Thursday 30 January 2014
Liverpool's biggest derby victory over Everton since 1982 stunned the Barclays Premier League on Tuesday night. Here, Adrian Clarke analyses why it turned out to be such a glorious night for the red half of Merseyside...
Liverpool’s game plan centred around making life as uncomfortable as possible for Everton’s makeshift back four, pressing the largely untested Phil Jagielka-Antolin Alcaraz partnership and two full-backs high up the pitch, harrying them whenever they looked to play out of defence. Against a side who like to pop the ball around calmly and with precision, it was the perfect tactic, working brilliantly for Brendan Rodgers' men.
Time and again Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho robbed Everton players in their own half, breaking at pace and catching the back line short on numbers. The Reds’ second goal stemmed from Sterling winning possession with an effective press, releasing Coutinho, who in turn found Daniel Sturridge running unopposed to score through the centre.
Roberto Martinez's side dominated possession with 60.6% of the ball, but that suited Liverpool, too. If they were not able to win the ball back in Everton territory, the whole midfield five of Liverpool would retreat and sit narrowly within the width of the 18-yard box (see picture 1) in front of their defensive line. This meant asking Sterling and both front men to track back diligently, while also leaving the two visiting full-backs free to exploit space on the flanks. These were sacrifices that Rodgers was willing to take.
By closing the space between the lines it negated the threat of Ross Barkley, Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas (who was their only dangerous presence on the night), leaving Liverpool with the task of defending crosses properly. In total, Everton were allowed to produce a healthy 24 deliveries from wide areas, but few caused problems.
Leading by example, Steven Gerrard was Liverpool's outstanding player, producing one of the most disciplined defensive midfield performances of his career. As seen on picture 2 above, the England captain was prepared to shield the area in front of his two central defenders all night, rarely venturing outside the zone he was so eager to protect.
Aside from being unable to prevent an early Ross Barkley strike and one or two Kevin Mirallas-inspired chances inside the box, Gerrard patrolled with supreme efficiency, snuffing out any hope Everton had of getting service into their striker. As well as making several blocks and interceptions, the captain also produced three tackles, four clearances and seven ball recoveries.
Liverpool have been fantastic from set plays this season, scoring 15 times, more than anybody else in the Barclays Premier League. Against Everton, their excellence was once again rewarded.
Early on Jordan Henderson fired over the bar from a low Gerrard centre, after the midfielder had escaped the attentions of Barkley to receive the ball in the only area of space not occupied by an Everton defender. Liverpool’s opening goal just a few minutes later was similarly well worked.
Here, as shown in picture 3, Gerrard outwits Gareth Barry to get a yard of space, attacking the gap between James McCarthy and Leighton Baines at the near post. This six-yard hole is the area Suarez needs to hit accurately, and he does. It's a wonderful example of set-piece thought, and precision accuracy. To rub salt into the wound, Barry injured Romelu Lukaku by accident in his desperation to get close to the goalscorer.
Liverpool’s front three were magnificent at Anfield, running their markers ragged with some wonderfully fluid and enterprising movement. Although Suarez started as the designated lone striker he would regularly switch places with Sturridge, and vice versa. I also enjoyed the way that whenever the two forwards dropped into the midfield, both wide men would instantly sprint forward to try and get in behind the Everton back four with diagonal runs beyond. This flexibility and ability to create fresh angles tied Everton in knots at times, leaving them confused as to who was meant to be marking whom.
When a manager is forced to reshuffle a successful defence it can lead to miscommunication and confused decision-making, and we saw that on a number of occasions from Everton.
For Sturridge's first goal, although exposed by a fast break, Everton captain Jagielka failed to spot the run of the England striker to his right, keeping his eyes on the man in possession until it was too late.
A few minutes later, for Liverpool's third goal, both Jagielka and Alcaraz stood ball-watching as Sturridge made a simple run between them to latch on to a long straight ball hoisted into the air by Kolo Toure. These were basic errors of concentration. For the penalty, missed by Sturridge, it was Alcaraz who became attracted towards the man on the ball, leaving Sterling free behind him, while Jagielka, desperately out of position, was forced to hold the line and call for an offside that was not on.
It was a night of disappointment for Everton's central defence.
Sometimes statistics can leave a false impression and that was the case at Anfield. Liverpool were clearly the vastly superior side, posing a significantly greater goal threat throughout, but as you can see below they were second best in many areas. This is why numbers alone can never tell the full story.
Liverpool may not have seen as much of the ball as their city neighbours but they bossed this derby from start to finish with a performance of outstanding quality and desire. As a defensive unit the Reds were sound, and going forward the variety and speed of their attacks were too hot for Everton to handle. It was a serious statement of intent from Brendan Rodgers, and his improving side.