In the latest Talking Reds column, Daniel Rhodes attempts to analyse the pulsating 3-3 Merseyside derby draw between Liverpool and Everton at Goodison Park.
Every Merseyside derby is intense; every Merseyside derby means something - regardless of league position and the relative success of each club at the time. Saturday's derby, though, which kicked off the Premier League weekend after an international break, put every subsequent match to shame and had every football fan in country on the edge of their seats throughout, and was, potentially, a little glimpse into the future of a new era in the city of Liverpool. It was a fast-paced, frenetic, often controversial affair, filled with moments of quality and at the same time, slightly marred by a moment of madness. Nevertheless, one thing is certain: both teams played to win, something that hasn't always been the case in recent years.
To use the word 'nonsense' is not a criticism, or a slight on either manager - it's just the only applicable description of a game that made no sense to anyone watching. Usually a football match has a fixed narrative, set tactical plans and a key moment that changes a game: a goal, a bad tackle, a great save, an intelligent run or a sublime finish. This game had all of that, in the first 20 minutes.
Coutinho's opener was a planned move, straight from the training ground. As Gerrard waits to deliver the corner, the young Brazilian stands perfectly still on the front post. Once Liverpool's captain begins his short run-up, Coutinho twists, spins, runs around the group of players jostling for space, and ghosts into acres of room at the back post; the ball is flicked on, and he finishes calmly. This was after five minutes. No time to settle into the game. No time for each side to tentatively prod for weaknesses to exploit. No time to breathe.
Everton equalised - what felt like instantly - when Mirallas struck from another set-piece. It was a day when defending from set-pieces was sacrificed for scoring from set-pieces. If defenders had a union, this was the game when they all voted for industrial action, although nobody sent Flanagan or Mignolet the ballot paper.
The goal of the game came next, when Suarez curled the ball round Howard's wall from 25 yards. On commentary, it seemed like Everton's 'keeper spent ages building his wall, only for Suarez to exploit the weakness in the structure brilliantly. A strike that deserved to be the winning goal, the decisive moment in what was already a pulsating match. We hadn't even finished the starter yet...
Mignolet, arguably the man of the match in many supporters' eyes, made his first crucial impact on the game by rushing off his line to prevent Lukaku from scoring. His best save, though, came after Barkley cut inside from the left, curled a shot round a group of players that looked to be heading into the bottom right corner. The reaction from 'our 'keeper, our Belgian 'keeper, Simon Mignolet' was out of this world. Not only did he react late, he had to dive backwards to flick the ball round the post.
Then, we had the Mirallas tackle on Suarez. If anything, though, the tackle seemed to take the sting out of the rest of the half, and everyone involved had a little breather before the main course was served up after the interval.
What followed was a delicious exhibition of attacking intent from both managers, when any form of control in midfield was sacrificed for end-to-end action. Baines got injured and Barry moved to left-back; Deulofeu came on and Everton attacked. Liverpool still created, though, and Suarez jinked right through, the ball fell to Allen.
Allen is a player who, in the tightest of tight spaces, can pick a pass to a teammate, with enough precision to land on the instep of the intended player's boot. Here, though, at the crucial moment, he couldn't pass it into the bottom corner. It was a pivotal moment in a game packed with pivots.
Lukaku, who had been very quiet up until this point, suddenly burst into life. Mignolet again had to produce a crucial save, this time from his international teammate who was through, one-on-one, and should have scored.
Everton got a free-kick, the ball deflected, looked to be heading in, only for another match-winning save from Mignolet; however, in the next phase of play, the home team worked an opening and Lukaku nets the second equaliser of the match from the middle of the penalty area.
The end-to-end nature of the match continued, clear chance after clear chance was created: Lukaku through, four against two, tries a simple pass, but to who? The formations changed, it was now 4-2-4, Gerrard crossed to Suarez, who probably should score.
There was a rhythm to the match, a constant back and forth. Each team ignored defensive stability, and both managers tried to secure all three points - even if that meant losing. It is a vital component of any successful manager, and now, both clubs on Merseyside have a manager willing to gamble.
The tactical purist might cringe up into a ball, rocking steadily in the corner of the room at the constant space left by either defence. Unable to watch, as two managers ignored the fear factor of losing such a big game - especially with both sides fighting for points near the top of the league - instead pining for the days of tactical structure and defensive discipline: two banks of four and a 0-0 draw. This was pure entertainment for the neutral; pure excruciating pain, at times, for the two sets of fans involved.
Everton corner, Lukaku heads it, Goodison erupts. Have the home team snatched it, even after Mignolet's heroics? Not at all, the set-piece show still had another scene; substitute Daniel Sturridge flicked on a tremendous cross from Gerrard, the ball flew into the top corner, the game was level again.
Injury-time managed, unbelievably, to increase the tension to fever pitch, with both teams frenetically trying to snatch a last-gasp winner. Suarez volleyed, Howard saved. Moses missed. Deulofeu through, Mignolet saved. A goal! But, Sturridge was offside, after collecting a Coutinho shot on the edge of the box. A sharp, gut-wrenching, intake of breath from the home crowd. Another chance, though... Coleman jinks, defenders squirm. McCarthy shoots, Skrtel blocks. The referee blows his whistle; the crowd breathe again. Everyone rises to applaud. Any chance of an encore?
The best game of the season, the best Merseyside derby in years. Thanks to both managers, who provided the platform for the tastiest feast of football you're likely to see for some time. Even if one or two incidents left a foul taste in the mouth, that should not take away from the attacking flair on display. It was 90 minutes of mouth-watering nonsense.