Merseyside derbies are different. People say form goes out of the window when two local teams meet but occasionally so does all sense of, well, everything that you might be expected to display when contesting a “normal” game. Saturday’s game was played out with the accompaniment of a gossamer, thin early morning mist that had drifted over towards Stanley Park from the Mersey however, as has often been the case in the past, it was red mist that affected both sides in this match.
Rafa made a trio of changes restoring Maxi, Lucas and Agger and dropping Riera, Skrtel and Aquilani who is presumably still too precious to be exposed to such rough and tumble! In the first half hour we had the majority of the pressure with a series of free kicks and crosses but they didn’t really produce much. However, the main talking point was the fact this derby reverted to the type of game it does revert to every so often. Neutrals watching the Sky broadcast must have been switching off in their droves but Liverpool and Everton fans were probably rapt!
It was a desperately fractious affair where taking a moment to calm down simply didn’t exist as both sides tore at each other. Tackles were bad, numerous, high, often cynical, late and, in the case of Kyrgiakos on Fellaini, two footed. The Greek’s sending off was deserved if only for the effect it had on his assailant. Fellaini limped off and played no further part. However in the same move Fellaini also showed his studs, unceremoniously digging them into the Greeks shin not to mention, earlier on, using the same foot ware to make unnecessary contact with Dirk Kuyt’s head! On reflection a card each (you decide the colour) was the correct decision?
It’s easy to say this as we won but it’s annoying that we lost our discipline and shape and so early in the game. It’s annoying for Kyrgiakos who, after an unimpressive start, seemed to have really found his feet in the side giving us options at set pieces and displaying a up and at ‘em fighting spirit that would have been made for this game. It’s also annoying that earlier on Pienaar’s equally appalling tackle on Mascherano, with the referee in full view, did not result in a similar punishment. However, that is the way of things and perhaps the timing of Kyrgiakos tackle in terms of the game was unlucky? The referee, after number of similar incidents, felt he had to make his mark? Perhaps a positive, firmer approach earlier in the game might have snuffed the trouble out? Equally, due to the nature of the occasion, one can understand why he let so many tackles go. Overall it was a difficult tightrope to tread and on balance (no pun intended) Atkinson managed to negotiate it reasonably well.
After the sending off Everton assumed control and took over possession however not before Gerrard had cleverly won a free kick and then promptly plonked his effort over a desperately failing Howard onto the top of the bar. Our best chance of a goal given the circumstances? In injury time Cahill missed an open goal from a diving header a golden chance which was spurned. May be it was to be our day after all?
No doubt the half time talk would have been interesting. With ten men and the prospect of tired bodies perhaps we would simply opt to contain Everton? Inevitably we would have to concede some areas of the pitch to them, for example Gerrard dropped back to a more defensive role However, the visitors appeared clueless as to what to do and ultimately missed their chance. Kuyt and Cahill both went close at each end and soon after we won a corner. Kuyt tussled with the keeper and Phil Neville before the kick but when Gerrard pinged it over with pinpoint accuracy neither Everton player, for all their bluster, were able to deal with it leaving the Dutchman to nod in, via a jack knife type contortion of his body, his fiftieth Liverpool goal.
It was a foothold that in all honestly no one should have expected. Quite what this will do to our confidence going forward remains to be seen however in his game we visible grew as much as the visitors dithered? It’s debatable as whether we expected Everton to be as ineffective however, surely our determination to thwart them, and their confidence at having a man extra, was affected by Kuyt giving us something to look after? The defence snuffed out moves and displayed a rearguard far removed from the jittery hesitant performances earlier in the season. Above we showed the discipline lacking in both sides in the first half, kept possession and gave others an excellent example on how to deal with being a man down even as far as introducing Ryan Babel who was able to hold the ball up and run with it and distract Everton from their key task of trying to menace our defence.
Everton resorted to replacing their entire forward line after 70 minutes. The game had calmed down as had the crowd who were just wishing Liverpool to hang on or depressed because Everton hadn’t made the most of their advantage. At times it was attack against defence but we were never unduly troubled. There was a minor skirmish caused by Gerrard’s unintentional follow through on Pienaar. Although Gerrard was booked the way we all sprung to the Captains defence as Everton, in particular Anichebe, tried to physically remonstrate with him showed just how determined and together we were?
At the death Reina saved well from Yakubu on the turn. Anichebe had a great chance but delayed and allowed Lucas to slide in leaving Reina to tidy up. Rafa swapped personnel in an effort to waste time and Pienaar was sent off right at the death, for an innocuous challenge on Gerrard. It restored numbers but as it turned out we didn’t need it. Everton had fluffed their chance; we had taken ours and, given the results of those around us, secured, for once, a very good weekend.
Liverpool: Reina, Agger, Kyrgiakos, Insua, Carragher, Gerrard, Maxi (Aurelio 90+2), Mascherano, Lucas, Kuyt (Skrtel 90+6), Ngog (Babel 63) Substitutes: Cavalieri, Aurelio, Degen, Skrtel, Aquilani, Riera, Babel
Everton: Howard, Baines, Heitinga, Distin, Neville, Donovan, Cahill, Pienaar, Osman (Yakubu 72), Fellaini (Arteta 40), Saha (Anichebe 72 ), Substitutes: Nash, Senderos, Coleman, Bilyaletdinov, Arteta, Yakubu, Anichebe