Liverpool produced a thrilling counter-attacking display on home turf to crush an Everton side who retained possession well, threatened throughout, and didn’t actually do too much wrong. The three first half goals effectively won Liverpool the game, while Suarez clinching the fourth completely killed off any hope for the Toffees – however it was still a hotly disputed contest until the final whistle.
Despite Liverpool’s star-studded attacking set-up, the defensive line-up will not have filled the fans with optimism – Glen Johnson was replaced by Jon Flanagan at right-back, while Aly Cissokho stayed on the left. Martin Skrtel partnered Kolo Toure who played as a left-sided centre-back.
Rodgers moved away from the 4-4-2 we have seen in recent weeks (largely to accomodate Suarez/Sturridge as a partnership) and reverted back to the 4-3-3 which brought the string of good results in December. As a result, he asked Daniel Sturridge to put in a sacrificial performance on the left of the attacking three, which would require chipping in defensively along with Sterling on the opposite flank.
In the tactics board below, the blue arrows indicate the players attacking movements, either when holding possession or when springing counter-attacks. Henderson and Coutinho were quick to support Suarez, along with Sturridge naturally coming central, and Sterling frequently looking for runs beyond the front men.
The yellow arrows indicate the defensive movements that the players made out of possession. With Everton being extremely dominant on the ball, Rodgers selections here were important. Sterling – the more defensively responsible wide man – played on the right to cover Coutinho, the least protective of the midfield three. Meanwhile Henderson – the most athletic, robust, and defensively capable – played to the left of the midfield three in order to protect the spaces sometimes left by Sturridge or a covering Suarez.
You can see this in action above (Suarez is covering Sturridge out wide) – look at Raheem Sterling’s position out on the right. He takes up a very deep position to cover Coutinho and allow him to press, and keeps Leighton Baines close to him to put Jagielka off a switch. This also allows Jon Flanagan to stay tight and narrow with the rest of the back four – if Sterling is higher up he gives Flanagan a problem by forcing him out wide to look after Baines (which in turn disjoints the back four).
The youngster deserves more praise for his tactical awareness and positioning, rather than just his ‘dangerous pace’.
As you can also see on the tactics board, Steven Gerrard’s defensive movements were side to side. The midfield three was a talking point, with Gerrard in the deeper role and Coutinho and Henderson ahead of him. A vast majority will tell you that Gerrard is not capable of playing in this role, and could have been seen as another negative before kick off.
However this may have served as a positive in the derby. He proved to be so determined to beat Everton that his screening of the back four was very effective as they battered Liverpool’s final third. Gerrard led the team with three blocks, and also made three tackles and one interception on top of his first open-play goal in a year.
Martinez set up in his usual 4-2-3-1 and welcomed Ross Barkley back to the starting line-up. He was without Sylvain Distin and Seamus Coleman, so John Stones came in at right-back, while Antolin Alcaraz partnered Phil Jagielka at centre-back.
Everton pressed high and looked to retain possession – Barry and McCarthy offered good distribution and out of possession they made 11 tackles and interceptions between them. However if we take a look at Everton’s average positions infographic (Whoscored.com) you can see exactly where Liverpool had so much joy.
Both Gareth Barry and James McCarthy’s average positions are just inside the Liverpool half, extremely high up for two holding midfielders. With Baines and Stones also getting forward the obvious spaces for Liverpool to attack were in behind the midfield (Jagielka and Alcaraz were not squeezed up with them), and the spaces between full back and centre back eg. the massive gap between Baines and Alcaraz.
Just briefly contrast this to Liverpool above, safer distances with the back four more closely linked. Gerrard as the recognised holding player to link defence and attack, and also this allowed Coutinho and Henderson to be in very similar positions to Barry and McCarthy without compromising space in behind.
As you can see, with Everton had 60.6% possession and somehow managed to lose 4-0. Credit to Liverpool’s effectiveness with their small time in possession, and some defensive errors on Everton’s part. The Toffees made 437 passes to Liverpool’s 267 and outpassed them with 85% to Liverpool’s 78% accuracy – a rare home surrender for the Reds, but ultimately part of the plan for Rodgers.
Chances were spread very evenly with 10 open play chances each and 20 Liverpool shots to Everton’s 18, while Everton usually looked to build play through the wide areas, putting in 17 crosses with only 1 successful. Contrast this to Liverpool who only made 3 crosses (0 accurate) and preferred to go direct, through the middle and into the spaces mentioned earlier. Everton’s possession allowed them to dribble more (20 successful from 31), Liverpool only completed 5 from 22.
Liverpool won their battles in the air with 68% wins, while Everton shaded it on the ground with 54%. The Reds however made more interceptions (15) and levelled Everton on successful tackles (17). Liverpool have been needing to cut out their defensive errors and only made 1, while Everton made 3, two of which led to a goal.
Perhaps the most interesting or exciting thing for Liverpool is the current direction that the team is going in at the moment. When Rodgers first came to the club in 2012 he made clear his philosophy and eventual vision for the club; a 4-3-3 with quality, aggression and possession in all areas, and the goal of ‘passing teams to death’.
What has materialised in the last year has been swift adaptation with each individual game and occasion – a massive credit to Rodgers as a coach, man-manager and as a tactician. Mistakes have been made along the way of course, however Liverpool have now found themselves capable of sitting back in compact shape and blowing teams away with counter-attacking football. At the same time they have been able to destroy teams the very next week by stringing anything from 400-600 passes and providing the killer finishing to seal points.
Everton will suffer from the injury to Romelu Lukaku as Liverpool look to further cement their place in the top 4, for which the battle becomes ever tougher. Rodgers hopes to bring in a major signing to strengthen the starting XI for Liverpool, but in the meantime the fans will be making the most of the Merseyside bragging rights.