Although conceding a late equaliser against your biggest rivals is a bitter pill to swallow, Evertonians couldn’t afford to be too downhearted at the conclusion of their enthralling 3-3 draw with Liverpool on Saturday because, nevertheless, they had just witnessed the greatest attacking performance in a Merseyside derby from the Toffees for several years.
Martínez consistently signed off his programme notes at Wigan Athletic with the Spanish expression ‘sin miedo’ meaning ‘without fear’ and that was exactly how his side embraced playing Liverpool at Goodison Park – with a stunning second half display, in terms of chances created, goals scored and the strong spirit shown overall, to savour in particular.
With emotions running high not just for both sets of fans involved but for everybody watching, with an intense end-to-end nature taking place rather than a widely predicted battle for possession, Ross Barkley showed no signs of nervousness when making his derby day bow and was instead awarded the club’s Man of the Match award for how well he flourished in the occasion.
Structure & Position: What Martínez Wanted and Got From His Players
Whilst Martínez has quickly captivated the majority of the Everton fanbase through his infectious charm and understanding of the club’s core principles off the field, on it, the 40-year-old’s willingness to make bold, attacking substitutions in order to sway a result has also been a breath of fresh air and his in-game management against Liverpool was simply magnificent.
When Leighton Baines picked up an accidental toe injury, which will keep him out for up to a month as a result, and needed to be replaced, Martínez’s courageous choice to throw on another attacker in the shape of Gerard Deulofeu and still maintain Everton’s 4-2-3-1 formation by shuffling players around worked an absolute treat.
Following the introduction of the precocious talent Deulofeu, Everton had 10 of their 12 overall shots on target in the match with the FC Barcelona loanee on the pitch and that increased exuberance in attack stemmed from Martínez’s positivity in decision-making.
In fact, Everton haven’t registered more shots on target in any game over the past two seasons than the 12 managed against Brendan Rodgers’ men on Saturday, whilst Liverpool haven’t had to deal with that many shots on their goal since the 2008/09 Premier League season.
Kevin Mirallas, who was in the thick of everything including scoring Everton’s first goal and a well documented rough challenge on Luis Suárez, was superb when moved into the position just behind Romelu Lukaku which was better suited to his mentality to dip onto his right foot and hit shots when given space.
Deulofeu, who had four shots on target and completed five out of his seven attempted take-ons in just 45 minutes of action, was a livewire through his capability to beat Jon Flanagan at left-back, who impressed by making the most tackles (9) in the clash, and to also test the imposing Simon Mignolet effectively.
In conjunction with Martínez’s astute changes after Baines’ switch, it hasn’t been too often in recent meetings that Liverpool have been petrified about facing an Everton striker and Lukaku, who has now scored four goals in his last three appearances against the Reds, was unquestionably one of the main reasons why Saturday’s clash was so thrilling.
Sylvain Distin, who won 83.3% (5) of his six attempted tackles, made ten clearances and four interceptions, was solid when competing against the intelligent movement and guile of Suárez by reducing the Uruguayan to hardly any opportunities from open play.
But alongside a valiant team exhibit and efficient changes being made by Martínez, Barkley had an outstanding afternoon for Everton because his ability to find cracks in Liverpool’s midfield, regardless of the fact that he was moved deeper into the double pivot alongside James McCarthy as part of the Baines situation, was sensational.
Drive: Barkley’s Attacking Desire Never Faded Despite Changing Position against Liverpool
Strength when in control or winning the ball, determination to drive forwards with it and not being shy to get a shot away on either foot are three observations, all evident in Barkley’s performance against Liverpool as well, that have all been regular features in his breakthrough into the Everton starting line-up this season.
Against Liverpool, Everton had 18 shots in total and Barkley was responsible for three of those, with only one managing to test Mignolet in the first-half, whilst they all came from outside the box.
[sws_blockquote_endquote align=”” cite=”Lukaku summed up how highly he rates Barkley in his post-match interview.” quotestyle=”style02″]He’s [Barkley] very good. I played against Ross seven years ago when we were at a youth tournament and then, you could already see that he had the potential to play in the Premier League and year-in year-out he’s keeping involved and for me, he’s a great pleasure to have just in behind me. He can deliver such quality balls, he can score, he can dribble and he’s England’s next big thing. [/sws_blockquote_endquote]
Barkley’s power when bursting through the middle, linking the midfield with the attack, makes him so hard to deal with and Liverpool’s central midfield trio of Steven Gerrard, Lucas Leiva and Joe Allen all struggled to get anywhere near him – completing four out of his seven attempted take-ons.
