Everton 2-0 Liverpool: scrappy Merseyside derby won by the side with more creativity
New owners, but a familiar poor performance for Liverpool, as Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta’s goals won the match.
Everton started with a 4-4-1-1 formation – Johnny Heitinga in midfield alongside Arteta, with Seamus Coleman on the right and Leon Osman across on the left. Phil Jagielka was declared fit, and Yakubu started upfront.
Liverpool’s shape was broadly similar, but the main story was that Steven Gerrard started behind Fernando Torres, with Raul Meireles deeper. Paul Konchesky was fit but Glen Johnson was not, so Jamie Carragher moved to right-back.
The game started in fairly typical Merseyside derby fashion – lots of tackles flying in, no midfielders being allowed time on the ball, and little technical quality from the flair players. Heitinga was high up the pitch compared to his positioning against Manchester United, being well involved in the midfield battle.
Fernando Torres looked to make runs off the back of Sylvain Distin rather than Jagielka, whilst Gerrard was finding some space between the lines, but was rarely receiving any good service. Yakubu started the game brilliantly, using his strength to shrug off challenges, both holding the ball up and running towards goal.
Difference in winning ball back
The two sides have different natural tendencies. Roy Hodgson likes his sides to sit back and quickly form two banks of four, waiting for opposition sides to come onto them before breaking up attacks in the last 20-30 yards of the pitch.
Everton are more proactive at winning the ball, pressing higher up the pitch with a more energetic form of defending. This style lent itself well to this fixture – a frenetic, high-tempo battle – and Everton were simply much better at putting pressure on Liverpool players and gaining possession in more advanced positions.
This can be observed in the Chalkboard below – Liverpool intercepted a pass only once in the opposition half, whilst Everton did so six times, four of which were in the opening twenty minutes. There are other ways to win possession through pressing, of course – by tackling or by forcing the opponents into misplaced passes, for example – but this shows the difference in mentality nicely.
Coleman the only player who took players on
Liverpool’s wide players played extremely narrow, always looking to come inside into the centre of the pitch, rather than going down the outside and taking full-backs on. Joe Cole is currently very predictable – he doesn’t have the confidence to dribble with the ball, nor to shoot from difficult angles – and doesn’t have the left-footed quality to get to the byline on his left flank. Therefore, he constantly receives the ball in decent positions, cuts onto his right foot and sends in a cross. Granted, one of these found Torres for a headed half-chance that was tipped over by Tim Howard, but in general his approach brings little to the side.
Maxi Rodriguez on the other flank was similarly coming inside, though he prefers short passes rather than long crosses. The concerning statistic here is that despite coming into the centre, he didn’t complete a single pass to Torres, which makes you wonder quite what is job is, if he is neither getting crosses in nor linking up with the main striker. On the other hand, he defends very well.
For Everton, Osman was on the ‘wrong’ side but kept width well, only coming inside to allow Baines forward – but there was a stark difference between Coleman and the three other wide players on the pitch – they all wanted to come inside and pass, whilst he wanted to take people on and get balls into the box. He created the opening goal with this attitude – he beat two men and got a cross in, and Cahill arrived typically late and smashed the ball into the net.
Liverpool didn’t have cohesion between the lines, particularly with regard to Torres and the midfield. The problems with he and Maxi have already been outlined, but in truth the whole Liverpool side was playing too deep, meaning he had no-one to link up with, and the service to him often consisted of hopeful long balls. His ‘challenges’ chalkboard below is a sea of red dots; two factors – Torres’ lack of sharpness and the poor service to him can take roughly equal blame. The more the game went on, the more Torres and Gerrard dropped deeper towards the other eight players, when the eight should have been coming towards them.
There was a simple lack of creativity and invention from Liverpool’s attacking players. Gerrard did not have a poor game – his passes were forward-thinking and he got himself into good positions. Meireles also did OK – nothing spectacular, but for the player that he is (basically a box-to-box midfielder) he gave a sound performance. In fact, no Liverpool player was singularly disastrous, there just seemed to be a lack of confidence and a lack of a cutting edge overall. The Chalkboard of Liverpool’s passes is remarkable – it’s as if there is an invisible brick wall 25 yards out across the width of the penalty area.
Of course, focusing purely on Liverpool’s failings overlooks the good defensive job Everton did. The second goal, an Arteta toe-poke after a corner, seemed to settle the game early in the second half. They dropped deeper as the game went on, fairly confident they could withstand Liverpool pressure. With the Everton wide midfielders given more of a defensive task, and asked to track Liverpool’s wide players to a greater extent, space often opened up for crosses from Konchesky and Carragher, but these rarely threatened.
Everton defended solidly but it was far from a vintage performance – it would be fair to say that they didn’t play anything like as good football as in the defeat to Aston Villa, for example, but this game was more about winning tackles and closing down rather than playing pretty football.
Credit should go to David Moyes for a brave late substitution – when Liverpool were really starting to dominate with 15 minutes left, Moyes removed a midfielder (Arteta) and introduced a striker (Jermaine Beckford), and although Beckford’s touch and finishing still look short of Premier League level, the injection of pace and fresh legs upfront meant Everton pushed Liverpool back, easing the pressure.
The game was won by the better side. Everton were superior both with and without the ball, and a rare moment of individual brilliance resulted in the crucial first goal. Everton jump up into midtable, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if, as in the previous two seasons, they recover from a slow start to become a real force by the end of the campaign.
Liverpool’s woes continue, and the alarming aspect of this performance was the overall lack of confidence and creativity from the side, rather than poor individual displays. At least Gerrard and Meireles are being used the right way around and the centre of midfield had a decent feel to it – the trio passed the ball well and Liverpool are better without Christian Poulsen.
The main problems are with Torres and the two wide players – no confidence and little goal threat.Everton 2-0 Liverpool: scrappy Merseyside derby won by the side with more creativity