Five points on Liverpool 2-1 Everton

April 14, 2012

The starting line-ups

Liverpool fought back from 1-0 down to book their place in the final.

Kenny Dalglish went with Andy Carroll upfront and Luis Suarez behind. Jordan Henderson started on the right of a four-man midfield, and at the back Jamie Carragher was selected at centre-back, which meant Daniel Agger moving to left-back.

David Moyes selected Magaye Gueye on the left of midfield, Darron Gibson in the centre of midfield, and Phil Neville at right-back.

This was a rather poor game lacking in technical quality – the goals came from two huge defensive mistakes and then a set-piece. There were a few individual areas of interest, however…

1. Liverpool’s centre-back partnership disturbed

Jose Enrique hasn’t been performing well in the second half of the season, yet it was still a surprise to see Agger out on the left. In isolation that move worked reasonably well – he defended very tight to the centre-backs, which was appropriate for playing against Leon Osman, who was looking to dart through that space and in behind the defence.

But the knock-on effect was that Liverpool were playing a combination of Carragher and Martin Skrtel at the back. Carragher brings great experience to the side (particularly helpful with the troubles in goal), and is still more than capable of doing a job, but the reality is that Agger and Skrtel are Liverpool’s best partnership. To break up their relationship was an odd move from Dalglish. Admittedly, Agger has been injured recently and Carragher has played alongside Skrtel relatively regularly, but this has (perhaps unfortunately) coincided with a poor run that has included defeats to QPR, Wigan, Newcastle, Arsenal and a home draw with Aston Villa.

The error that led to Everton’s goal rather summed up the lack of understanding, even if it was a rather exaggerated example, and might make Dalglish less willing to break up the Skrtel – Agger partnership.

2. Suarez into the channel

The most interesting battle of the first half was taking place in Everton’s left-back zone. There, Henderson was used rather than Dirk Kuyt, and played the role differently to the Dutchman. Rather than playing high up and making direct runs towards goal, he dropped deeper and looked to pick up the ball in deep midfield positions.

Baines quite likes to get tight to opponents, and generally has to cover quite a lot of ground down his side. He often moved high up the pitch towards Henderson, which left Sylvain Distin covering a large amount of space up against Suarez, who played to the right of the pitch. This was particularly obvious when Liverpool built up play on their right, because Carroll generally stayed at the far post and was therefore keeping Johnny Heitinga busy.

Like the first point, the goal was an exaggerated example of the problems – 99% of the time, Distin wouldn’t have disastrously underhit his backpass. But long before that, at the start of the first half, getting Suarez into that channel was the obvious approach for Liverpool – in fact, it was the only area of open play where either side really looked good. Suarez had been caught narrowly offside in this situation early on, Distin had received a booking for checking him, and had also conceded a free-kick on the edge of the box for fouling him. Every time, Suarez had been moving into the channel rather than down the centre.

But the importance of Henderson dragging Baines away shouldn’t be underestimated. When Downing went to that side, Baines played deeper and more narrow (to show Downing onto his weaker right foot) and this approach was less promising. Downing did play a couple of good crosses, though.

3. Patient passers play well

Darron Gibson and Jay Spearing were hardly the most celebrated players on show, but in a scrappy game, both did well by knocking the ball from side to side, keeping possession and bringing the full-backs into play.

4. Cahill – Fellaini switch

After Liverpool’s equaliser, Moyes swapped Fellaini and Cahill – the former played close to Nikica Jelavic, the latter played close to Gibson. This didn’t seem to help Everton in either respect, though – Fellaini didn’t improve things going forward. Aside from one good flick-on to Jelavic, he made Everton too direct and route one. Perhaps more importantly, Cahill lacks Fellaini’s composure, and Everton became overrun in the middle.

5. Everton left-back problems

Baines went down clutching his hamstring late on, and (possibly coincidentally) Craig Bellamy immediately came on for Downing. Bellamy’s pace was crucial in driving Liverpool forward late on.

Then, at 2-1 Moyes replaced Baines with striker Victor Anichebe, and they didn’t bother to re-shape and play someone at left-back. Phil Neville, for example, could have gone across there with Seamus Coleman dropping to right-back, but instead they literally just played the final few minutes without a left-back and with Distin now covering even more ground. It shouldn’t really have mattered for four minutes, and Everton had to gamble, but then Liverpool just kept the ball towards the right-hand corner flag – and then Suarez teed up Maxi Rodriguez for an open goal from that position.

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