Sunday sees us make our annual visit to the Tin Mine to play a Liverpool outfit once again awash with ‘upheavel’ on and off the pitch. If we are to finally end our Anfield hoodoo we will need to show more belief and potency as an attacking force than we have in recent trips across the park…..
The Blues clearly have a mental block playing at Anfield. We haven’t won here since 1999, and in truth we haven’t even had many close calls. We have scored just once in our last four trips across the park in the league and in all but one of these displays we have showed Liverpool too much respect, played incredibly cautious and in many cases suffered from a lack of belief which belied our form and league position going into these games. Last year was a classic example. On a great run of form with better players for the first time in years and with Liverpool in the doldrums along with a man advantage we created little, mustering just 2 shots on target inside Liverpool’s 18 yard box and displaying a general lack of incision in the opponents half shown in the below chalkboard. Indeed, in the 3 previous trips prior to last year we accrued just 2 shots on target from inside Liverpool’s 18 yard box in total as shown in the below chalkboard. Our strategy at Anfield is usually to go for a point with great emphasis on keeping shape, being defensively resolute and not committing men forward. This would explain why in 9 games at Anfield in all competitions under Moyes we have drawn 5 and lost 4, with all but one of the 5 losses being decided by one goal.
Last 4 Anfield Derbies – Everton shots on target
Last year’s Anfield derby below – with 10 men Liverpool played a rigid, deep 2 banks of four close together allowing us possession in midfield but playing compact and intercepting when we tried to thread a pass through as shown by the interceptions below.
If we have the ambition of getting three points on Sunday Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman will be the key men. One of the key reasons for our failings at Anfield has been our reluctance to over commit bodies into the opposition half and get in behind the host’s defence. In Baines and Coleman we have players who have the beating of their opponents and have great pace in behind. Our last game against Spurs was characterised by us getting the ball into the box with greater regularity than any other game this season and Baines and Coleman where key to this, delivering 9 of our 22 crosses. In our last 4 visits to their place we have successfully delivered just 6 crosses from open play, most of which from non threatening areas and not the by-line. Everton’s potent left side will look to exploit Liverpool’s vulnerable right side, with the erratic Glenn Johnson well known for neglecting his defensive duties as was shown in the recent 0-3 reverse at Blackburn when all 3 goals came down the right side as shown below. Liverpool’s selection will be interesting here as against Blackpool on Wednesday night Johnson was deployed at left back with the more defensively astute Kelly at right back.
Liverpool’s right sided frailty
If Moyes sticks with 4-4-2, a similar approach to the Tottenham match with a high tempo pressing game will be required from the beginning. With it being a derby game this factor should take care of itself. One of the most frustrating aspects of reason matches across the park has been Liverpool winning the physical war early on, with the ‘Carra’ reducer on Pienaar in the first couple of minutes last season being a prime example. In the last 4 Anfield derbies, Liverpool have out tackled us on every occasion averaging a whopping 62% tackles success against us. We need to hit the ground running and Saha and Beckford will need to both press Liverpool’s centre halves, in particular Agger who can dictate possession and feed midfield if given the chance. I would expect Liverpool to open up 4-5-1 which will give them a man advantage in midfield over the Blues. This will mean the Reds will see more of the ball which they are accustomed to at home matches where they currently average 55% of possession. This is something that we dealt with well against Spurs though, with our two wide midfielders tucking in to form a compact bank of 4 when the opposition are on the ball, shown nicely in the below screenshot. Liverpool’s wide midfielders both play very narrow, in particular Maxi who cuts in a lot so don’t be surprised if the game develops into a midfield tussle.
Everton’s compact midfield when not in possession
Our loveable friends from across the park may be languishing below us in the league and having a truly woeful campaign, but whilst their away form is relegation standard (accruing just 5 points) their home form is still Champions League qualification standard with a 20 point haul picked up at home and just 8 goals conceded in 10 games. With Gerrard injured though, Liverpool is minus their chief inspiration and main creator with 4 assists. After Gerrard, Meireles has 2 assists and will take most of the set plays right footed. There is a general lack of creativity in this very workmanlike midfield however. Lucas has again won plaudits for his displays from opposition fans this campaign and his feeble, winey face is up there with Diouf as the Premier League’s most annoying. His tackling matches this weasely exterior and he has statistically lost more tackles than any player in the league, with his season average currently only just above the 50% marker as opposed to our own Marouanne Fellaini who on current form is hitting 83% success rate.
‘King’ Kenny’s return has been heralded with much vitriol by expectant Liverpool fans in a remarkably similar manner to ‘King’ Kevin Keegan’s second coming at Newcastle some years ago. You would expect a more adventurous approach from the Scot in comparison to his predecessor Woy’s dour brand of football. It’s very debatable though whether he has the players at his disposal to play an expansive game, and as Blackpool showed on Wednesday night they have a severe fragility in defence. As mentioned above, I fancy them to line up 4-5-1 with Cole behind Torres if fit. If Cole is unfit then Meireles will play in the hole with Poulsen most likely to start behind him in central midfield.
Much will hinge on Moyes selection and his strategy. Does he go for it and open up 4-4-2 pressing high up field? Or will he go like for like with an extra man in midfield and look to keep things tight in the hope of nabbing a point? Our best displays this term have come when we have pressed high up field and taken the game to the opposition and with just 1 clean sheet in our last 12 I think attack could be the best form of defence this weekend. I still think Moyes will play things cautiously and not go gung ho, and with 54% of our away games drawn this campaign I’m going for a 1-1. COYB!