The Merseyside derby has thrown up some classic and controversial games in the past, but few in history will compare to this roller-coaster of a game – a thrilling watch for the neutral, but a serious threat to the emotional health of both sets of fans. Due to the way the game unraveled and the nature of the rivalry, there really wasn’t too much tactical influence to talk about.
It was a game of very few passes from both teams, let alone accurate ones. All six goals came from set pieces, either directly or in the second phase of play, with some very poor defending from both teams. The game was so open that despite scoring three each, Liverpool should have scored 5, with Joe Allen and Luis Suarez both missing clear-cut chances, and Simon Mignolet had to produce a man of the match performance for the Reds with three world class saves to prevent Everton from running away with the points.
Brendan Rodgers kept Daniel Sturridge on the bench and went for a 4-3-3, with Joe Allen getting his first start since returning from injury, and also playing in his first choice position as the middle man of the triangle. Skrtel and Agger kept their places at the centre of defence, while Jordan Henderson started on the right to nullify the threat of Leighton Baines.
Most notably, John Flanagan got the nod at left back – in the past when he has come into the side, Johnson has moved to left back to accommodate him in his natural position on the right. This is a sign of the confidence that Rodgers now has in the young defender, and Flanagan repaid the faith with an outstanding performance in perhaps his highest pressure situation yet.
Martinez played a 4-2-3-1, making the teams matched up in midfield, where battles developed particularly between Gerrard and Barry, and Lucas and Barkley. Mirallas started on the right and drifted in centrally, while Lukaku started as the lone striker, looking to work the channels and drag the centre-backs into the wide areas.
The image above illustrates their ‘finishing position’, which happened a lot, Lukaku tending to drift out to the right and Flanagan having to step to him, and Mirallas ending up between Agger and Skrtel. Everton used these runs from Lukaku and Mirallas to expose Liverpool in the half space (where Coleman has run into in the image above) .
Liverpool played with Lucas as the lone patroller at the base of the midfield and at times he struggled to cover his spaces laterally as Everton switched play from side to side. This means that when they played a square ball, they could then penetrate forward and open up space behind Lucas and between the back four.
Flanagan did a fantastic job of tracking Kevin Mirallas in open play. The Belgian made diagonal runs central and behind Agger, and spent so much of the game coming in off the flank that on the average positions graphic (Whoscored.com), you can see that he appears as almost a second striker behind Lukaku, and slightly to the left of him.
To counter this threat, you can see that Flanagan had to stay narrow, compact and tight with Daniel Agger, so he played a lot deeper than Glen Johnson (who the majority of Liverpool’s wide play goes through) and kept his discipline. Below you can see an example of him coming across to cover the central run of Mirallas:
Flanagan completed a total of 13 tackles and interceptions, by far the most on the field (9 tackles and 4 interceptions, Distin and McCarthy closest with 9 tackles/interceptions each). He also had the third highest pass completion for Liverpool with 84% in a game of generally very low passing statistics.
Statistically Everton were on top in most categories, completing 305 passes, 19 more than Liverpool, and creating more chances. Liverpool created four clear-cut chances and missed three of them, while Everton also missed two clear cut chances after the introduction of Gerard Deulofeu.
The numbers were indicative of the type of game that this was. Typically high pressing, frantic, and less about the patient and calculated passing philosophies both managers usually look to impose on their sides. Luis Suarez had a pass completion of 69% while Romelu Lukaku had 64%, this tells us that both lone strikers had absolutely no time on the ball, with strong tackles flying in.
This was reflected all over the pitch, Liverpool struggled particularly in midfield to get a hold of the game. Steven Gerrard was poor, despite his contribution to two of the goals, while Joe Allen also endured a tough return and will enjoy having more space and time when Liverpool play sides they can dominate.
Despite taking the lead twice, and being in front for the majority of the game, Rodgers will be the manager more relieved to pick up a point, after his team nearly threw it all away with Lukaku’s late header. Martinez expressed his disappointment that Everton couldn’t close out the win and keep a stronger presence in the top 6. Bright performances came from three young players, Barkley, Deulofeu and Flanagan, while Mirallas (who was lucky not to be sent off), Lukaku and Mignolet were the key players. All produced what turned out to be point-winning performances, but none could turn the draw into a dramatic win.