Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s header salvaged a 2-2 draw for Everton in a controversial 237th Merseyside derby at Goodison Park which saw Richarlison sent off late on.
Everton had already escaped a red card and a penalty for goalkeeper Jordan Pickford early in the first half for a knee-high challenge on Virgil Van Dijk, which ended the Holland captain’s afternoon, but there was no VAR reprieve for the Brazilian’s lunge on Liverpool midfielder Thiago Alcantara.
Jordan Henderson thought he had won it in the five minutes of added time against 10 men when Pickford fumbled his shot but the goal was ruled out for the tightest of offside decisions against Sadio Mane.
It was another contentious decision which meant the defending Premier League champions made the short trip home aggrieved at what they perceived a failure of VAR.
Mohamed Salah put the Reds 2-1 up with 18 minutes to go with his 100th Liverpool goal only for it to be cancelled out by the in-form Calvert-Lewin with a trademark far-post leap.
Mane had put the visitors ahead in the third minute only for Michael Keane to equalise with a header midway through the first half.
However, the game’s pivotal moment was Pickford seemingly getting away with clattering Van Dijk and confusion still reigned after the match as to whether a mistake had been made.
VAR ruled the Dutchman’s shoulder had been offside in the build-up but the PA new agency understands video official David Coote then did not check for a potential red card despite having the power to do so and called ‘check complete’.
Had he ruled the England goalkeeper was guilty of serious foul play Everton would have been down to 10 men and faced a penalty against them already trailing to Mane’s quickfire goal, which he hammered in at the near post from Andy Robertson’s cross.
If that was lucky then Everton benefited two-fold as Liverpool’s defensive linchpin, who had not missed a minute of Premier League football since January 2018, was unable to continue and was replaced by Joe Gomez after 10 minutes.
His presence was sorely missed as Everton equalised nine minutes later. Adrian, who had parried Calvert-Lewin’s shot behind, could only push Keane’s header from James Rodriguez’s corner into the roof of the net despite getting two hands to the ball.
Pickford kept the score level with a full-stretch save to deny Trent Alexander-Arnold before Everton suffered a defensive injury of their own when Seamus Coleman, the only survivor of their last win in a derby, went off with a hamstring injury to give new signing Ben Godfrey his debut.
He was given a tough examination by Mane, who almost scored in similar style to his first but opted for the far post instead of the near and saw the ball spin wide from another Robertson cross.
Both sides were celebrating anniversaries on this day: for Liverpool it marked a remarkable five years under Jurgen Klopp, in the 10th anniversary week of Fenway Sports Group’s ownership.
For Everton it was somewhat sadder: a whole decade had passed since their last derby win and it was also five years since former manager Howard Kendall died.
It was fitting the second half was more of a contest, with Henderson’s half-volley just over followed by better chances for Calvert-Lewin, who completely missed Lucas Digne’s low cross into the six-yard box, and Richarlison, who headed against the post.
The match needed a moment of quality and it came from Salah, although it was preceded by a mistake as Yerry Mina’s weak clearance dropped to the Egypt international who volleyed home.
Salah brought up his century in his 159th match, making him the third-fastest to three figures for the club behind only Roger Hunt and Jack Parkinson, and Joel Matip almost made it 3-1 with a powerful header Pickford managed to keep out.
Bur Calvert-Lewin, with his 10th goal in seven Everton games, also reached a landmark of his own after becoming the first Toffees player since Tommy Lawton in 1938 to score in his opening five games of a league season.
There was more drama to come as Richarlison became the 22nd red card in 57 Premier League Merseyside derbies before VAR denied Henderson a very late winner.
The point meant Everton, who went into a derby top of the table for the first time since 1989, retained their spot at the summit even if the winless streak against their neighbours was extended to 23 matches.
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson suggested VAR officials “bend the lines” to disallow goals.
“It must be offside with VAR, it’s what everyone wants,” Henderson told BT Sport after his injury-time effort was ruled out.
“I think they bend the lines sometimes to make it offside. I’m not sure how they do it, I’ve seen it before.
“It’s disappointing we haven’t got the win. I thought the performance was very good and we deserved to win the game. I think Everton will be happier with the draw.”
Everton striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin said it was always going to be a physical battle.
He told BT Sport: “With a derby you’ve got tackles flying, 50-50s, and it’s physical. So there’s always a chance the ref might bring out a yellow or a red.
“We’ve shown we made strides by getting back in the game and had chances to win it but we didn’t take them.
“I’m disappointed we didn’t kick on at 1-1, but we’ve done well to get back in the game.
“I genuinely thought we would do it this time (beat Liverpool after a 10-year gap). But it’s not to be, so it’s got to be the next one.”
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp praised his side’s performance following their 7-2 defeat at Aston Villa before the international break.
“The performance was top,” Klopp told BT Sport. “You could see that was a top game from both sides.
“We were dominant against a side full of confidence with a clear plan and it was probably our best away game at Goodison since I’ve been at Liverpool. But it’s still 2-2 for different reasons.
“I would be more happy if we win, but the performance was the response at least. I wanted to see the team we were after a proper knock.”
On the early Pickford-Van Dijk penalty box incident, Klopp said: “I didn’t see it back but it took a while and it was not too big an offside.
“He kicks him completely, but the only incident I’ve seen back is the Henderson goal and the pass from Sadio.
“I didn’t see offside but maybe somebody will explain it to me. The picture I saw was not offside, but it was offside because somebody decided it.
“It’s difficult because Richarlison is not only a red card but a massive foul on Thiago as well. He lies there and we don’t know what he has, so it’s not good.”