The match was billed as the biggest Merseyside derby since the 80s. Based on the stats and the positioning of both the sides, it certainly was. Rodgers’ Liverpool and Martinez’ Everton were having impressive campaigns, with both sides fighting it out for that coveted Champions League spot. The two sides played out a 3-3 draw earlier in the season, a match which some considered to be the most exciting of derbies in recent seasons. Expectations were high, intensity at another level, passion flaring and two young managers tactical brains put to the test, in the end, the Red side emerged victorious. Here’s a Tactical Analysis of the reverse fixture.
Liverpool 4-0 Everton
Liverpool: Mignolet; Flannagan (Kelly 73′); Skrtel; Toure; Cissokho; Gerrard; Henderson; Coutinho (Alberto 79′); Sterling; Sturridge (Moses 72′); Suarez
Everton: Howard; Stones; Jagielka; Alcaraz; Baines; Barry; McCarthy; Barkley (McGeady 76′); Mirallas; Pienaar (Osman 45′); Lukaku (Naismith 25′)
Goals: Sturridge (33′ , 35′), Gerrard (21′), Suarez (50′)
Everton’s insistence on pushing forward capitalized by Liverpool
When you have two rivals competing with each other, the first goal can help set the tone of the game, and the temperament of the two sets of players as well. Within the first 3 minutes, the returning Ross Barkley took a long range belter on Mignolet’s goal that just missed the top post; had that gone in we may have had a different game. However, it was Steven Gerrard who scored the games first goal to take the initiative.
But the psychological factor of going behind didn’t seem to affect Everton, in fact none of the goals dampened Everton’s insistence on attack. Credit to Martinez’ men for the determination shown in that regard, but that also proved to be Everton’s undoing. Throughout the game the Toffees, kept pushing forward and understandably left gaps at the back. The full-backs in particular were constantly eager to join in the attack. Baines and Stones were always prompt at identifying opportunities to move forward.
This however was excellently capitalized upon by Liverpool; the speed of their counter and the quickness in their passing & movement proved to set the home side a class apart from their opponents. Gerrard and Henderson worked well in a deeper role to counter against Everton’s attack, with much of the play running through the centre (Coutinho in particular). More on that later.
In the above illustration we can see the process leading up to Sturridge’s first goal. Baines (circled in white) has gone forward to join the attack and has failed to return into position. Sterling has offered himself down the right flank, thus prompting Everton’s centre back, Phil Jagielka, to cover the void left by the attacking Baines. Alcaraz replicates this covering to provide some defence for Jagielka’s movement. John Stones can be seen on the near side of this illustration; again, the full-back has ventured forward and hasn’t been quicker than Liverpool’s counter to get into place. The result is a gaping hole in the heart of Everton’s defence, one that was adequately capitalized upon by Liverpool. A neat through ball from Coutinho to meet the path of Sturridge’s run.
This attacking philosophy continued throughout the game, with the away side coming out of the blocks in the second half and continuing to keep the ball, even when they went 4 goals down. Commendable approach from Martinez, but slightly irrational as well. Rodgers’ was smart enough to deploy his men to take advantage of this; and who knows, maybe if Martinez decided to sit back and implement a ‘damage control’ approach, Rodgers’ men would have enjoyed more possession, and more opportunities.
The fact that Everton had more possession, is a bit surprising considering the scoreline. But it was that sort of game. Both sides focused on attack. Everton had a whooping 60% possession in the game, with their second half possession peaking as high as 75%. They even managed more passes, attempting a total of 509, of which 432 were completed. Liverpool attempted only 328. A remarkable game when you look at the stats. But the difference between the two sides was clearly in the class of their attacks, Liverpool more clinical, taking their chances as it came by.
Coutinho’s midfield performances, Gerrard & Henderson’s strong display and Barry-McCarthy’s poor defensive cover
Both sides went with a three man midfield and there were some head to head battles to look out for. In the absence of Liverpool’s preferred holding midfielders (Lucas or Allen), Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson deputised in that role. For Everton, it was the usual duo of Gareth Barry and James McCarthy to play in the deeper role. While up ahead of them, Brazilian and English wonderkids, Coutinho and Ross Barkley respectively, were positioned.
With Gerrard in a derby, you’re always bound to get a committed performance. Many fans & pundits were apprehensive about Gerrard playing in that role, following his poor performance there against Villa. Rodgers responded by effectively positioning both Henderson and Gerrard in that role to provide cover to the Liverpool defence.
As a result, both the Englishmann sat deep and almost invited Everton forward, as seen in the above illustration (apologies for the poor image quality). This was the cause of Everton’s superior possession as they were awarded more time in midfield. But Rodgers’ didn’t mind as his defensive midfield duo were able to put in a stellar performance.
The same cannot be said about Everton’s midfield. Barry and McCarthy were required to play pretty much the same role as Gerrard and Henderson, but they failed to impress in the derby. While Everton were always short at the back against Liverpool’s counters with both full-backs stepping forward, it is the duty of the midfielders to provide cover, something which they failed to do, thus allowing Liverpool’s counter to go right through them.
At the centre of Liverpool’s attack was their No.10, Philippe Coutinho. The Brazilian had arguably one of his best games in a red shirt, playing a vital role in getting the ball into Liverpool’s attacking front trio. He was calm and composed on the ball, displaying his quick feet to wriggle past the opponents. More importantly, and rarely, Coutinho displayed defensive smartness, realising that occasionally he needed to sit deep and pack up the midfield area.
Ross Barkley too had a decent game for Everton, but wasn’t able to influence the play as much as he would have liked, a marked difference in his & Coutinho’s contribution to the side. It has to be said, Coutinho was able to enjoy a good performance due to the Suarez-Sturridge-Sterling front three combination. It pre-occupied Everton’s defensive approach. The likes of Naismith and Mirallas failed to have a similar attack on the Liverpool back four.
But again, Coutinho’s defensive contribution was superior to that of Barkley. The graphic below illustrates this point further.
Tactically both managers did well with their midfields, but Rodgers’ side just displayed a more committed performance.
Lukaku’s loss and Liverpool’s defensive full-backs prevent Everton’s attacking options
When Gerrard gave Liverpool the lead, not only did Everton go a goal down but also lost their lone striker. Romelu Lukaku was injured in the lead up to the goal after clashing with team-mate Garethy Barry, consequently subbed off and replaced by Steven Naismith.
That thus prevented the main dimension of Everton’s attack taking place. With the target man out, Steven Naismith wasn’t able to impress in attack. Everton weren’t able to deliver balls to Lukaku, a usual approach of theirs involves utilising the Belgian’s aerial prowess. Naismith was left isolated in the attacking third as Everton failed to adapt their approach to fit Naismith’s game.
The away side were thus unable to utilise the wings to throw crosses into the box, while the defensive minded full-back duo of Flannagan and Cissokho sat deep, preventing any chance of Everton taking control through the wings.
With the strength of Lukaku lost, and the implementation of defensive full-backs, Everton were lost for ideas in the attacking third, not able to take advantage of their superior possession, depending largely on hopeful long rangers to get a goal back.
Where does this leave them?
The race for the final Champions League spot is still a close battle, that is bound to drag on till the end of the season. Liverpool have made a bit of leeway between the two sides, a decent 4 point difference. The Reds will take confidence going into the rest of the campaign, prompted by the derby win. Everton, however, should not feel undone by the defeat. They managed to put in a good performance, and can take some positives from the game for the rest of the campaign.