Steven Gerrard, Liverpool's hero on so many occasions, still insists that it is a team effort rather than the captain once again saving the Reds.
The spotlight still shines on Gerrard
LIVERPOOL // The protestations were predictable, but they were ignored nonetheless. "It's not about me," Steven Gerrard insisted. "It's about the team." Yet six days after scoring in one Merseyside derby and two after a court appearance on charges of assault and affray, the Liverpool captain's equaliser earned a replay in the FA Cup and a third encounter with Everton in 16 days.
Off-the-field events may be problematic, but they don't appear a distraction. Gerrard's finest form of the season has come in the last month and he added: "I'm happy with my performances. I'm a footballer and I'm focused on my football." If Everton provided reminders of their resilient display last Monday, Liverpool's attacking alliance were more reminiscent of last season. Reunited with Fernando Torres, Gerrard and the Spaniard displayed an understanding of both instinct and imagination. The Everton defence were only breached when Torres' backheeled volley enabled Gerrard to score. "It is what Fernando's about. He's not just a goalscorer, he's got fantastic awareness as well," Gerrard explained.
However, as often appeared the case last season, the dependence upon Liverpool's premier attacking talents was apparent. Dirk Kuyt spurned a late chance to end his 11-game goalless run, while Ryan Babel, granted a rare start, only made a case for Albert Riera's reinstatement. Yet the supporting cast were less notable than an absentee. Following an anonymous performance last week, Robbie Keane was nowhere to be seen. The £20 million (Dh100m) striker, bought to relieve the reliance upon Gerrard and Torres, was omitted from the match-day 18.
"He was not selected," said Rafa Benitez, citing David Ngog's two goals in a reserve game as a reason for preferring the French teenager on the bench. Questions about Keane's future are inevitable and the Irishman appears among the issues in the manager's ongoing feud with chief executive Rick Parry. An increasingly confrontational Benitez accused Everton of playing for a draw, an allegation David Moyes refuted. His threadbare squad was depleted further by Mikel Arteta's rib injury.
Lacking most of their probable goalscorers, Joleon Lescott married defensive resilience with a close-range header to put Everton ahead. He and fellow centre-back Phil Jagielka were outstanding and, when Gerrard harried them in the final minutes, they needed to be. Yet the contrast in resources showed Everton's achievement. When the only two substitutes Moyes trusted sufficiently to use are 17 and 18 respectively, it was obvious they certainly didn't have a £20m forward on the bench either.