Everton 3-3 Liverpool: amazingly open game, and goals from set-pieces

November 24, 2013

The starting line-ups

Positive tactics and awful defending combined to create a goalfest at Goodison Park.

This is Roberto Martinez’s first-choice XI at the moment, with Leon Osman only on the bench.

Brendan Rodgers switched to a cautious 4-3-3 system, with doubts over Daniel Sturridge’s fitness meaning Luis Suarez played alone upfront. Joe Allen came into the midfield, with Jordan Henderson moving right. Jon Flanagan made a rare start at left-back.

This was quite a contest – and while the defending was often terrible, there were also some interesting tactical decisions from both coaches.

Poor defending of set-pieces

The atrocious defending of set-pieces throughout this game had a greater impact upon the result than the overall approach of either side. All six goals came following dead ball situations (with the caveat that one of them, Romelu Luaku’s first goal, was very indirectly from a set-piece) – players were constantly left unattended in goalscoring positions.

It’s not worth going through each individual goal to find fault with individuals, but it’s worth considering that four goals were conceded in situations where man-marking was to blame. Lukaku’s second saw him left completely unattended to head in straight from the set-piece delivery, and the same goes for Sturridge’s late equaliser. Philippe Coutinho found space at the far post for the opener, as did Kevin Mirallas for the first equaliser, both players in oceans of space at the far post.

Individuals were certainly at fault, but one wonders what the reaction would have been had both sides been defending zonally. Even when considering man-marking, it’s not enough to simply blame poor individual contributions, you must also consider the system overall, and both sides utterly failed to defend set-pieces all afternoon.

3 v 3 in the midfield

Everton played their usual formation, but Rodgers’ selection decision showed great respect towards the home side. Not only did he play three men in central midfield, the format of his triangle – Lucas Leiva behind, with Steven Gerrard and Allen ahead – was intended to match Everton in the central zone man for man. Lucas picked up Ross Barkley, while Gerrard battled against his good friend Gareth Barry, and Allen was close to James McCarthy.

It was also interesting that Rodgers used Jordan Henderson on the right, and asked the midfielder to do a strict defensive job on Leighton Baines. It showed Liverpool were nervous about Baines’ threat – arguably a better side, on paper, is to have Henderson central and Victor Moses out wide, but stopping Baines was a major priority. As things turned out, Henderson stopped Baines more literally than Rodgers would have anticipated – an accidental collision saw the left-back forced to depart through injury.

Liverpool’s pressure without the ball was interesting – Luis Suarez got through less work than usual, as Liverpool didn’t attempt to close down the opposition centre-backs. Instead, they let Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin have the ball, before pressing when passes were played into the central midfielders or full-backs.

Lucas v Barkley

The most interesting individual battle of the game was Lucas against Barkley. The Everton youngster was excellent at the head of Martinez’s midfield, dropping deep to collect possession in zones Lucas where didn’t want to follow, and also darting either side of the Brazilian into pockets of space.

Rarely does Lucas look so uncomfortable, and at times he desperately needed more protection from one of his midfield colleagues, as he was forced to cover a huge amount of ground and make some rather desperate tackles. He committed four fouls across the width of the pitch, showing what a huge amount of space he was being forced to cover, and this turned out to be crucial – two of those free-kicks resulted in Everton goals.

Lukaku movement

Lukaku inevitably received attention for his two goals, but the key feature of the Belgian’s play here was his all-round movement. While considered a primarily physical player who battles for aerial balls and sprints in behind the defence, his movement is extremely varied and intelligent, and he caused Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel real problems throughout this game, often dragging them out of the defence to create space for others.

But what was particularly obvious about Lukaku’s performance was how he sucked in other Liverpool players, too. At one point Lucas was forced to retreat beyond his centre-backs to make a covering tackle – inevitably, this left Barkley free. Similarly, Jon Flanagan was drawn into a narrow role to help dispossess Lukaku – this freed up Mirallas for a shot from a right-sided position.

Whenever one of Everton’s three attacking midfielders found space, it was generally because Lukaku had helped occupy the player supposed to be marking him. In a game where Rodgers clearly wanted to match Everton in the full-back zones and in midfield, Lukaku’s movement was vital in creating space for others.

Suarez v Everton defence

It was unusual to see Suarez upfront alone without Sturridge, with whom he’s formed such a potent partnership this season. It felt like the Liverpool side of this time last year, when Suarez was forced to shoulder a huge goalscoring burden and often attempted to take on opponents single-handedly. Liverpool created little from open play, particularly in terms of playing through-balls and getting in behind the Everton defence – whereas at the other end, Simon Mignolet was called into action three times to save one-on-ones.

