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The Merseyside Derby: A Digression

Last Sunday’s clash between neighbors Everton and Liverpool produced a highly contentious Derby, even by Merseyside standards. The match was played with feverish intensity but, sadly, will be best remembered for an awful refereeing decision that disallowed a Liverpool goal and preserved a 2-2 draw.

All four goals were scored in the frantic first half. When Liverpool netted the first two, I (and doubtless many other Evertonians) feared a rout. Instead, Everton responded with goals from Leon Osman and Steven Naismith. But the main man behind the comeback was newly acquired Kevin Mirallas, whose driving runs Liverpool could halt only by fouling.

Unfortunately, The Shite succeeded in kicking Mirallas out of the match — he was unable to continue after halftime, and may miss several matches. Nonetheless, Everton outplayed Liverpool for most of the second half before fading badly towards the end.

Deep into stoppage time, we conceded a free kick in a dangerous position. I (and doubtless many other Evertonians) feared the worst as the great Steven Gerrard lined up the kick. And sure enough, his terrific ball into the box was won by a giant Liverpool center back and dispatched into net by Luis Suarez.

But the referee’s assistant signaled a non-existent offsides and the goal was disallowed. Seconds later came the final whistle.

Justice is seldom served by terrible officiating decisions, and it wasn’t here. However, Everton fans can be forgiven for finding poetic justice at two levels. First, two horrible calls cost us victory against Newcastle United earlier in the season. Negate the terrible calls in both games and Everton has 3 points (for a win against Newcastle) rather than 2 points for two draws. But we also have a loss at home in the Derby, so I won’t complain about the “deal.”

Second, Luis Suarez, scorer of the disallowed goal, is the biggest cheat in the Premier League for my money. In fact, he probably should no longer have been playing at the end of the match, given two instances in which he deliberately and dangerously stepped on the boot of Everton players (one of whom was Mirallas, and the stomp was instrumental in the injury that caused his departure). Suarez also could have received a yellow cared for his over-the-top celebration of a goal in front of Everton manager David Moyes, who has called out Suarez as the diving cheat he is. However, I don’t believe in issing cards for goal celebrations.

After the match Steven Gerrard criticized Everton for playing like Stoke City. Stoke is famous for bypassing the midfield with long balls into the box. Actually, however, they are doing much less of that this year, thanks in part to the acquisition of former Liverpool midfielder Charlie Adam.

In any event, Gerrard is entirely out to lunch with his criticism of Everton. The statistics show that it was really Everton who played the possession-passing game that manager Brendan “Being Liverpool” Rodgers is trying to promote with The Shite. Thus, Everton attempted 478 passes to Liverpool’s 357, made over a hundred accurate passes more than the Reds (359 to 257), delivered twice as many crosses into the box, and forced Liverpool into more tackles. In the final (attacking) third of the field, Everton successfully completed 100 of 154 attempted passes, while Liverpool completed only 63 of their 103 attempted passes. And Everton’s long ball count was 14 percent, compared to 17 percent for Liverpool.

So Everton, playing at home, outperformed Liverpool statistically, but Liverpool would have triumphed anyway but for an improperly disallowed goal.

Currenly, Everton stands in fifth position, 8 places and 6 points ahead of Liverpool. For me, though, the two teams look evenly matched. One never knows in soccer, but there’s a good chance they will be close together in the standings (the Table) when the Derby is played at Liverpool in early May.

UPDATE: You can see Suarez’s dirty plays on Mirallas and Sylvain Distin, as well as the disallowed Livepool goal, in this match report.

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