Balo and nerves infect Liverpool
WASTEFUL: Mario Balotelli missing the target from point-blank range.
By PAUL PARKER
To be honest, Everton were very, very poor last night in the Merseyside Derby and made Liverpool look better than they were.
It was a home game and yet, except for the first few minutes, the Reds seemed to lack an intensity and looked nervy as the clock ticked down at Anfield - a trend that Brendan Rodgers' side developed at the tail-end of last season.
Last season, they could afford it because they had two- or three-goal cushions to bring home the result.
But, without Luis Suarez, Liverpool just can't seem to close out matches.
Even Ludogorets deserved a point in their 2-1 Champions League defeat, but an injury-time penalty by Steven Gerrard gave the home side three points.
The Reds weren't so lucky last night when Phil Jagielka's late screamer gave the visitors a share of the spoils.
Liverpool created a number of chances, but it's all pace and no finish for Rodgers' side. They have persisted with the same high-tempo playing style from last season, but they are blunt without Suarez, and Rodgers does not have a Plan B.
Mario Balotelli has been a huge letdown, and it's not a case where it is too early to pass judgment on him.
He might have only just arrived at Anfield in the summer, but he knows English football pretty well.
Last night, He was having his own private duel with James McCarthy and not helping in his team's cause.
There is no consistency in his game - the Italian tends to take potshots from far, as he did several times against Everton.
If he scores, great, but if not, as it often does, we all wonder if he should have done something more productive with the ball.
He was like that in his previous stint in the Premiership with Manchester City, and he hasn't changed.
People talk about how he scored a goal every two games for AC Milan last season, but many of those came from the penalty spot.
He had a fantastic chance midway through the second half from point-blank range when he could have dealt Everton a hammer blow, but he fluffed it.
Some may credit Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard for closing him down, but it was a poor finish for an Italian international striker.
Liverpool fans may indulge him for a while more, but they will soon demand more from Balotelli, who is just not one of the great centre-forwards that Liverpool have almost always had.
Balotelli aside, none of Liverpool's summer signings has shone so far, with the exception of fullback Alberto Moreno.
Adam Lallana still looks weighed down by expectations after his move into the big-time from Southampton, while Rickie Lambert - although his return to his boyhood club is a fairytale story - is not likely to be the saviour the Reds need.
Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet has been looking distinctly average of late, and there is always a worry that the two centre backs will give something away.
The return of Daniel Sturridge from injury will no doubt shore up Liverpool's attack and restore some confidence among the fans and the team. Even then, he will not solve all the issues plaguing the Reds.
The fizz has gone out of Liverpool, and Rodgers' men face a grim fight to stay among the top four this season.
- Our analyst was talking to LIM SAY HENG