Belfast Telegraph

Liverpool lack Suarez bite after derby draw against Everton

Martinez insists Pool are missing Suarez as derby day spoils shared after Jagielka goal

By Ian Herbert

Roberto Martinez made no pretence about the contrast between the Liverpool side which tore his Everton team asunder 4-0 last January and the one which participated in one of the most drab Merseyside derbies in recent years at Anfield on Saturday.

"The difference back then was that everyone knew what Liverpool was: very dynamic, any time you leave yourself two v one against [Luis] Suarez you will be in trouble and that is not there any more. And that is a big difference."

Given that Suarez is ancient history, and that Mario Balotelli offers brief shafts of promise rather than anything more substantial, the Liverpool narrative centres on another yearned-for presence, Daniel Sturridge.

"Of course," Brendan Rodgers said to the question of whether he had concerns about the Englishman's extended absence, having seen Phil Jagielka's late equaliser punish his side for their anaemic threat to Tim Howard's goal.

"At 1-0 down the opponent has to come on to you and that bit of pace through the middle can help," Rodgers said.

Given that Sturridge was not even close to making it as a substitute against Everton, he is unlikely to start in Basel in the Champions League on Wednesday night.

By keeping him out next Saturday against West Bromwich Albion too, Rodgers can avoid England having any call on a player whose calf problem was allegedly caused by his training against his wishes with the national team.

Everton looked a side stung into survival mode by last January's catastrophe.

"I think in possession we all know that we weren't anywhere near our standard," Martinez admitted.

"I thought on the counter-attack if we had made a couple of better decisions then we had very good options. But I thought the team was fatigued mentally. We couldn't find a pass. We couldn't be ourselves on the ball. But today became a mental battle and a psychological exercise."

Everton, for whom Jon Stones revealed a monumental improvement in quality since that January defeat, have plenty of talent to come back: Seamus Coleman, Ross Barkley and Steven Pienaar. Kevin Mirallas's injury on the half hour damaged them. But Romelu Lukaku does not look like the player Martinez paid £20m for in the summer.

Rodgers said he was willing to think the best of Mamadou Sakho after learning he had left the stadium before the game, having not made the squad.

"I'll find out. There might be a different reason. Something could have happened to his child," the manager said.

Sakho subsequently apologised for a "bad decision" and is likely to be disciplined.

Meanwhile, Rodgers has praised Mario Balotelli's attitude during his first Merseyside derby.

The Italian, who had a Liver bird sculpted into his hair for the occasion, is yet to score a Barclays Premier League goal for the Reds and could not take advantage of a number of decent opportunities.

Balotelli should have made it 2-0 moments after Gerrard opened the scoring.

Balotelli has a reputation as a hot-head and was the target of a number of robust challenges but did not react and was heavily involved in the game.

Rodgers said: "He needs to focus on the game and I made that point beforehand. This is a game where emotions are high and it can be difficult. But you're going to be in with a greater chance to win as long as you've got 11 players on the field.

"And I think overall in his time here he's responded very, very well. I thought his work-rate was excellent. His pressure, his physique at the top end of the field for us was very good and he looked like he could get a goal.

"I was disappointed he didn't score but, as long as he's working well and working hard, he will get goals."

There were a number of impressive Liverpool performers, with Alberto Moreno, Gerrard, Jordan Henderon and Raheem Sterling all standing out along with boyhood Everton fan Adam Lallana.

The midfielder was also making his Merseyside derby debut and would have opened the scoring early on but for a fine save from Tim Howard.

Lallana was a constant thorn in Everton's side, and Rodgers said: "I thought he was outstanding.

"To come into his first derby game and play with that quality and that intensity. And he played the whole game during the week against Middlesbrough, penalties and all, so to deliver that performance was great because it shows he's getting fitter with each game."

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