For one tantalising moment Everton thought they’d won this.
There were 11 minutes remaining when Tom Davies steadied himself after Alisson parried a goalbound flick from Dominic Calvert-Lewin in his direction.
Midfielder Davies waited, sized up his options and stroked the ball past goalkeeper Alisson but watched on helpless as it rolled into the woodwork.
Alisson was nearly extended again at the ensuing corner, Calvert-Lewin leaping to head off target after Mason Holgate flicked on Gyfli Sigurdsson’s delivery.
Everton had their tails up. Richarlison had galloped forward – after Andre Gomes mugged substitute Georginio Wijnaldum in midfield – to tee up Calvert-Lewin’s flick at goal.
Now the Brazilian muscled Dejan Lovren, another Liverpool replacement, out of the equation to fasten onto Lucas Digne’s forward pass.
Lovren recovered to be outfoxed by Richarlison once more but Alisson was equal to the strike and saved at close quarters.
Liverpool came again and Jordan Pickford applied a vital touch to Fabinho’s stoppage-time free-kick.
But Everton were worth their point at the very least.
Richarlison had a very presentable opportunity in the fourth minute. He perhaps could have done with it coming along when he’d had more time to find his feet.
There was, however, little sign of rust in the manner Richarlison pounced when Fabinho was rushed into an unwise header towards his own goal.
The forward made straight for the penalty box, engineering a yard of space against the retreating Fabinho, but dragged his shot off target.
Richarlison is not easily discouraged, however, He was on the end of a free-kick from full Everton debutant Anthony Gordon on 32 minutes but wide with his header – albeit television replays suggested the Brazilian had strayed offside.
Trent Alexander-Arnold blocked from the same player four minutes later, Richarlison slamming an effort after being invited to try his luck by Gordon’s clever layoff.
Fears this game would be devoid of its usual combative edge with no supporters in the ground were allayed by an early flurry of hefty challenges.
Fabinho went first, scything down Calvert-Lewin and Davies was the recipient of a mistimed Roberto Firmino tackle.
James Milner – who would succumb to a hamstring injury shortly before the break – was yellow carded for clumsily upending Richarlison.
He was joined in the book by Michael Keane on 40 minutes when the Everton defender illegally halted a Sadio Mane charge through the middle.
The resulting free-kick was struck by Alexander-Arnold but lacked the venom to beat Pickford inside his right post.
Liverpool right-back Alexander Arnold’s previous dead-ball delivery, from the right – Digne penalised for handling a Jordan Henderson cross – was headed wide by Joel Matip.
If there was a degree of snap in the challenges, this was a Merseyside derby being contested at reduced pace.
Understandably so, Everton playing for the first time in 105 days, their opponents 102 days without a game.
Davies was nonetheless scurrying deep in Everton’s midfield, nipping at ankles and plugging gaps.
Alex Iwobi had an important role in Everton’s fluid formation. The Londoner was an out-and-out winger when his side attacked, an auxiliary wing-back when Liverpool were in possession.
Pickford was scarcely troubled in the opening 45 minutes but that’s not to say Liverpool weren’t a threat.
Takumi Minamino’s rising drive flew too high after 10 minutes and Firmino scuffed an effort from 20 yards after arriving onto Mane’s intelligent backheel.
When Liverpool advanced via a succession of short passes it needed defender Holgate to throw himself in the line of a Minamino blast to prevent Pickford being tested.
The visitors were similarly precise soon after the restart. Firmino made light of Keita’s awkward ball by sending a chested return into the midfielder who shanked his volley past Pickford’s right post.
Seamus Coleman chased down Mane to strangle another Liverpool raid and moments later Holgate was alive to the danger as Jurgen Klopp’s team threatened to gain momentum.
There was encouragement for Everton nonetheless in the way their two forwards were escaping attention when running beyond Liverpool’s backline.
Calvert-Lewin had been released by Gomes in the opening minutes. Around the hour, Calvert-Lewin switched to a creative role, lofting a sand-wedge of a ball for Richarlison to race clear but swipe high of Alisson’s goal.
Digne took the ball off Mane’s toes clean as a whistle soon after but in referee Mike Dean’s view – hotly disputed to a man by the home side – the defender had erred.
Frenchman Digne’s annoyance was compounded when he was cautioned but the punishment ended there, Alexander Arnold’s free-kick catching the Everton wall and disappearing over the top.
Calvert-Lewin went a fraction too soon after Davies and Sigurdsson – on for Gordon – linked intelligently to feed the striker.
Everton had their rush of chances, Davies, Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison all close – before Pickford thwarted Fabinho.
For the third time in succession Everton and Liverpool drew 0-0 at Goodison Park, albeit the scoreline was the only familiar thing about this edition of the Merseyside derby.
Debut Boy Gordon Shows He Belongs
Anthony Gordon must have felt 10-feet tall walking onto the field at Goodison Park.
