They call it the ‘friendly derby’, but Sunday’s clash between Liverpool and Everton looked a little too much like a kickabout in a pub carpark for most viewers’ tastes.
After a typically tense opening in which both teams threatened, from the 20-minute mark onwards it was a rather tame affair. Even the Kop, always in full voice when the neighbours come to visit, was muted as the second half petered out to a 0-0 draw.
However, things would have been very different had the referee picked the right moments to blow his whistle and go for the book, and the right ones to shut up. For there was more than one occasion where the official’s judgement or awareness negated what should have been a turning point in the match.
The most obvious and important of these was Sylvain Distin’s disallowed goal. The Toffees defender rose highest and headed home for nothing as a Liverpool free kick was given for an infringement in the penalty area.
The trouble is, it is difficult to ascertain exactly what any Everton player had done to warrant the whistle. The best bet is that Victor Anichebe was penalised for some sort of invisible interference on Pepe Reina. If so, it is further proof that goalkeepers are afforded far too much protection in such circumstance, as any contact between the two players was negligible.
It is nothing new for a team to be granted a little more leeway when they’re being pressed against their own goal line, but there is something rather alarming about the apparent amnesty awarded to a certain lanky Belgian midfielder.
You could just about put together a class-action suit against Marouane Fellaini, given the sheer number of opponents he has roughed up with dubious tactics since moving to Goodison Park in 2008. And while the bookings may have subsided markedly over the years – he picked up some 10 yellow cards in his first 17 games – it’s not for any notable change of style on the player’s part.
On the weekend Fellaini threw his elbows about as though they were the key ingredients in Everton’s set-pieces, with Daniel Agger copping a pair of blows that were so blatant it boggles the mind how they went completely unnoticed.
If it was another player going in like that (Luis Suarez perhaps?), the only question would be, “What colour, ref?” Instead the question is how much will Chelsea pay for a man who, because of his ‘physicality’, could be the key to making the Londoners competitive at the top end of the table once more.