to head battle with Manchester United to win the Premier League championship. They dropped two points at home to Everton in the Premier League last Monday, when a late Tim Cahill goal left Manchester United top of the table, and Everton again proved to be a thorn in their sides this afternoon. It was a result that Liverpool could ill afford. With the next stages of the Champions League due to start and with every Premier League match now set to take on disproportionate importance, and FA Cup replay against their city rivals is just about the last thing they need at the moment.
The FA Cup feels as if it is running out of steam this year. Yesterday lunchtime, West Ham United scored two quick goals at Hartlepool United which rather set the scene for the weekend. Kettering Town put up a reasonable fight before going down at home to Fulham and Torquay United were narrowly beaten at home by Coventry City to end this year’s non-league involvement in the competition, whilst Chelsea survived a minor scare before overcoming Ipswich Town and Middlesbrough squeezed past Wolves at Molineux. For the second round in a row, the surprises were thin on the ground. The holders, Portsmouth, were beaten at home by Swansea City and Doncaster Rovers held Aston Villa to a draw at The Keepmoat Stadium, but there was very little to get excited yesterday afternoon. Earlier this afternoon, Arsenal were held to a draw at Cardiff City.
Liverpool should be enjoying their time at the top of the Premier League, but the suspicion remains that they aren’t, really. Rafael Benitez lost round one of the mind games war with Alex Ferguson. Steven Gerrard may or may not have got into a fight in a nightclub and faces the possibility of a jail term if convicted. Now, their American owners have been hawking the club around the Middle East, trying to sell them. There are conflicting reports on how successful they have been. On the pitch, it has now been three matches since they last won, three matches against teams that they would have been expecting to beat. It feels as if events might just be transpiring against them to hand the Premier League to Manchester United on a plate, and they have to face Real Madrid in the next round of the Champions League. Everton are also going through a crisis of their own. They remain committed to moving themselves out of Liverpool for the first time in their history (in order to, you guessed it, “continue to be able to compete”), but are running into difficulties with the planning process which may prove to be insurmountable. With no realistic chance of winning the league title, though, David Moyes might just have noted Portsmouths success in the FA Cup last season and considered that if they can do it, he can too.
So, to Anfield on a cold, blustery Sunday afternoon. “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. “This Is Anfield”. Scarves above heads. So much bluster. So much blood and thunder. Not a great deal of end result. Interesting, there wasn’t even a place on the subsitutes bench for poor old Robbie Keane. With Fernando Torres fit again, his place in the Liverpool squad becomes more and more of a mystery with each passing day. Predictably, the two sides rush at each other at a hundred and twenty miles an hour, but Liverpool only have a Jamie Carragher shot into the side netting to show for the first twenty-five minutes of energy expended. Everton take the lead after twenty-seven minutes. Tim Cahill, who was inexplicably left unmarked to head them an equaliser here last Monday, is left on his own again to flick the ball into the path of the impressive Joleon Lescott, who scores. Liverpool dominate possession, but the Everton defence is superbly organised and limits them to pot shots from distance which seem unlikely to cause the visitors any undue problems.
When Liverpool do manage an equaliser, nine minutes into the second half, it comes from the only true moment of class in the entire match. Torres’ flick into the path of Steven Gerrard is absolutely superb, and goes some way to masking the fact that Tim Howard should really have saved Gerrard’s shot, which sneaks in at the near post. From there on, Liverpool push and push, but the winning goal doesn’t come. Howard makes a terrific save from a shot from Gerrard and Dirk Kuyt shoots straight at him, having been teed up by Gerrard, but the goal won’t come. The scores and level, and the two sides will have to go through the whole thing again – their third meeting in three weeks.
The curiosity is that, for their perceived differences, Liverpool and Everton continue to have much in common. They are both desperate to leave their traditional homes, and seem likely to go to any lengths so achieve this. Both clubs have, over the last two decades, had occasional moments at which they have shown what they are capable of – Liverpool winning the Champions League, Everton winning the FA Cup and qualifying for the Champions League – but have both failed to live up to their supporters’ expectations of sustained success. They both inhabit the same city yet cast envious glances at Manchester, where United are now just two Champions League wins short of Liverpool’s five and City have landed themselves owners who are rich (and mad) enough to spend £100m on one player. In the strangely chaotic financial world of modern football, the suspicion remains that both Liverpool and Everton either have been or are about to be left behind.