This Merseyside Derby won’t be one that will live long in the memory as a tedious tactical joust between Martinez the phenomenal and Brenny the outstanding ended in abject stalemate.
After the 6 goal humdinger last season there was anticipation aplenty that this game could deliver a similar yield of both goals and excitement, although that was probably misguided given that both sides were without key attacking performers from last season. Added to this, the away defence had not been breached once in open play this year whilst we had just recorded back to back clean sheets for the first time this season. All things considered, stalemate was perhaps the more likely outcome.
Still, for us to record just one shot on target, and crucially only create three chances in the entire game – the worst return of any game under Roberto Martinez – was something of a surprise.
High pressure triangle
Obviously sacrificing a forward player (McGeady) for a predominantly defensive one (McCarthy) meant we were more cut out for the defensive side of things than bombing forward. The Irishman started alongside Barry and Besic in a high pressure triangle in the middle of the Goodison midfield and was the pick of the three, winning more first and second balls than any player from either side.
Liverpool have had some joy since the turn of the year by deploying a four man square in midfield and Martinez had clearly done his due diligence. Besic and McCarthy occupied the forward corners of the square (picking up Stevie me and Coutinho respectively) with Barry the spare man on the ball in between the duo.
In terms of pressure, the main approach from us was to allow Sakho to receive the ball and then play on his lack of composure, but it worked only a couple of times. Mostly we let Liverpool have the ball in their half and allowed coma-inducing sideways shuffler Allen to knock balls to and from his centre backs. It was only when it was pinged into Gerrard (apparently playing in his last Derby)and Coutinho when Besic and McCarthy quickly engaged to close the spaces down.
Gerard’s passing was as slack as Henderson’s jaw at times, but luckily Brenny’s sentimentality kept him on for the full 90 despite Coutinho creating more openings in half the time of his leggy colleague.
Overall Liverpool had more quality on the ball to get from the halfway line into our box than we did, albeit Robles was barely forced into a serious save all afternoon.
Sadly our endeavour off the ball wasn’t matched by our quality on it, particularly in the final third.
The main forward pass (Barry to Lukaku) was sprung ten times, however this service was largely squandered by the big man. Lukaku struggled to either beat his man or link play effectively with one particularly bad piece of control in the first half after Mirallas had zipped one into his feet 25 yards from Liverpool’s goal costing us a decent opportunity to hit Liverpool on the counter. At other times the timing of his runs was equally erratic, often going too quick and leading to him being caught offside 4 times.
Naismith is great at finding space and doing the donkey work for the Belgians, but with the ball at his feet in the final third he comes up short too, and he lost possession more than any player on the pitch. Mirallas on the right showed a similar lack of thrust in what is usually one of his more enterprising fixtures.
All in all the trio didn’t receive enough ball but when they did the return was poor.
The only time we really stirred was on 78 mins after Jordan ‘Hendo’ Henderson attempted an Ashley Cole style ‘hold me back lads’ kebab shop confrontation on Naismith after Besic had pulled his flick knife on Ibe. The G-Star raw clobbered bell whiff’s plassie hardman act was as transparent as his complete lack of football ability, which seemingly consists of little other than running.
The incident was followed by Barkley coming on for Naismith and a reshuffle which seen Alcaraz coming into the backline and Stones pushing further forward. It was then that we had the game’s best chance with Coleman being superbly played in by Barkley only for Mignolet to impressively repel his goal bound shot.
Given that West Ham are the only side we’ve beaten in the top half of the table I guess a point against Liverpool is good in the context of the season, but overall this wasn’t great fare. Martinez problem all season has been an inability to find the right balance, principally to be able to harness good attacking play with a resolute defence.
We now seem more able to shut up shop -we’ve now only conceded 1 goal in 4 league games – but it has generally been at the detriment of our attacking play with an increasingly feeble return going forward.
Martinez biggest obstacle in being able to successfully jump-start the season is by finding an equilibrium between the two, and ideally sometime in the next month.