It wouldn’t have been the full Everton debut Gordon envisaged, not when he joined the Club aged 11, nor as he made significant tracks with the Blues’ Under-18 and Under-23 teams in the past couple of seasons.
The 19-year-old would have fondly imagined making his first start in front of a bouncing Goodison Park. Equally, even in his most optimistic moments he couldn’t have anticipated being introduced to Premier League football in a Merseyside derby.
So far as shows of faith go, Carlo Ancelotti naming Gordon in his starting XI here will take some topping.
Gordon accepting set-piece duties – he whipped in an inviting delivery from the right on 32 minutes – represented further evidence of how highly the forward is regarded inside Goodison.
The teenager does not want for confidence and started by hurrying Fabinho into an injudicious header towards his own goal.
There was a lesson learned for a player with only 59 minutes experience of top-flight football when Gordon was overrun in a tight midfield spot and Liverpool broke to shoot high through Takumi Minamino.
Gordon was composed to cushion a ball long ball with Jordan Henderson breathing down his neck and there was a neat piece of improvisation when he used the sole of his boot to redirect an Alex Iwobi pass into the path of Richarlison.
In normal circumstances, Academy graduate Gordon would have been treated to a terrific hand from Evertonians as he made his exit on the hour.
Gordon’s touch, positional awareness and appreciation of those around him, allied to a willingness to take responsibility, suggest he’ll not be short of acclaim in future.
After four appearances off the bench – three this term – this was another significant staging post in the development of a very promising young player.
Young Guns And Senior Star
Anthony Gordon was the youngest player in Everton’s line-up but far from an outlier in a starting XI which boasted an average age of 24.5 – the youngest fielded by the Blues in a Premier League derby.
Carlo Ancelotti named a side containing five players aged 23 or younger.
Senior man Seamus Coleman is 31, four years older than Michael Keane, the 27-year-old England international.
Everton’s forwards Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin have combined for 12 goals in 10 Premier League games since being paired by manager Ancelotti. It is a partnership of rich potential.
Mason Holgate, 23, the same age as Richarlison and Calvert Lewin, and did not put a foot wrong after more than three months of inactivity.
Holgate’s progress this term has been extraordinary, all the pieces falling into place for a talented centre-half whose defensive assurance has caught up with his quality in possession.
The centre-back and Calvert-Lewin are both tied to Everton until 2025, Richarlison for four more years.
There was a mature performance from 21-year-old Tom Davies too, the Goodison Academy product technically adept and defensively aware alongside the reliable Andre Gomes.
Davies would have deserved his goal had a late effort found the net rather than the base of a post.
This is a side poised to grow together, augmented by the wisdom and endeavour of older hands such as Coleman, who belied his years to eat up ground on Mane in a foot race between the pair and won man-of-the-match from Gary Neville, commentating on Sky Sports, for an ‘outstanding’ performance.
One In 236
History will record this 236th Merseyside derby for various factors in addition to the football.
For starters, supporters were not explicitly instructed to stay away from any of the fixture’s previous 235 editions.
There is no getting away from the fact football will look and feel different until fans are allowed back in stadiums.
Certainly, Goodison Park on matchday is a husk of its vibrant and irascible self without nigh-on 40,000 Evertonians providing the acoustics.
The empty stands greeting Premier League football’s return, however, represent a stark reminder of the wretched events coronavirus has inflicted on the world since Everton played at Chelsea 105 days ago.
Carlo Ancelotti wrote in his programme notes of Covid-19 temporarily removing “joy, optimism and freedom” from the world, of the pandemic superseding professional concerns and sport having no place in any conversation about people’s health.
We hope history will tell us this mid-summer evening in L4, in its own small way, reflected a world emerging into the light.
The few hundred souls dotted around Goodison were joined by millions across the planet watching the action unfold.
A huge global audience, then, would have witnessed Everton and Liverpool’s players respond to referee Mike Dean’s first whistle by taking a knee in a compelling show of support for racial justice.
Football’s power outside the white lines has been underlined these past few months, Everton at the vanguard with the Club’s Blue Family campaign.
The sport boasts a reach envied by politicians and the capacity to influence thinking and behaviour.
Players from both teams had Black Lives Matters stitched across their jerseys in line with the Premier League’s initiative to prompt a meaningful conversation about tackling inequality.
The sides collectively dropping to the turf in advance of kick-off didn’t share the jaw-dropping value of Aston Villa and Sheffield United’s players doing the same thing when those teams got football’s restart under way on Wednesday.
This message was equally powerful nonetheless. Here was a moment in time which will live with anyone who saw it.
Take a step back to view those players in blue and red, stock still on one knee, in the context of a movement that has gathered enormous momentum since George Floyd died in America less than one month ago, and you survey an extraordinary scene.
The optimism inching back into society is matched by an expectation that tangible change is on its way.