When they say the derby throws out the form book, they were totally right.
Lallana was brilliant throughout the half, drawing a foul from Gareth Barry a minute into the game and having a brilliant header that Howard saved. Then, we piled on the pressure, testing Howard who was, surprise surprise, on form today. Barry handled the ball in the box, but no penalty was given; he really should have been sent off for a 2nd yellow. Everton did have a shout for a penalty too, when Lukaku out-muscled Moreno, and the little Spaniard grabbed onto the Belgian’s arm.
The game settled into one of Everton possession for about 10 minutes, then Liverpool were on the ascendency, probing and probing. Despite their worst defence of the league this year, Everton managed to repel us time and again, packing the box with practically every player. They left Naismith and Lukaku high up to run at us in counter-attacks whenever we lost the ball, which was quite a bit.
But Everton failed to combine meaningfully, and bar a few half-chances, we didn’t see much threat from Everton. Liverpool had a fair few good chances, mostly from the good play from Lallana and Henderson pressing. Moreno and Manquillo continued providing good crosses and cutbacks that Enrique and Johnson never provided, and Balotelli was always either in the wrong position, or just missing it. Everton defended that box well though, and a breakthrough didn’t look very likely.
Markovic was quiet once again, and declined to shoot when he had the chance. The next time he got on the ball though, he promptly skewed one wide. Skrtel also pulled up with an injury, but shook it off with some treatment at the sidelines. Thankfully he did, or we would only have Toure on the bench to replace him.
I don’t know why Rodgers continues to freeze Sakho out. Frankly, either he doesn’t rate Sakho, or Sakho was a opportunistic buy last season, recommended by the transfer committee, and Rodgers would rather trust his own choice in Lovren. Either way, we’re wasting that man’s talent. He’s keeping Mangala and Koscielny out of the French national team for crud’s sake. And all that criticism of him in the media; Lovren and Gerrard both headed the ball poorly in today’s game, but since neither led to a goal, it wouldn’t be scrutinised. But Sakho got a ton of flak for heading the ball where we would expect a midfielder to be.
Instead, there were none, just like today, with an absentee midfield. Gerrard kept going up the pitch, leaving a HUGE gap in the middle of the park. Henderson had to drop deep to pick up the ball from the centre-backs, and once even Lallana did. If Gerrard is the holding midfielder of the day, then he jolly well get better positional sense instead of trying to make something happen higher up the pitch. And frankly, he still has the ability, so why not let him go at it higher up the pitch, and play Lucas as our defensive midfielder? Gosh.
Luckily, Naismith was not exploiting that space left by Gerrard, so we’ve been sort of lucky in that respect. Balotelli needs to either get higher up the pitch (which he actually doesn’t prefer), or we need to bring on someone to stay high up the pitch (which was Markovic’s job, but he’s been poor). Let’s hope we don’t tire too quickly after that League Cup match against Middlesbrough.
The 2nd half started slowly compared to the hectic 1st, and we continued to just about edge the contest. Balotelli did well to win a free-kick at the edge of the box after stealing the ball from Everton to start the move, and Gerrard sent the free-kick right into the net. It was a great goal, but it would once again mask the defensive deficiencies in our captain’s game. His last 17 goals have come from set-pieces, and that’s about the only contribution he has on the pitch from the holding role.
But maybe Rodgers talked to him at half-time, because he was far more positionally aware in this half, staying in the space and not vacating it willy-nilly. We had some good interplay, and Markovic was hooked early for Coutinho who contributed to the nice passing passages. Sterling continued to burn Hibbert for pace, and made a cross for a brilliant chance, only for Howard to somehow save from Balotelli.
Balotelli continued to work hard, chasing back to win balls, and trying to shoot from distance. I don’t blame his lack of runs into the box; he’s always been a striker who likes to drop deep, not a penalty-box presence. He needs a strike partner to really show his talent, and that would be Sturridge had he not been injured on friggin’ England duty.
We defended okay, mostly because Everton seemed clueless in attack. We failed to do anything more than probe Everton though, and Howard wasn’t really tested bar the Balotelli chance. Then, as time wound down and the game was about to end, Jagielka fired in an unstoppable missile from range for an undeserved equalizer. I can’t blame our defence for that, so while it was disappointing, I was glad we didn’t concede due to some stupid error.
Top performers for the game were definitely Lallana, Balotelli, Henderson and Sterling. Moreno struggled with Lukaku at the start and at the end, but he generally had a good game too, especially as Lovren picked up on this and got tight to the Belgian. Coutinho still seems a little off-form, while Markovic was anonymous. Manquillo was also quiet, kept busy by McGeady and Mirallas. But he’s a better defender than an attacker anyway, so his flank was quite okay.
Gerrard did score the goal, but again, I think we have to start managing him in games. Put him in attack mode instead of wasting his talent in a holding role. He didn’t contribute that much defensively, was nowhere positionally in the first half, and didn’t get anything going with any long passes. As Benitez noted, Gerrard should be moved further up the pitch the older he got. He would make a brilliant strike partner for Balotelli in my opinion.
With Everton a bit toothless, Lovren and Skrtel had nothing much to do. But I wager if we were playing City today, Silva, Nasri and Milner would have torn us apart with their movement and speed of thought. There’s still a lot of work to do.