The preamble to the derby was all about visions, passing stats and most excruciating of all ”the Swansea model’ – however in what turned out to be the best derby in recent years it was set pieces and not ‘winning the passing’ that would prove the pre-eminent factor at both ends. Let’s take a look goal by goal.
Everton 0-1 Liverpool – (Coutinho) After just 5 minutes a long sweeping pass from Gerrard to Flanagan was directed out for a corner from Coleman. From the resulting dead ball we can see Barkley (20) is picking up Coutinho (10), but after some nice movement from the Brazilian (and Barkley switching off) Coutinho is able to poke home unmarked. McCarthy’s positioning behind the line is also a tad iffy.
Everton 1-1 Liverpool (Mirallas) Our Belgian winger was in the thick of the action throughout – just as he was in this fixture last season before Suarez put him out of action for 3 months. His first meaningful contribution came after boz-eyed hatchet ogre Lucas downed Barkley (although the free kick was actually given for the earlier foul by Coutinho). From the resulting Baines delivery, Barkley gave Skrtel enough to think about for the defender to direct the ball into the direction of Mirallas who capitalised on some ball watching from Gerrard to get to the ball first and prod home.
Everton 1-2 Liverpool (Suarez) In the build up, Suarez is tackled cleanly by McCarthy – whose energy was a constant throughout this game – before Barry needlessly trods on Suarez whilst the Uruguayan is going away from goal. As good as the free kick is from Suarez, Howard’s wall is crud with the gap between Pienaar and Barry giving a player of Suarez calibre far too much room to pierce.
Everton 2-2 Liverpool (Lukaku) Following his inept miss, the hapless Allen was replaced with Moses meaning that ‘Hendo’ moved inside in what was a really bold move by Rodgers, albeit it removed protection from a back four that was already creaking.
On the ball, Barkley was the game’s top player and his ability to receive in tight areas, drive and dribble into space was a constant problem for Liverpool. It’s also worth noting his adaptability – due to the various reshuffles he played as the number 10 in the first half, the defensive midfield role after the break and in the latter stages left midfield. Again, Lucas couldn’t get near him and was forced to concede a foul. After the resulting free kick was saved by Mignolet, Liverpool defenders are sucked in by the ball which enables Lukaku the space to slot home after McCarthy diverts Mirallas centre into his path.
Everton 3-2 Liverpool (Lukaku) By now Deulofeu was running the Liverpool backline ragged. The Barcelona youth receives the ball from Mirallas – who created more chances than anyone on the pitch – only for Mignolet to deny him at ‘point blank’ range. From the resulting corner, Lukaku is initially picked up by the more physically rigid Johnson, but Mirallas drops his corner on top of the less robust Flanagan to enable Lukaku to attack in something of a physical mis-match and dispatch into the corner. It was particularly encouraging given that one of the weak points that Lukaku has been looking to address in his game is his movement to attack the near post from such dead ball scenarios.
Everton 3-3 Liverpool (Sturridge) By now Liverpool had sent on Sturridge for the atrocious Lucas – another bold attacking move – and we had brought on the added height of Stones to play right back and also Osman in midfield with Coleman moving to right midfield and Barkley moving to the left with Mirallas and Pienaar giving way. After a rash challenge by Distin on Moses Liverpool setup to take a free kick from the right flank. You can see in the screenshots in the top box Sturridge is being picked up by Barkley but then moves in between he and Barry (box 2) to direct Gerrard’s precision delivery into the net. Cue cringeworthy ‘bantz’ celebration.
Whilst the last gasp Sturridge goal made it feel almost like a defeat, the quality of the game and attacking play from both sides was a joy to watch in what was a truly frenetic tussle between two capable sides. From a blue perspective, the best takeaway was how positive we played and how we took the game to Liverpool. After all, we are used to repressive, percentage pragmatism in derbies and a gameplan of essentially hiding behind the couch and waiting til Liverpool score. Here, we were bold, adventurous and took many risks. Perhaps the moment in the match which summed up this cavalier approach (from both sides) was when Lukaku drove into the Liverpool half in a 4v2 break. The Belgian’s awful pass then lead to Liverpool breaking 4 v 3 onto our backline. Just as the previous regime would never have replaced Baines with Deulofeu, there is no way such a ‘last days of Rome’ scenario would have developed 12 months ago.
Looking at some of the data, in last season’s fixture we took on and beat a Liverpool player 8 times – yesterday we did it 17 times. Over the 90 mins we also had 12 shots on target – as a benchmark Spurs average the most shots on target per game in the league this season (6.6). Our ingenuity on the ball in open play was also commendable. Whereas over half of Liverpool’s openings came from set plays, 14 of our 18 openings came from open play with plenty of sumptuous through balls from Barkley, Mirallas and Pienaar.
The only sour point for us was the goals conceded from set plays – all the more bizarre given that we hadn’t conceded one from a free kick of corner all season and hadn’t conceded for just short of six hours going into the game. Concentration and marking from dead balls is certainly something we’ll need to pay attention to especially with set piece knuckle heads Stoke and Mark ‘Ambition’ Hughes next up at L4 on Saturday.