Everton 03/13/2012: That’s More Like It

Finally, three points to show for a dominant performance.

And what a performance.

Liverpool barnstormed to a Steven Gerrard-sized destruction of Everton in the Merseyside derby last night. The skipper’s hattrick marked an emphatic return to winning ways, and in some style.

Every single player on the pitch – even Stewart Downing, who played much more central than normal and was much less effective than he’s threatened to be in the past few weeks, and Jordan Henderson, who went through the motions of an insipid and uninspired first half – was excellent.

So where would we start?

Perhaps with Martin Kelly. Given the quality that we’ve always known to exist within Kelly, perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise that Glen Johnson is still out injured. With pace, power and positional awareness, Kelly put in a top-class performance as a marauding full-back. He might not have the close dribbling and guile that Johnson has, but he’s a handful all right. Would have made the England squad by now if it weren’t for Johnson’s form this season.

Or Jose Enrique. More evidence of his pure physical strength was on show last night as he bulldozed Everton’s right side to submission time and again. But this is what we’ve been accustomed to for most of the season. Shouldn’t be a surprise.

How about Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel? The much-maligned vice-captain came in and looked like he’d never left. He even cut out the long ball over the top to Carroll – I would’ve offered to eat my hat if anyone predicted that before the game. Skrtel was shifted to Daniel Agger’s usual left side, but he didn’t care. It was just business as usual as he proceeded to dominate all the one-on-ones and aerial battles that came his way. The considerably bulky Victor Anichebe and Denis Stracqualursi were reduced to nothingness and substituted having made zero meaningful contributions to the Everton attack.

And Jay Spearing? The Liverpool lad always saves something extra for the derbies, and what he lacks in pure technique and finesse, he makes up for in passion. A ubiquitous showing from the covering defensive midfielder – though, of course, we have to recognize that he can’t be the long-term back-up for Lucas.

Luis Suarez was back to his mesmerizing best, and he ripped Everton’s defence open with two assists for Gerrard. He was played largely in a supporting role behind Carroll, and that’s where he should be in the long run. Cut down on the theatrics, and we’d really have a gem on our hands.

Andy Carroll wasn’t half bad either. In fact, he was pretty darn good. Who would’ve thought he’d dominate almost all his headers against the man mountain that is Sylvain Distin? Or that he’s actually capable of Peter Crouch-esque great-touch-for-a-big-man flicks and turns? Or – I can’t believe I’m about to say this – that he can pick out a pass from the midfield like Xabi Alonso once did?

Okay, maybe I’m getting a bit over-excited, but this is some sort of minor vindication for all the support I’ve given Carroll (and all the flak I’ve taken for doing so). But seriously, it was so pleasing to see that he is actually capable of playing in a pass-and-move team. There’s plenty of hope in him yet.

And then we arrive at Stevie G.

What words can I use to describe this man that I haven’t used before?

Of course, this is the same man who’s powered me through an entire workday on the back of less than four hours of sleep – I certainly don’t regret that sleep lost its battle against a 4am match.

This was Gerrard at his midfield general, talismanic best. Putting his body on the line with some great tackles and blocks, and driving through the midfield like the Gerrard of old, he delivered a true captain’s performance. It’s not one we should be getting used to, given his advancing years, but one up there with his best, and one we should treasure. Truly first-class, and his link-up play with Carroll and Suarez was a joy to behold as well.

In case this wasn’t clear enough already – it’s been a while since I’ve felt so good about a Liverpool display.

Sure, the Carling Cup win was great, and to see some silverware was definitely satisfying – but the shootout win over Cardiff was more a relief than anything. As with so many other wins this season, because it’s been a year of such fine margins that goals have more often been greeted with relief rather than pure joy.

Not last night.

Finally, the performance we’ve almost trademarked at times this season has yielded the three points that we’ve always threatened to come away with, but have never actually succeeded in doing.

It might be too late to salvage a Top Four finish, but it’s never too late to salvage pride.

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