Tag Archives: merseyside derby

Liverpool Must Improve on FA Cup Display for Merseyside Derby vs. Everton

Liverpool Must Improve on FA Cup Display for Merseyside Derby vs. Everton
Ian Walton/Getty Images

Goals from Victor Moses and Daniel Sturridge—both assisted by Luis Suarez—took Liverpool into the FA Cup fifth round with a 2-0 win over a spirited Bournemouth side at the Goldsands Stadium on Saturday.

Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe will have been pleased with the manner his side went about the game, as they fearlessly went about attacking their esteemed visitors in impressive fashion, only for the final finish to let them down.

His opposite number, Brendan Rodgers, will be glad to have overcome a potential banana skin fixture with a performance that was more professional than it was impressive, but one that did the job nonetheless.

But it is exactly because of the nature of the Reds’ win that they must improve on Saturday’s performance when they host the visit of high-flying and fellow top-four challenger Everton on Tuesday, in the 222nd Merseyside derby.

 

 

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Concerns at the back: A return to 3-5-2?

That Liverpool are now besieged with a host of injury problems is no longer news, but Rodgers and Liverpool fans alike could be forgiven for fearing the worst after Martin Skrtel received extended treatment off the pitch for a blow to the head.

His subsequent return to the field with a bandage around his head was comforting as it was important, but he will be paying further visits to club doctor Zaf Iqbal in the build-up to the Everton game.

With Glen Johnson out injured, Martin Kelly was granted an opportunity to stake a claim for a first-team place. But yet again he looked labored and still some way short of full match fitness as he faced a quick and dynamic Cherries left flank.

Not that fellow full-back, the perpetually out-of-position Aly Cissokho, fared any better. Not only was he lacking in defensive positioning, but he failed to provide any inspiration going forward.

This compounds the problem that Rodgers already has, with Daniel Agger, Mamadou Sakho, Jose Enrique and Glen Johnson—arguably the Reds’ first-choice back four—out on the sidelines.

In this context, the return of Jon Flanagan, and the man he replaced, was illuminating: Kelly could have been withdrawn to preserve his match fitness, but Rodgers showed Flanagan’s importance by giving him some minutes of his own to prepare for the derby.

With the current holes in the Liverpool squad, and the in-form partnership of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, don’t be surprised if the 3-5-2 formation seen earlier this season returns on Tuesday.

For maximum work rate, positioning and defensive awareness, don’t be surprised if both starting full-backs on Saturday are replaced for Everton: It could yet be the in-form Raheem Sterling and Jon Flanagan who assume the wing-back roles in the derby.

 

 

Ian Walton/Getty Images

Gaps in the middle: Fitness is the key

With his inconsistent performances in the Liverpool midfield this season, club captain Steven Gerrard has had both his importance to and role in the squad questioned this campaign.

With Brendan Rodgers’ decision to move him into a holding midfielder role, Gerrard’s time to adapt to his new position has attracted criticism, while Jordan Henderson, as the only other fit senior midfielder in the squad, has been nigh-on anonymous in recent games as Gerrard’s midfield partner.

Saturday, however, showed just how important Gerrard still is to the Reds cause. Some excellent tracking back and timing in the tackle allowed the skipper to avert danger on a few occasions, while his passing added some much-needed directness and variability to the Reds’ approach play.

And while Henderson once again had a quieter game, his work rate and presence in the midfield remains important, especially when the advanced midfielder in front of him is the physically slight Philippe Coutinho.

But as much as their presence in the middle of the park enabled Liverpool to come away with a win, it was very much a gamble to start both players amid the club’s injury troubles.

The competitiveness of the game, and the dogged spirit of the Bournemouth players, ensured that the visitors had to wait until the hour mark before Liverpool gave themselves more of a cushion in the game.

Running themselves into the not-so-well-groomed ground at Goldsands Stadium won’t have done Gerrard and Henderson any good ahead of Tuesday’s derby, where Everton’s powerful and dynamic midfield will pose far bigger problems than Bournemouth’s.

Whatever spirit and attitude they showed in the FA Cup on Saturday, they’ll have to replicate it and then some if they are to get an important result against Everton in just a few days.

 

 

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Consistency in the attack: A second chance for Victor Moses?

Before we go into more detail on Liverpool’s first goal, let’s devote a few column inches to the Luis Suarez-Daniel Sturridge forward partnership.

The burgeoning strike duo, who were in such exciting form prior to Sturridge’s injury, have shown signs that they are back to their exhilarating best in Liverpool’s past few games. Saturday yet again saw “SAS” work in tandem for an impressive second goal, even though Suarez went a second consecutive game without scoring.

But enough about their collective excellence: More interesting was Victor Moses’ display against Bournemouth.

Critics will dismiss Moses’ performance as it came against a Championship side in the FA Cup, but what was evident for all to see were his much improved attitude and the attributes that have always threatened to show themselves on the pitch.

Time and again, Moses showed great acceleration to get past his man on the left wing, and good awareness in passing, positioning and attacking. His first goal, a combination of an excellent first touch and a clinical finish, was deserved reward for an encouraging first-half performance.

Simply put, this was more like it from Moses, after what has been a thoroughly disappointing six months in a Liverpool shirt.

And it comes at a good time for Brendan Rodgers, who could do with a selection headache and will have been pleased that Moses grasped a chance to impress with both hands.

If Sterling is indeed employed as a safe defensive option but an intriguing counterattacking weapon in the derby, then Moses could yet reprise his starting role against Everton.

Alongside an interchanging strike partnership of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, Victor Moses might just salvage his Reds career yet.

