Liverpool 1: Gerrard 65'
Everton 1: Jagielka 90+1'
It was mostly normal service resumed for Brendan Rodgers' starting eleven today, with Lazar Markovic the only surprise inclusion and each of Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling featuring again after their marathon midweek. Jordan Henderson was fit to start with Steven Gerrard in the midfield, and Dejan Lovren partnered Martin Skrtel in central defense as Kolo Toure dropped to the bench and, curiously, Mamadou Sakho left out completely.
As is so often the case, the opening was frantic, producing an early booking for Gareth Barry at one end and a penalty shout for Everton--with Alberto Moreno yanking on the arm of Romelu Lukaku--at the other. Barry should have been off twice within the next ten minutes; first he handled a Sterling shot inside the area, a clear penalty for everyone except head referee Martin Atkinson, and sixty second later he cynically tripped Mario Balotelli for a third bookable offense. The latter was at least called a foul, but in the case of the former Liverpool should have had a spot-kick and a man advantage for the next 70-plus minutes.
They were largely dominant regardless, and their best chance of the half came on 11 minutes when a Lallana header was saved well by Tim Howard. Liverpool looked as assured as they have all season at the back and strong in the center as well. Up top was less impressive, unfortunately, with a number of speculative shots (often from Balotelli) the extent of their attacking threat outside of Lallana's header and a Sterling shot on the break that Howard parried away easily.
The second half saw more of the same, and Liverpool finally took the lead through a wonderfully taken Gerrard free kick. The captain couldn't have placed it any better, and with Everton failing to find any joy going forward, it looked as though his 65th-minute opener would hold up even after Balotelli's chance from point-blank was tipped onto the crossbar by Howard. But in the dying moments, with commentators eulogizing Everton's loss already, Phil Jagielka hit a once in a lifetime strike from thirty yards that arrowed into the top corner, leveling the match at 1-1 and leaving the points shared.
Three points would have at least glossed over some of the problems from today's performance, and a draw in any other manner might not have been so harsh. But to concede an injury time equalizer for the third time already this season--first in the Ludogorets win, then against Bournemouth--is incredibly painful, and it saps the momentum that had begun to build when it looked as though a Liverpool win would be the only outcome.
The day wasn't without its positives despite the disappointing finish, as Liverpool's defense was composed for one of the first times this season, with Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel mostly solid. Both fullbacks were again impressive, and Steven Gerrard was on his "big match" form in looking more involved. Most of the midfield's success was down to Jordan Henderson, who was terrific alongside Gerrard, at times operating as destroyer and creator in what was arguably one of the 24-year-old's best performances in a Liverpool shirt.
Adam Lallana was also very good but tired noticeably in the second half, a description that applied to Raheem Sterling as well, only with the fatigue more visible early in the match. Sterling's physical condition is excellent, and he was still capable of making dangerous runs deep into the match, but he wasn't as sharp tactically as we're used to. Understandable that both were lacking that extra edge given their exertions in the past week, of course, and confusing that Rodgers didn't seek to spell either of them.
Things continue to look disjointed up top, and their lack of cutting edge again proved to be the difference. Philippe Coutinho came on to good effect in place of Lazar Markovic, but he and Lallana were the only consistent positives in an attack that's struggling badly. Markovic couldn't get himself involved with any sort of consistency, and while Mario Balotelli worked hard to keep himself involved, he still failed to fulfill his duties as the lone man up top. He will surely be better with Daniel Sturridge, and likely would have been better here with Fabio Borini, who was out of the squad entirely.
One point or three, Liverpool need significant improvement. There's plenty of the season left to go, but with another international break rapidly approaching and six matches already gone in league, that improvement needs to take place sooner rather than later.