Unfortunately there's not really a template for how to feel about today's result. You're justified in feeling happy, disappointed, angry, scared, etc. etc. Liverpool could and should have won, Liverpool could and should have lost, and Liverpool could and should do much, much better in the future. A draw isn't the end of the world--it may be enough for them to end the weekend in second--but the manner in which it arrived today once again reminded us of the areas in which Liverpool have to improve if they're going to stick around the top of the Premier League table.
Everton 3: Mirallas 8', Lukaku 72' 82'
Liverpool 3: Coutinho 5', Suarez 19', Sturridge 89'
Brendan Rodgers has the worst poker face in history, which is to say that his pre-match complimenting of both Jon Flanagan and Joe Allen resulted in starts; Flanagan came in for Aly Cissokho at left-back, while Joe Allen replaced Daniel Sturridge, who wasn't fit enough to start. That gave Liverpool the ostensible advantage in midfield, with Jordan Henderson, Steven Gerrard, and Lucas included as well, and Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel continuing on in central defense.
Like this fixture last season, the match started on fire, with both sides pressing relentlessly and frantically. And, like last season, there'd be plenty of goals in the first half, kicked off by Liverpool and Philippe Coutinho in the fifth minute. A corner found its way to the Brazilian after ricocheting off Luis Suarez, and he calmly controlled and beat a helpless Tim Howard with the outside of his right boot. Everton's answer was immediate, however, as a poorly defended free-kick at the other end fell to Kevin Mirallas, who poked the hosts level just three minutes after falling behind.
Both sides had chances from there, with Simon Mignolet growing into the match with the first of a number of impressive saves, and Suarez taking his from a free kick just inside of twenty minutes. It was a magnificent curling effort regardless of what the Everton wall should or shouldn't have done, and it gave the Uruguayan his ninth of the season, a ridiculous return considering how little he's featured.
Liverpool didn't put much together from there, and they relied on Mignolet to keep them in the lead for the rest of the first half. It looked as though the half would end without incident, but a cynical and dangerous tackle from Mirallas on Suarez--one that should always, always, always be a red card--sent the sides into the break with the match threatening to boil over.
Everton were the better side from there, with Liverpool again turning to Mignolet in hopes he could save the lead. He made impressive saves on both Romelu Lukaku and Gerard Deulofeu on breakaways, but the Belgian couldn't keep out the equalizer, which came just minutes after an impossible miss from Joe Allen at the other end. The midfielder was free on goal after Suarez forced his way through the Everton defense, and with Howard guessing incorrectly, all Allen had to do was roll it in for the 3-1 lead.
Obviously he didn't, and Everton's equalizer felt especially cruel because of it. But the culprit was a familiar one--shaky defending on a set piece, failing to recover adequately, and defensive responsibilities abdicated without explanation. Lukaku started the sequence with a blasted free kick and finished it with the leveler, latching onto a deflected Mirallas cross and beating Mignolet easily.
The Belgian striker's second ten minutes later was more straightforward, as he out-muscled Glen Johnson and easily beat Jon Flanagan to a corner, heading over Daniel Sturridge--who'd come on in place of Lucas three minutes earlier--for the lead. It would prove short-lived, with Sturridge glancing a header from Steven Gerrard's perfectly-placed from the far side over a cluster of bodies to leave the match at 3-3. Of course that wasn't all, with each of Victor Moses, Luis Suarez, and Sturridge (who was well offside) getting chances at a winner, and Everton threatening from two corners before it was finally over.
Words geared toward discussion were hard to come by in the aftermath--expletives, as they tend to be, were far easier to find. The derby has that gift for all of us.
Eventually, though, consensus seemed to fall on a few things. First, Kevin Mirallas should have been sent off and sent into space orbit. Second, Simon Mignolet was superb. Third, Everton were probably the better side on the day, but like Liverpool, they were guilty of lackadaisical set piece defending and didn't necessarily deserve anything more from the match than they got. Also, that Joe Allen miss was pretty, pretty, pretty, preeeeetty bad.
But there were so many what if moments in that match that it feels like cherry-picking to call Allen's miss the match's decisive moment. He obviously should have done better, and a two-goal lead is far better than one, but three points from there wouldn't have been guaranteed. Everton would have been disappointed, no doubt, but given the tone of the match overall, just as many other moments could have been decisive. And the could have wormhole is a discussion that's not worth entertaining.
What is worth discussing is Liverpool's continued failures in key areas, especially the midfield and set piece defending. Even with another body in Allen the midfield was overrun, and while it was heartening to see Rodgers going for it by bringing on Victor Moses and Daniel Sturridge, the manager needs to find a balance in the middle moving forward. And the ongoing farce that is set-piece defending needed addressing weeks ago, and conceding three further today has only furthered those worries. These are the things we know, not things we're left to hypothesize about.
We also know that Mignolet was magnificent, and Jon Flanagan wasn't far behind. The young fullback hardly put a foot wrong on the day, fully justifying his inclusion and leaving Aly Cissokho far off the pace in the competition to fill in for Jose Enrique. Lucas was excellent in the first half before fading in the second, while Luis Suarez buzzed around effectively despite being on tired--and wounded, as a result of Mirallas' horrible challenge--legs, and Daniel Sturridge managed a goal to keep up with his strike partner and leave the points shared . Less impressive were Glen Johnson and Jordan Henderson on the right, and each of Allen, Philippe Coutinho, Martin Skrtel, and Daniel Agger had their moments in generally mixed displays. And while Steven Gerrard's delivery from set pieces is undoubtedly among the league's best, his work in the midfield was inconsistent at best.
Three points would have been rapturous, zero would have been torture, but one still doesn't seem right. The discontent can be eased by Liverpool kicking on from here into a crucial period; nine points from the coming three fixtures have to be the expectation, and will be mandatory if they're going to carry momentum into the gauntlet that the last two weeks of 2013 presents.