Merseyside Derby - the view from opposing terraces

November 25, 2013 in Premier League by Jamie Levitt

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Everton - Jamie

So close. What could have been?

Lukaku

‘On derby day, form goes out of the window’, is a saying I find annoying for some reason, even though I use it every year. I can’t speak for all the other derbies in football but it’s a saying that certainly rings true for the derby I care about.

The red-blue divide of Liverpool and Everton runs through Merseyside families; my granddad, his children and grandchildren are all blues. His brother’s children and grandchildren are all reds. Some fans of other teams with great rivalries have reacted negatively at times to the so called ‘friendly rivalry’, that sees reds and blues sit together, without a thousand stewards in between. That, somehow, shows a lack of hatred, vital for any true rivalry. For them, hatred equals passion.

Anyone with any doubts about the passion and commitment of the fans and players would be sitting very quietly at the end of what was a spectacular game. Everton were less than two minutes away from winning the game, a game we almost always draw or lose. It wasn’t to be and as I think back on some of our excellent attacking play and numerous chances, I’m undoubtedly disappointed; but the breathless spectacle of the game means that regardless of the result I will remember it as the best derby I have ever seen.

The entertainment of the game was largely down to excellent attacking play from both teams and equally poor defensive work. Roberto Martínez and Brendan Rodgers deserve a great deal of credit for their respective approaches to the game from an attacking perspective. A good example of their approaches and something that would never occur under previous managers such as David Moyes or messrs Dalglish, Hodgson and Benítez were the attacking substitutions. In a game where both teams were wide open defensively, the two managers brought on Victor Moses for Joe Allen and Gerard Deulofeu for Leighton Baines respectively.

Baines

Both sides were committed to attacking from the first moment; fierce tackles (including a definite red card challenge from Kevin Mirallas) and alternating end-to-end counter-attackers. From an Everton perspective, Ross Barkley really shone with a fearless display in midfield, beating players and picking passes. Anyone doubting his ability will surely now be holding their tongues.

When the sides were level at 2-2, theoretically both could have taken the draw. Instead, there were several gilt-edge chances where attackers outnumbered defenders. If you’re the kind of spectator who enjoys watching teams with excellent shape, out-thinking each other, this wasn’t the game for you.

In the end, I’m disappointed with a draw, despite also thinking it was a fair result. For considerable parts of the game we were dominant; a goalkeeping master class from Simon Mignolet the only thing keeping us out. However, had Mirallas’ card been the other colour and anyone on the pitch besides Joe Allen staring at an all but open goal, things could have been far, far worse.

While serious questions need to be asked defensively (for both teams), particularly from set-pieces, it’s great to have two managers in Martínez and Rodgers who commit to the all-out attack, without whom the league would be a more boring place. Bring on Stoke at home next week, which will no doubt be twice as exciting.

Liverpool - George

Last week on Ballsy Banter, I discussed Liverpool’s chances in Saturday’s Merseyside Derby with a great deal of caution. Without confining you to an evening foraging through yet another one of my articles, I’ll provide you with a sample of what I was getting at.

Coutinho

Firstly, Liverpool’s defence has had me frowning, tutting and wincing at times as Brendan Rodgers seeks to find the best personnel to fit into his ever-changing formation. Mamadou Sakho was sacrificed for Daniel Agger in Liverpool’s previous Barclays Premier League clash with Fulham at Anfield, after a posse of nervy performances. Agger was to keep his place at Goodison Park.

Secondly, complacency. The Reds look set to enjoy their best season in the top flight since 2008-09, in which they lost just twice across the 38 games. The temptation to don the binoculars and peer ahead to the future can often be the catalyst for a catastrophic derailing, and walking into a crunch derby with Everton expecting to cruise through would have been a serious mistake. Liverpool, as I said, only had themselves to fear.

As it happened, Rodgers’ team were the agents of their own demise on three soul-destroying moments on Saturday afternoon. Firstly, after Philippe Coutinho had poked the visitors ahead in the fourth minute, Kevin Mirallas was afforded the space to offer a prod of his own from Leighton Baines free kick. Jordan Henderson and Martin Skrtel were unable to deal with the attentions of Ross Barkley in the penalty area, before Steven Gerrard lost Mirallas at the far post to hand the Toffees an equaliser. Sloppy.

Then, after Luis Suárez had powered Liverpool ahead once more with an exquisite free kick, Joe Allen squandered the chance of the season when he found himself on the end of a loose ball in front of Tim Howard. 3-1 would have been out of sight. Unforgivable.

JoeAllen

Everton took advantage of Allen’s profligacy and some more calamitous defending when Romelu Lukaku slotted in a measured effort from six yards. Once again, Liverpool’s tendency to mark fresh air played straight into the opposition’s hands.

And, finally, before Daniel Sturridge’s dramatic late equaliser, John Flanagan was tasked with the duty of marking the big Belgian from a corner, a task he failed miserably. Lukaku’s height and muscle was simply too overwhelming for Flanagan, who duly looked round at messrs Agger and Skrtel with a sense of forlorn anguish.

Liverpool’s defensive mishaps were a shadow of what was happening at the other end of the pitch. Coutinho, albeit a quieter version of his usual vivacious self, found some neat positions, while Suárez did what Suárez does. He jostled and bustled around, while captain Gerrard, unusually subdued, attempted to steer the ship with an abundance of long-balls and sumptuous set-pieces, which Everton had nightmares dealing with. Sturridge’s absence due to England’s ignorance of his recent fitness issues prompted a place on the bench for Liverpool’s joint-top scorer, allowing Henderson to move further forward and Allen to slot in alongside Gerrard.

Allen’s influence was minimal, other than contributing to the final score by missing that chance with his side 2-1 to the good. Liverpool’s wastefulness in possession meant that Everton were afforded 12 shots on target, the most conceded by the Reds in the 202 games since the start of the 2008-09 campaign. Simon Mignolet was to be thanked for denying Everton on countless occasions.

LukakuPointy

Overall, the script I predicted went entirely to plan. Liverpool were disorganised and stretched in defence, potent in attack and erratic in the midfield. One pleasing aspect of the afternoon, if not the eventual result, was Rodgers’ intent and ambition, emphasised by the two substitutions he made. Allen was replaced by Victor Moses in the 68th minute, meaning Henderson dropped back, and although it made Liverpool more vulnerable in defence, the need and desire to win was evident. Lucas Leiva also made way for Sturridge in the 79th minute, thrusting Liverpool into an onslaught of their own which ended up being significant at both ends. Lukaku’s header at 2-2 seemingly snatched the points for the home side, but Gerrard’s gorgeous cross for Sturridge late on saved Rodgers the ignominy of throwing away at least a point.

On the whole, I can’t complain. The match has already been hailed as one of the greatest Merseyside Derbies, at least in recent times, and given Liverpool’s next three fixtures are away to Hull City before two home games against Norwich City and West Ham United, a point looks a good result.

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