Great credit should go to Jagielka and Distin for the way they stopped Suarez. Jagielka stuck extremely tight, often following Suarez into deep positions, while Distin played a covering role, often moving across towards the right of the pitch to sweep up. This defensive system wouldn’t have been so effective against a two-man strikeforce, so Sturridge’s omission was crucial.

Liverpool second half collapse

Leading 2-1 at the break, Liverpool’s performance dropped dramatically in the second half. This is becoming a feature of their play – in Premier League matches this season, their first half record is 18 scored and 4 conceded, whereas their second half record is 6 scored and 9 conceded.

Rodgers blamed his side’s poor positioning and passing for the second half dip, but fitness levels must also be questioned.

Changes

The line-ups at the time of Everton's third goal - substitutes are highlighted

The first substitution was enforced, because of Baines’ injury. Martinez took the opportunity to bring on another attacking player, Gerard Deulofeu, in his place. This meant a reshuffle – Mirallas moved inside to become the number ten, Barkley dropped into midfield and Barry shifted out to left-back.

Immediately Everton looked more dangerous on the break, now with three pacey runners behind Lukaku – Deulofeu had a one-on-one chance against Mignolet on a quick counter-attack, as Everton burst through the centre of the pitch with Liverpool’s midfielders nowhere to be seen.

Liverpool changes

Rodgers responded to Everton’s change – and despite Liverpool being 2-1 up at this stage, he made an attacking move. He withdrew Allen and introduced Moses, moving Henderson into the centre of midfield.

This was effectively confirmation that Henderson was only out on the right because of Baines’ threat – Moses’ job was to attack Barry, who hasn’t played left-back regularly in many years.

But it was a curious change given the situation in the game at that point, because it opened up the contest even more. Allen hasn’t been particularly impressive in a Liverpool shirt, but is disciplined positionally, whereas Henderson is more energetic, and about covering lots of ground vertically. Considering Everton had already looked dangerous when bursting through the centre into space, it was a curious change.

And the Everton attacks kept on coming – moments later, Lukaku completely wasted a 4 v 2 situation with an amazingly underhit pass. Liverpool were really struggling deep in midfield, and eventually the pressure resulted in an Everton equaliser.

Rodgers then became even more adventurous at 2-2, taking off Lucas and bringing on Sturridge, as Liverpool went to something more like a 4-2-4, with Coutinho, Suarez, Sturridge and Moses all attacking, and Gerrard and Henderson in the centre of the pitch. Lucas had been struggling, certainly, but removing him for an attacker seemed a crazy decision considering how much space Everton were being allowed in midfield. It wasn’t long before Everton briefly had another 4 v 2 situation with Deolefeu, after Henderson made an error – again it was wasted, but the pressure eventually resulted in Everton going ahead, 3-2.

Latter stages

With Everton ahead, Martinez went defensive – he removed Pienaar and brought on an additional centre-back, John Stones. He was worried by the situation at the back against the SAS, without a spare man – especially because of the way Jaglieka and Distin had been defending. Stones’ introduction meant Everton were 5-4-1, and 3 v 2 at the back.

Eventually, Sturridge’s late header grabbed a point. In a way, he was the supersub – but really, it was Rodgers’ substitutions that had left Liverpool desperately searching for a late equaliser in the first place.

Conclusion

One of the most entertaining Merseyside derbies in years. It’s worth remembering that last season’s 2-2 draw at Goodison Park was also very exciting, and similarly had drama from beginning to end – but this was much more open, and the identity of the managers can’t be ignored. Both coaches want their team to be proactive and play passing football, whereas the days of Moyes v Benitez often produced much cagier contests.

Both sides had chances to score more, but Everton were the better side – they created clearer opportunities in open play, including three good one-on-one chances which forced Mignolet into some fine saves. Lukaku’s movement troubled Liverpool’s centre-backs and dragged other opponents away from their man, helping his teammates find space. Barkley was also very intelligent with his use of space, and Lucas had one of his poorest games for a while – but the solution was surely to give him more support, rather than to remove him.

The Baines injury was actually the catalyst for Everton’s second half improvement – partly because it meant Martinez made an attacking shift very early, and partly because it tempted Rodgers into making a positive substitution while ahead, which created more space for Everton’s quick attacks.


Everton 3-3 Liverpool: amazingly open game, and goals from set-pieces

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