Everton made one enforced change from the Birmingham victory, with Heitinga replacing the injured Fellaini, with the Dutchman playing in a more advanced role than his recent forays as an anchor man, lining up in a 4-4-1-1 system. Liverpool matched up with a similar system for the first 70 mins, but with Gerrard providing the closest support to Torres, switching places with Meireles. The much maligned Lucas occupied the deeper midfield role.
High Tempo Opening
The game was a classic derby encounter, fast and frenetic from the opening with little in terms of quality on display. The Blues started the game at a relentless pace, playing a high tempo pressing game in the opposition half, led by forwards Yakubu and Cahill, who showed great strength and determination to hold the ball up and bring midfielders into play. Liverpool were unable to match the endeavour of their opponents and were caught in possession on numerous occasions in the first half. The Blues have played better football this season, notably away to Villa where they chalked up 372 successful passes. Here they recorded just 163, but it was the work off the ball which won the game. The Blues opening goal came from one such occasion, with Everton winning back possession before Coleman beat 2 men before finding the talismanic Cahill who slotted at the near post, an identical goal to the Blues first against Tottenham last season following a similar penetrative dart from the raw Irish talent. Coleman offered the most potent threat from the 4 wide players on show. His game is setup to dribble, take on players and provide crosses from the bye-line, which is something of a rarity to the modern trend for wide players to cut in and support the forwards centrally. Everton’s joy down Coleman’s flank is shown in the below diagram. Nearly half of their attacking movement was channelled down the right, a surprise as the left has been the focus of most of Everton’s attacking joy this campaign.
Liverpool’s meltdown has been well documented in the media, and this game highlighted how low they have sunk. In previous derby’s, and in particularly at Goodison, Everton have been out passed to the point were they have struggled to maintain sustained pressure of any note in their opponents half. However, this crop of players from across the park is ill equipped to do so, and Torres again cast an isolated figure today. The Spaniard, perhaps mindful of previous encounters with Jagielka when he has been well marshalled, made most of his runs towards the right side onto Distin, but the Everton stopper was having an inspired afternoon and restricted the misfiring forward to minimal output. In truth, Liverpool’s midfield with the exception of Gerrard did little to support him. Maxi and Joe Cole’s brief was surely to tuck in and get close to Torres and provide traction along with Gerrard. Both wide men cut in from their flanks regularly, but neither was able to offer real support to the forward. Cole in particular looks a spent force, low on confidence and seemingly unable to impact games at present.
Everton in control
Amazingly, Liverpool started the second half looking even more uneasy at the back, as Everton again pressed them high up the pitch. It was this pressing which led to the Blues corner which, following a half clearance, was spanked home by Arteta. The diminutive Spaniard’s slick passing game isn’t suited to the intensity of a derby where time and space is minimal, and he had a quiet game by his usual standards, but this goal was massive. Everton looked like they were going to wrap the game up straight from the restart, but this was to proceed Liverpool’s best sustained period of possession in their opponents half in the match. Everton clearly dropped deeper, appearing happy to allow Liverpool to have the ball 30 yards from goal, a theory which would imply Moyes was confident that Liverpool would not breach their backline. The theory was proved correct as Liverpool were unable to penetrate the Blues defence and were forced to punt long shots at Howard’s goal with no success. Liverpool switched to 4-4-2 with Gerrard playing more withdrawn and Ngog up top with Torres with twenty minutes to go. Everton lost Arteta, Heitinga and Osman to injury and shifted Neville into the midfield to protect the back line, and went like for like for the final stages, with Beckford joining Yakubu up front and Cahill dropping into midfield. The introduction of Beckford helped stem the tide, providing the Blues with an out ball behind Livepool’s defence and helped Everton to move further up the pitch.
Everton were deserved winners in a relatively poor quality game between two sides struggling for early season form. With 3 clean sheets on the spin Everton now have the platform to pick up points in the league, and in Arteta and Cahill they have genuine match winning players. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Blues went on a similar run of form as they have in recent seasons and put pressure on the leading clubs. For their neighbours from across the park, it was a sad end to a frenetic week where the club’s circus-like management has continued to drag its name well and truly into the gutter. Based on this display it could be a long season for them.