Sunday, October 28, 2012
Suarez still centre of attention
Richard Jolly, Goodison Park
If the 217th Merseyside meeting was the Gerrard derby, the 219th was the Suarez derby. As ever where he is concerned, it is both compliment and criticism. Unlike the March game when the Liverpool captain's hat-trick earned him the superlatives, October spawned a more fractious affair. But that is in keeping with Luis Suarez's persona. He divides opinion as he can split defences on those piercing, pacey solo runs.
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Controversy is a constant with the ubiquitous Uruguayan and this had Suarez's stamp all over it. From a pivotal role in the goals Liverpool did score to the decisive touch for the winner they were wrongly disallowed, from the hack that ended Kevin Mirallas' afternoon to the lunge on Sylvain Distin that should have curtailed Suarez's participation, it was all about him.
Even his celebration was newsworthy. An impromptu Jurgen Klinsmann impression may have suggested Suarez has a sense of humour; performed in front of David Moyes, following a 50-yard run, made him an agent provocateur in the eyes of many, if not the Everton manager. "I thought it was great," said the Scot, who had branded Suarez a diver before the game. "I quite like that but he was a really lucky man to stay on the pitch for his tackle [on Distin]. It's over the top, down the back of the legs." A straight red card? "Definitely."
It was an incident to cut to the heart of the ongoing Suarez debate: victim or villain? The reality, perhaps, is that he is both, sometimes within the space of 90 minutes. After his afternoon should have ended but before it did, Suarez thought he had resumed his by now familiar role as the scourge of Everton. He had scored a third goal in four Merseyside derbies with a glancing header and claimed another, actually debited to Leighton Baines, before finishing from close-range when Sebastian Coates headed Steven Gerrard's free kick across the six-yard box in injury time.
Suarez turned away in jubilation at one end; Gerrard sprinted and slid towards the Liverpool fans at the other. And meanwhile assistant referee Simon Bennett somehow deemed the striker offside. "Luis was level at minimum," manager Brendan Rodgers said. "That should have been a goal and an outstanding hat-trick for Luis Suarez."
Moyes concurred, albeit disputing the initial award of the free-kick and with the caveat that Suarez should have exited Goodison Park before then. In a role reversal, the man with the reputation for going to ground twice left others on the turf. For all the outrage about diving - and it is worth recording that the caution for simulation or, more accurately, collapsing comically, went to Phil Neville, who was reprimanded by Moyes at half-time - reckless challenges can be far more heinous than a tendency to tumble over needlessly. Procuring an undeserved advantage is one thing, endangering an opponent another altogether.
Mirallas was cut down in his prime. "He was outstanding, nearly unstoppable," said Moyes. As much as Suarez's disallowed goal, it was a turning point. Even shorn of the suspended Steven Pienaar, Everton were utterly dominant on their left flank. For the three teenagers among Rodgers' five derby debutants, it was a baptism of fire in an environment the manager branded "a cauldron". Already booked for fouling Baines, Raheem Sterling chopped the left-back down again and was dispatched to the opposite flank by Rodgers to prevent a red card. The anonymous Suso swapped with him before his withdrawal while the over-run Andre Wisdom was taken off as Jordan Henderson spent the final quarter of the game as a £16 million right wing-back.
By then, Rodgers had done a Mancini, to give it the new technical term, and introduced a third central defender. A half-time change in shape gave Liverpool added height at the back and a platform to attack following an awkward period when Leon Osman drilled past the unconvincing Brad Jones and Steven Naismith converted Marouane Fellaini's cross.
Then Everton were in the ascendant. Minus Mirallas and as Liverpool paired the speed and skill of Suarez and Sterling in attack, the visitors were superior in the second half. On the balance of the game the scoreline was fair, even if Liverpool harboured understandable feelings of injustice about the chalked-off winner. Everton remain six points ahead of their rivals, but Suarez has a capacity to overshadow the blue half of the city.
There is no such thing as a quiet day at the office for him. Even there when Sterling booted the ball away in frustration, it struck Suarez. Whatever his other talents, he possesses magnetic powers.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Kevin Mirallas - Brilliant until his enforced withdrawal. He made a series of superb, slaloming runs through the Liverpool defence. While it was expected Everton would miss the suspended Steven Pienaar, they did not as long as Mirallas stayed on the pitch.
EVERTON VERDICT: It is now three successive draws for them, taking the edge off an excellent start to the season. Their character was evident again in a fine recovery after going 2-0 down but so, too, were the limits to their resources when Mirallas went off. Magaye Gueye was far less effective. Elsewhere, Naismith opened his Everton account but Phil Jagielka, terrific at QPR last week, was troubled by Suarez.
LIVERPOOLVERDICT: Rodgers pronounced himself proud of his young team but, with the exception of the excellent Joe Allen, it was the men with a greater grounding in Merseyside derbies who were Liverpool's better performers. Jose Enrique acquitted himself well on his return to the starting line-up and Martin Skrtel impressed at the back. In contrast, the game rather passed Nuri Sahin and Suso by. Rodgers was right to withdraw both at half-time and Liverpool were all the better for his changes.