Teams & Setup
Potentially fearing a tonking after last season’s shellacking and this season’s defensive problems, Martinez deployed a more cautious looking side from our last league game.
Tony Hibbert started at right back with John Stones deployed at centre back meaning Distin was left out of the squad altogether. Besic came in for his league debut on the left side of a sort of midfield diamond with McCarthy right, Barry in between and Naismith at the attacking point. Lukaku and Mirallas started as the wide forwards on the left and right respectively. Libepewl played something like 4-2-3-1 with Lallana playing off Balotelli with Sterling (left) and Markovic (right) in the other attacking midfield spots.
Whereas last season we played a high line and left the space in behind for Liverpool to run into, this season the approach was to defend deeper, pretty much on our 18 yard line, and look to play on the break with quick, direct passes into the channels for Lukaku and Mirallas. The approach was a bit strange given that Liverpool – with the exception of Sterling – lacked any real pace in their forward positions and that other sides have made decent gains against them this season by capitalising on this by pushing up and squeezing them in their own half.
Off the ball our defensive game plan was put under pressure by a frantic first 20 minutes from the home side. Despite having 2 defensive minded midfielders either side of him, you would have to describe Barry’s first half output as ‘extremely iffy’ to coin a tactical term. Booked after just 2 minutes, he gave away daft fouls in dangerous positions with Balotelli doing a good job at unsettling him when in possession leading to him losing the ball a fair bit in dangerous areas. It’s hard to remember our midfield arl arse having a worse game in a blue shirt. Barry apart I thought we did ok to repel Liverpool in the first half with Stones looking assured and covering well when Liverpool did threaten to get in behind us.
They’re clearly not the side they were last season and without the racist they find it hard to pull defenders out of positions which makes it easier to keep them at arm’s length. Yes they had 20+ shots but the majority from Balotelli were not really in great positions and clear-cut chances were few and far between. Sterling was the only player who really seemed capable of unlocking us with his ingenuity, giving Hibbert his second roasting in a week after Swansea’s Montero tore him apart in midweek.
On the ball we created virtually nothing in the first half, or the entire game for that matter. Baines received hardly any decent service in the Liverpool half, and struggled to get into the game in an attacking sense. The most frequent pass of the game was Besic to Baines (20 times) however the bulk of these where in our own half where he could do little damage. On the right Hibbert didn’t want to get too far up the pitch for fear of not being able to get back and mostly focused on trying to get the ball down the flank to Lukaku. The Belgian did have the physical beating of Moreno on the right however the service to him was few and far between, and with the exception of a few bulldozing runs the usual shortcomings of his game in terms of linking play were again laid bare.
Prior to halftime our task going forward became more complex when Kevin Mirallas – one of the few who usually turns up in derbies – succumbed to a hamstring injury, much to the pleasure of the Libepewl faithful. With creative duo Pienaar and Barkley both injured too we were now without our first choice attacking midfield trio, and it showed.
Martinez seemed to be fairly happy with a point – Moyes style – and showed no signs of making any attacking tweaks to his system or personnel. On the hour mark Liverpool brought off the anonymous Markovic and deployed Coutinho through the middle with Lallana moving to the left and Sterling to the right.
Gerrard, now unable to influence games in any capacity other than deadball situations, was then given his opportunity to make his mark. Balotelli forced Barry into another mistake on the edge of the centre circle and the Italian then collapsed in a heap under a seemingly timid challenge from Baines. As is usually the case against us, Gerrard didn’t miss his opportunity and then went on a bizarre celebration reminiscent of Bill Murray in Kingpin.
With Liverpool now buzzing, Hibbert was again done up like a kipper by Sterling, this time resulting in Howard getting something on Balotelli’s goal bound shot. Martinez was finally sprung into action, replacing Hibbert and Besic with the fresher more attacking legs of Browning and Eto’o.
It was developing into an ending nearly as horrific as the one in Requiem for a Dream for Everton fans when , before you could utter the words UP YOURS MICK QUINN, Phil Jagielka controlled a loose second ball and unleashed chaos with a 25 yard blockbuster into the roof of Mignolet’s net.
This was as far removed as you could possibly get from the flamboyant Everton we have seen going forward this season, albeit our offensive options were severely limited by injuries. As an attacking force we were awful, as was the manager with his tactics and inability to really jump-start us to life with any changes from the dugout.
At the back, however, we were much improved and the shape seemed more solid with the extra defensive midfielder to support the backline. Finding a balance between the two has been Martinez major problem this season and we still don’t seem any closer to finding it, however this was a good point given that Liverpool were the better side and based on how little we created in the final third.
Hopefully this can now be the catalyst for us to go on a decent run, starting in Russia later this week.