Liverpool fans were happier than they have been for some time on Monday morning. However, not surprisingly many of the papers saw things differently preferring to concentrate on the fact that Everton let us off the hook or that we were lucky. The Times set the tone.
“Disjointed, bereft of confidence and, arguably most importantly, without Fernando Torres, the only genuine front-running outlet on their books, Liverpool were second best for long spells …… Rarely can the derby-day bragging rights have been taken with so little to brag about.”
In the Guardian David Moyes was equally as magnanimous…
“Until they made it 2-0 I can’t remember them having a single other chance, apart from one header in the first half….. I don’t know how many times Liverpool had been in our half before the first goal but it wasn’t many.”
And on it went, only Rafa seemed to think our win might be worth something…
“Derbies are always difficult and important and to win could be a boost for the rest of the season. We are higher in the table now and we will see if we can keep winning. This could be a turning point.”
Rather than speculate or hope that we have turned a corner it is of course up to Rafa and his team to ensure that this is the case. Despite the win one can’t help still feel worried about the performance. Everton dominated for long periods but in fairness they were the home team so were expected to attack? Perhaps because of this we defended and allowed them too much of the ball and were content to let them on to us? Although Everton had plenty of possession a lot of their moves did break down in the final third. Was this down to their lack of imagination, they used the long ball a lot, or a sign that we are slowly beginning to find our defensive footing? There were exceptions to this most notably Reina’s double save from Cahill and Fellini. Rafa was 100% correct to complement his keeper after the game. Indeed it is a complement that should have been paid a lot earlier. I’ve lost count of the number of times he’s baled out his back four with some last gasp stops.
“Today Pepe showed he is a world class goalkeeper. We had to defend a lot of throw-ins, free-kicks and corners against a team that is good in the air, and that is not easy. It was not only his saves but the way he helped his defenders, too. When we signed Reina we knew he was a good goalkeeper but he is learning and improving all the time. For me, he is one of the best keepers in the world and he showed that again today.”
The rest of the defence remains a mystery, a cause of optimism occasionally but mainly one for concern. We’ve now kept two consecutive clean sheets and credit where credit is due Everton, despite their possession, could not punch a hole through us and suffered only their second home league defeat since being mauled by Arsenal on the opening day? All the same one wonders about the defence. Good chances were created by the opposition in Budapest and at Goodison but was it more to do with the paucity of Debrecen’s and Everton’s finishing than our tight man marking that we didn’t concede?
So what has changed? The line up isn’t much difference from last seasons where on the whole we defended well. Injuries have made their mark and as a result Sami Hyypia’s experienced back up has been sorely missed. Insua is still learning and Kyrgiakos, despite his experience, appears to be having difficulties acquainting himself with the rough and tumble of Premiership. Skrtel appears to have gone backwards since his injury and Agger is still striving for consistency after a long lay off. Even Jamie C has had the odd lapse although he was immense on Sunday.
One wonders if we are indulging Glen Johnson’s penchant for going forward too much. Although Johnson has proved very effective and added a new dimension to our attack, has the knock on effect been too much and upset the balance at the back? It might also spread to midfield, our line up on Sunday was very defensive. Bedsides the back four we had Lucas, Mascherano and Aurelio. None of these players are particularly well known for their attacking creativity which perhaps explains our lack of chances? Aquilani would have provided this, although we’ve only got reputation to go on at present? Sadly Rafa still prefers to keep him back like an expensive wine someone is saving for a special occasion! He occasionally takes it down from the rack looks at for a few minutes (or 21 – the length of time he’s played for us so far) and puts it back into long term storage! Time to crack open the bottle Rafa?
The widespread theory is that this season Rafa is scarifying defensive cover it favour of a more offensive Liverpool. However, that is no good if the balance of the team is upset and goals scored at one end are netted off or exceeded by those conceded at the other? The back four has had problems right from the start of the season so surely it is time to get back to good old fashioned basics with the defence concentrating on what it should do, rather than bombing forward, until the problem is resolved. Hopefully a back four that is actually a back four will mean that one of the more defensive midfielders can be scarified (sorry Lucas) for a creative force (Aquilani)?
Many thought the Mancs win was a turning point for us but this proved to be a false dawn. Will the Everton victory provide it? It might but perhaps there is more work to do with the side, all the way through, rather than just idly hoping that after Sunday things will automatically fall into place?