Liverpool 4-0 Everton: direct football and Sturridge wide-left helps Liverpool win easily

January 29, 2014

The starting line-ups

Another high-scoring Merseyside derby – but this time, the goals were all at one end.

Brendan Rodgers was without Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger, Mamadou Sakho, Jose Enrique, Joe Allen and Lucas Leiva, so had a patched-up back four, with Steven Gerrard in the deepest midfield role.

Roberto Martinez welcomed back Ross Barkley, but was without both Sylvain Distin and Seamus Coleman.

In an extremely intense, fast-paced match, Liverpool effectively sealed the victory by half-time.

Gerrard plays deep again

It’s probably not the midfield format Rodgers would have preferred, but without both Lucas and Allen, Steven Gerrard sat deep in front of the Liverpool defence, as he did recently against Stoke.

In the Stoke game, Gerrard sat deep primarily to get space in a match where Liverpool were sure to dominate possession, and start attacks. Here his role was more about defensive duties against a technically accomplished side, and he was genuine defensive midfielder rather than a deep-lying playmaker.

This job was a tough task on paper, with Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas moving inside from the flanks to join Ross Barkley, who is excellent at finding space. Gerrard isn’t quite a natural at this role, and he’s reactive more than proactive in the way he interprets it, making last-ditch interception and blocks. In the opening stages he was too frequently dragged into wider zones to stop Kevin Mirallas or Pienaar, which left Barkley free between the lines – notable for the first shot of the game, which Barkley hit marginally over the top from 25 yards.

But Gerrard helped prevent Barkley and Lukaku from linking (until Lukaku departed through injury) – which was Liverpool’s main problem in the reverse fixture, when the usually dependable Lucas endured a terrible game. Gerrard isn’t the most composed defensive midfielder, but after being too impetuous in the opening stages he kept his position well and made crucial interventions. He seemed to improve after he headed in the opening goal. He was also more reliable with his passing than when he played deep against Stoke, showing his focus was more on defence than attack:

Liverpool press

Without (arguably) their best four defenders and their two most disciplined central midfielders, Liverpool had to adapt and defend as a unit. They did this in two separate ways – at the start of the match they pressed high up, putting Everton’s defensive players under pressure and winning possession quickly.

In the second half, they sat much deeper, protected their defence while soaking up pressure, and then looked to counter-attack. They’re essentially opposing strategies, but the work rate of the front players was crucial, with Suarez leading the defensive pressure – his harrying of the Everton defenders for the final goal summed up the approach.

Liverpool attack quickly

It was in a 2-2 draw with Everton last season that Liverpool’s counter-attacking threat first became clear under Rodgers. With Suarez and Sterling pushed upfront and Rodgers shifting to a reactive strategy using pace on the break, it pointed the way for this Liverpool side. Rodgers preached possession football in interviews at Swansea and in his early days at Liverpool, but his attacking players are much more dangerous when attacking immediately.

That’s been the approach when Liverpol have played their best football this season, and was apparent here. In the first ten minutes, for example, Raheem Sterling hit a huge long diagonal ball for Suarez to chase – fully 70 yards, although John Stones made a good recovery tackle. For the third Liverpool goal, Toure hit another long pass over the defence for Sturridge, for a very direct goal.

None of Liverpool’s four goals came following intricate passing moves, and while Rodgers would have preferred the option of Allen or Lucas, the absence of these sideways passers meant this was Liverpool’s best counter-attacking midfield and attack.

Coutinho

Gareth Barry has been one of Everton’s best performers this season, but endured his worst game of the season. He looked off the pace from the beginning, late to tackles and repeatedly being warned by the referee. He was up against Coutinho, who was simply too quick and tricky for the English midfielder, and was involved in many of Liverpool’s best moves.

the Brazilian dribbled inside in the lead-up to a Jordan Henderson volley, then nearly slipped in Henderson with a neat through-ball, then played a pass to Gerrard to strike from distance. This was all within the first 20 minutes, and later he played the assist for Sturridge’s first goal, and the through-ball for Sterling, which won a (missed) penalty in the second half.

Coutinho hasn’t been particularly impressive in big games this season, but this was a fine display – especially from a deeper position in a midfield three, where his defensive performance was almost as notable as his creative contributions. Perhaps this might be the key to finding more consistency from him – he enjoys playing centrally but isn’t involved often enough from a classic number ten position. Here, he was in positions to play through-balls, but could receive possession more easily.

Sturridge v Stones

The most interesting individual clash of the night was down Liverpool’s left. In Coleman’s absence, his replacement Stones might have been expected to play a defensive-minded role, especially with Everton weaker than usual in the centre of defence.

Instead, Stones actually played an even more advanced role than Leighton Baines on the opposite flank, who was dealt with nicely by Sterling. This was extremely brave against an opponent as dangerous as Daniel Sturridge, with Luis Suarez sometimes switching with his regular strike partner, too. Maybe Stones wanted to force Sturridge back into a deeper position, but instead he remained high up the pitch – presumably under instructions from Rodgers, considering this was happening right in front of him on the touchline.

For both managers, this situation is about managing risk. Stones was getting free down the right, repeatedly receiving the ball in advanced positions under little pressure, and helping to overload Aly Cissokho, Liverpool’s weak link. A few promising Everton situations came down that flank, and it seemed the obvious out-ball as the away side tried to get around the Liverpool defence.

But the danger, of course, was that Sturridge was free – and with the centre-backs being pulled around by Suarez upfront, they weren’t in a great position to help if he received the ball on the break. And that’s exactly what happened for Liverpool’s third goal, with Everton conceding cheaply in the centre of midfield, Stones significantly in advance of the ball, and Sturridge all alone to receive a simple but accurate Coutinho through-ball to finish.

Howard sweeping

Another point of interest was two mistakes by Tim Howard when sweeping – he didn’t need to come out for Sturridge’s first goal, and invited a simple lob. Later, his dart off his line was so ill-judged that you could practically see the moment Sterling decided to play for a penalty.

Howard has made a few mistakes in this respect under Martinez – notably when he conceded a penalty and was dismissed against Sunderland, in a 1-0 defeat. This is almost certainly a consequence of Everton playing with a higher defensive line and dominating possession more – he remains a good shot-stopper, but must improve his decision-making when sweeping.

Conclusion

It’s difficult to pinpoint a single reason that won Liverpool this game, but there were a variety of impressive factors: their speed on the counter-attack, Coutinho’s measured use of the ball, Sturridge’s positional bravery and Gerrard’s performance in his deeper position all contributed.

The opening goal was vital, too – a simple header from a set-piece – because that allowed them to play reactively, drawing Everton up the pitch before breaking into space, which is when Rodgers’ Liverpool are at their best.


Liverpool 4-0 Everton: direct football and Sturridge wide-left helps Liverpool win easily

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