Plenty of Saturday’s matches around Europe were mighty fun. Atletico beat Real by four (4) goals. Harry Kane beat Arsenal late in London. Dortmund moved out of the bottom of the daunting Bundesliga. Then, in other news, Liverpool’s nil-nil draw with Everton was a thorough snooze-fest.
Brendan Rodgers rarely sets his lineup timidly, but he did in this episode of the Merseyside derby. Liverpool held the majority of possession - for long spurts they played keep-away in their own half, Everton didn’t do much to press the Reds’ back three, and I fought valiantly against a rapidly approaching nap. Lucas Leiva was subbed off injured in the 15th minute. Maybe play slowed down as Lucas walked off the field, but if that was the case it was a subtle change.
Some games just aren’t any fun. This was one of those games. But there were a few moments to note:
1. Jordon Ibe was the best player on the pitch.
Everton left Liverpool’s 19-year-old winger alone on the right side for most of the game. Ibe used all that delicious green space to show off his style and vision. He annihilated the post with a 33rd-minute screamer and looked at ease dealing with Everton’s Leighton Baines-less defense. In a fixture suffocated by the managers from the start, Ibe’s aggressiveness on the flanks shined.
2. Steven Gerrard attempted seppuku in the second half.
Obviously the Liverpool captain didn’t commit ritualistic suicide in his final Premier League derby, but I was legitimately worried that he’d snapped himself in half after this attempt:
Gerrard’s only 34, but if he had scored that I think it would have been best for him to lay there, broken into pieces on the ground, and wait to be carried off the pitch and directly into a long retirement. It felt like old Burt Reynolds going into The Longest Yard’s prison game for one play, getting drilled into oblivion and never playing again. We care about you, Stevie. You have a long, fruitful MLS career in your future. Don’t scare us like that.
3. Muhammed Besic tried his hardest to energize the game.
The Everton midfielder bowled over Ibe with about 10 minutes left and started a good ol’ fashioned derby scrap, complete with Jordan Henderson puffing his chest out at fellow translucently white dude Steven Naismith. All three players were booked. The Goodison Park crowd came alive, finally, for the final minutes, but neither team found the net.
4. Just don’t give Simon Mignolet the easy ones.
Mignolet makes spectacular saves more easily than he makes routine ones. He’s Belgian Pepe Reina, about as stable as a lit roman candle. He again flashed his acrobatics with just minutes remaining, denying Everton’s only shot on goal (this was a seriously dreary match). Mignolet's great save of Seamus Coleman’s close-range shot kept Liverpool’s fourth-straight clean sheet in place.
5. Rodgers’s constant lineup tinkering has paid off.
Because of Luis Suarez’s departure and Daniel Sturridge’s injury issues, Brendan Rodgers has been forced to try a few thousand lineups in the season’s first half. In specific places, it is paying off.
Jordon Ibe was great on this day. Liverpool has realized it needs Phillippe Coutinho on the field, after many wondered why in the world he was seeing so much of the bench. Lazar Markovic has been energetic in midfield, even if he has an affinity for getting sent off with remarkable efficiency. And Emre Can is playing defense well in Liverpool’s 3-5-2 formation. Ironically enough the 3-5-2 came from Liverpool having to play with 10 men against Basel when Markovic was sent off a few minutes after coming on.
The nil-nil draw on Saturday was dull, sure, but Rodgers has his meandering, under-achieving, identity-searching team just four points from the Champions League spots. That says as much about the mediocrity of the league as it does of his managerial wins.
In any case, Liverpool are (once again) unbeaten in the new year. Red-hot Tottenham awaits in mid-week, and the Reds have little room for error.
Grant is on Twitter @grantburkhardt, and you can chat about the footy with him there or at firstname.lastname@example.org.