Although he was given further instructions when dropped deeper into Barry’s role after 50 minutes by Martínez, Barkley’s willingness and responsibility to attack never changed at all, winning four free-kicks in total including the decisive one that brought Lukaku’s first goal of the game, but his passing became far more influential in his altered position
By and large, Everton’s ball retention wasn’t as strong as it has been in previous games, with the Blues completing just 79% (305) of their 384 attempted passes and only holding a slight advantage in the overall possession with 50.7%, but that was never going to be the primary objective to accomplish in such a fast-paced fixture.
Barkley received the ball a total of 42 times from his team-mates and completed 82% (32) of his 39 attempted passes, with nine of those successfully moving into the attacking third of the field whilst three were played into the defensive zones.
His passing became a lot more purposeful during Everton’s huge wave of attacks because he wasn’t just seeking out Lukaku – although the only chance he created in the game came via a through ball played from deep to split open Liverpool’s defence and put the Belgian in on goal – but was instead threading balls into the likes of Mirallas and Steven Pienaar to cause havoc with.
Barkley dictated the tempo of Everton’s game proficiently and whilst that came with a bit more defensive accountability, with players such as Gerrard and Suárez within his territory, McCarthy was brilliant beside him by joining up with him in attack but his pressing, screening and positioning allowed Barkley the freedom needed to thrive and tensions were eased defensively, in the middle of the park, between the pair.
Defensive Work: How McCarthy Was the Perfect Player to Help Out Barkley in the Nitty-Gritty Side of the Derby
Just like Lukaku upfront, it’s also been a few years since Liverpool have had to worry about playing against an Everton side who are keen to play through the middle of the pitch due to containing a strong balance of creativity, energy and vision in McCarthy, Barry and Barkley which Martínez has done extremely well to establish.
Barkley, who won 66.6% (2) of his three attempted tackles, recovered the ball five times and lost his only aerial dual, was a straight swap for Barry in the sense that he was instructed to receive the ball in deeper areas from the defence, obtaining possession four times from Jagielka and six times from Distin, and to carry the flow of the attacking moves.
[sws_blockquote_endquote align=”” cite=”Martínez heaped praise on Barkley after his exceptional showing in Everton’s biggest fixture of any season at such a young age.” quotestyle=”style02″]Ross, as a young man with Everton in his heart and blood, performed in a very mature manner. [/sws_blockquote_endquote]
But when it came to the nitty-gritty work that carries crucial importance in a derby match, it was McCarthy who was sublime in breaking up play for Everton, helping out Barkley by giving him room to manoeuvre and to also join the attack himself – creating three chances in total including an assist for Lukaku’s first goal.
The Republic of Ireland international won 75% (6) out of his eight attempted tackles, made three interceptions and two clearances when protecting Everton’s backline and also ensuring Barkley had space to operate in when the ball was seized back.
Gerrard, who has created the most chances (32) in the Premier League so far this season, was very ineffective from open play against the likes of both McCarthy and Barkley together although the Liverpool skipper is principally dangerous these days from set-plays – in which Everton conceded all three of their goals from.
Liverpool only managed to have five shots on target throughout the game, compared to Everton’s 12, and that highlights not just how glowing McCarthy was when covering almost every blade of grass, but how well the team did as a whole.
But, despite marking not being his forte, Barkley was the man originally surrounding Philippe Coutinho before the Brazilian had clever movement to wheel away and score, and he was also initially marking Daniel Sturridge before he headed home the leveller late on. These two incidents being the only two negatives in such a radiant performance, as Barkley simply just switched off for Coutinho’s early strike.
Although it was a breathtaking game to watch and everybody connected with Everton could feel proud of the performance against Liverpool, the feeling of frustration was also apt because of how close they came to securing all three points.
Martínez’s substitutions were fantastic in helping accelerate the amount of pressure Everton could create in their attacking moves, whilst more evidence of how highly the Spaniard values John Stones came after the youngster’s brief cameo appearance near the end of the game.
And whilst it was easily the most exciting and enjoyable attacking performance Everton have given against Liverpool for a good number of years, Barkley was unbelievable in how well he adapted to the rigours of the derby atmosphere and change in positional awareness and duty.
Ross Barkley heat map via Daily Mail Online ‘Match Zone’ & Stats images via the excellent FourFourTwo StatsZone app.