Liverpool continued their fine quest for top 4 in the Premier League by winning the 228th Merseyside derby against Everton at Anfield. Mane, Coutinho and Origi scored for the Reds either side of Pennington’s equaliser for Everton to give us the scoreline of 3-1 in favour of the home side.
Both teams had injury problems leading to this game, Everton without Coleman and Schneiderlin substantially pulling them back. On the other hand, Liverpool were short-handed too with the absence of Lallana and club captain Jordan Henderson.
Koeman was forced to change his formation playing 3 at the back and also starting Matthew Pennington who was featured for the first time this season. The shape was 3-4-2-1 with Holgate and Baines as wingbacks, young Tom Davies and Idriss Gueye in central midfield. The forward line consisted of Lukaku, Barkley and Calvert-Lewin.
Klopp meanwhile didn’t change the formation at all, slotted Lucas in midfield as number 6 and went on with the proceedings. The other 10 picked itself up with Lovren coming back to replace Klavan at the heart of Liverpool defence.
Now, let us analyse the game in bits and pieces, take up defining moments and try to bring out a conclusion:-
Everton started the game with a purpose in early exchanges but dropped off very quickly to defend what Liverpool threw at them and tried to manufacture something on counter-attacks. Maybe the change in formation forced Gueye and Davies to be very cautious in their approach, Barkley was pressed nicely by the Liverpool midfield so he couldn’t get free spaces in between the lines to play Lukaku in.
Liverpool, on the other hand, were slow to start but quickly regained their mojo with pressing in midfield and passing around not to really threaten the opposition but playing themselves in to settle the nerves. Then, came the solo magic from Sadio Mane who ran across the Everton midfield and the central run from Coutinho enabled him to get the shot away to give Reds the lead.
The above image shows the final part of Mane’s goal. The Senegalese ran across the last line of defence and Coutinho’s run inside central forced Pennington to follow him, more importantly, right wingback Holgate (arrowed in the image) also followed the same man which created a lot of space down that left-hand side for Mane to run and shoot. The young wingback didn’t cover himself in glory there, he should have stayed in his position alongside the right-sided centre-back to block the run from the striker. An instance as to why Everton will miss Seamus Coleman so much in coming games.
After few minutes came the Toffees equaliser by a surprise package Matthew Pennington. Liverpool got caught horribly zonal marking to defend a corner. Their definitive problem is once an opposition player wins the first header or a flick on, they are all over the place literally standing and facing their own goal.
The above image shows the corner which got Everton back in the game, once Jagielka won the first header at the near post when Can completely missed him, there were three Liverpool players (all circled) staring at their own goal standing and not reacting to the second ball. Players who reacted were Pennington and Williams from Everton, Lovren anyhow stopped Williams but the young centre-back followed it up to score.
It is simple, basic defending which needs to be done, whatever shape a team plays, if they concede goals in that manner on set-pieces, they won’t be covering themselves in glory for too long.
Moving on, we all built-up pre-match about Romelu Lukaku being the man who can destroy this Liverpool defence, he is the leading scorer in the League and can end Everton’s hoodoo at Anfield. Well, it seems like the Belgian wasn’t even on the pitch for the whole 90 minutes.
If we take a look at his stats of the game, Lukaku had only one touch in Liverpool’s box and no shot on goal throughout the game. These figures just don’t justify his record in the league so far, he got bullied far too easily by Lovren who just came back from injury and played his first game after two months.
Everton offered Lukaku a new contract and the Belgian said he wanted to go to a club which has bigger ambitions than the Toffees and he has to play Champions League football to prove himself. Well, if he really has the ambition to play at the highest level, he needs to perform in big games for Everton first and then even look for other big clubs.
Coutinho meanwhile performed well probably for the first time since his return from injury in January. Brazilian was good in his movements in between the lines and also creating space for others just as he did for the Mane goal. Scored a wonderful goal when Everton allowed him to cut inside to his right foot and shoot. He created 3-4 meaningful chances one which was converted by Origi in the second half.
Barkley had a terrible game and to be honest was lucky to play the amount of time he did. The Englishman was playing in that Number 10 role more often than not to try and link up play between midfield and striker. But to his defence, this was a difficult game for him to dictate his own game.
The above image shows us why Barkley actually struggled at Anfield, with 3 at the back Everton were light in central midfield. Gueye and Davies were forced to stay defensive and it was up to Barkley alone to step up and try to be the linker. But, whenever he had the ball, Liverpool had at least two players around him to press and win the ball back. Lukaku didn’t come back and help him, neither did Calvert-Lewin who was anonymous throughout the game. These things don’t cover Barkley too much, he has to show more desire and will to play more in tough conditions if he wants a “big player” tag on his back.
But, if we see Liverpool and Klopp’s perspective, they should be happy with this performance, they were marred by injuries but the way they dominated Everton tactically and also showed more hunger despite being not at their fluent best, it shows their desire to be at the top end of the table and get Champions League football next season.
For Everton, it is about the mental blockage now and not performing when it matters, Koeman needs to address this quickly. The Toffees have failed to win a single game away to any of the current top six in the league. To special mention, they haven’t won at Anfield since 1999.
By Mizgan on 2nd April 2017
Twitter – @mizgans