But just like the rest of his teammates, simply replicating their display against Bournemouth won’t be enough: They’ll have to improve on that to get a morale-boosting win over a tough rival on Tuesday.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

English Football Weekly: Liverpool v Everton; England’s Philosophical Troubles; Questionable Referees

EPL Week 12 recap: Manchester contrasts; Merseyside wonders

What a difference a goal makes. If it weren’t for Kim Bo-Kyung’s injury-time equalizer against Manchester United, they’d be two points ahead of Manchester City by now. A nine-match unbeaten run is now extended, but David Moyes will have been left ruing the defensive chaos and laxness of his side as they shipped a forgettable two goals to gain only a point. Top teams take points even when their performances don’t necessarily justify them, but a point away at Cardiff—acceptable as an off-day though it might have been during the Sir Alex Ferguson era—does no good for the Red Devils.

Especially when their city rivals roared yet again at home, scoring six goals against an admittedly woeful Tottenham side to take their goal difference to +22, a whole eight goals above nearest challengers Arsenal. Much has been made of Sergio Aguero’s star performance and burgeoning status as the Premier League’s premier player, and also of Fernandinho’s pivotal role in making everything tick—and Andre Villas-Boas’ side were every bit as embarrassing and disjointed as Manuel Pellegrini’s was slick and ominous. City need only replicate their form away from home; Spurs need desperate reinforcement in January.

As contrasting as the two Manchester clubs’ fortunes were on Sunday, Merseyside was united on Saturday in its appreciation for a good derby, a first openly attacking and truly end-to-end derby in many a season. Luis Suarez made sure that Aguero wouldn’t take all his spotlight, while Romelu Lukaku also put in a performance that can only be described as Didier Drogba-like. More interesting was Brendan Rodgers’ post-match comments and public criticism of Daniel Sturridge’s fitness, Ross Barkley and James McCarthy’s upper hand in the midfield, and Joe Allen’s miss. Oh, Joe. How can you redeem yourself from that?

At the Emirates, Southampton were actually not as bad as the final scoreline made it seem. But they had Artur Boruc and a soft penalty to thank, and so the Gunners machine rolls on. Newcastle also kept up a decent run of results with a 2-1 win over Norwich that takes them into eighth place above Spurs, with Yohan Cabaye impressing once again. The fall guys of the weekend? Martin Jol, who surely edged closer to the brink at Fulham with another defeat, and Gus Poyet, who, for all the right noises he’s made, is still rooted at the bottom of the league.

 

England dealt a lesson in philosophy and long-term thinking

If international friendlies—especially those that take place knowing that a World Cup place is secure—are meant to be experimental exercises, then Roy Hodgson will have learned much more about the state of English football than he did about his own players, after the deflating back-to-back Wembley defeats last week.

It’s not so much England having a disappointing day out against Chile—any upset, while, erm, upsetting, would be understandable as an off-day—but a case of a philosophical defeat to a young, energetic and vibrant South American side. Of course, the standard post-match talk was on the valuable experience that playing Chile provided, and that the players were looking forward to playing European opposition when they met Germany. One lesson that flew by.

The problem was that Germany, despite winning by a one-goal margin, also turned out to be comprehensive winners. And there, the second glaring lesson was impossible to ignore: England, a short-team team with a short-team outlook, had been beaten by teams that have realized the importance of a top-down philosophy and organized, pervasive infrastructure. In other words, England’s defeats were no fluke.

Granted, it’s a vicious cycle: A lack of long-term thinking means that qualification for the next tournament is what the media expect, and to meet those expectations, England throw out a team (hopefully) capable of winning the next game to secure the next point or three. A textbook example of short-termism. Which, of course, will have been the elephant in the room until Premier League action resumed and took back all the spotlight.

Another week goes by without much change. This inquisition will take place again when England underwhelm in Brazil next summer, again without much change. What an injustice to the new and talented generation of England youngsters.

 

We need to talk about the referees

So it turns out goal-line technology was the one that was the least needed. It was implemented, of course, due to its relative ease (just paying the installation costs and setting up the technology in stadiums would suffice) and the authorities’ unwillingness to discuss the governance of far more important—and far trickier—decisions.

But we knew that all along. So what’s been done to prepare referees for ever-trickier situations that arise in the ever-quickening pace of the English game? From the ample evidence on show this weekend, the answer is a resounding no.

As much as we don’t want to blame referees because of the lack of help that they currently receive in having to make such big calls on the fly, it’s clear that big decisions are having bigger impacts on the outcomes of games—and overturning those decisions post-match, just like the FA may do with Wes Brown’s nonsense red card, might even end up undermining the power and decision-making of officials on the pitch.

And it’s not just situations around the ball—like Wayne Rooney’s petulant kicking out at Jordon Mutch and Kevin Mirallas’ dangerous knee-high challenge on Luis Suarez—there are off-the-ball incidents too, like Gary Medel’s punch on Marouane Fellaini and Mirallas’ elbow on Jordan Henderson. None of which, naturally, received the adequate attention and punishments from the referees on show.

So what do we do? Defer to post-match punishment of both offending players and referees who happened to miss the incidents? Or take a more rational approach to video reviews like tennis, by allowing each team a few challenges per match to appeal to a video replay? The latter makes much more sense in the evolving integration of sports and technology, but given the reluctance in adopting even goal-line technology, we football fans probably have to endure a few more questionable calls yet.

 

This piece was part of my weekly column on SWOL.co, where I take a look back at the weekend’s English Premier League and domestic cup action, related talking points and news surrounding English football at large.

Everton 3-3 Liverpool: 6 Talking Points from Thrilling Merseyside Derby Draw

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Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Goals, drama and controversy. High tempo, high energy and intense atmosphere. Liverpool lead, Everton comeback and Liverpool equalize. Simply put, the 221st Merseyside derby had it all.

Philippe Coutinho got things rolling from a set-piece situation in a frantic opening 20 minutes, which saw Kevin Mirallas equalize before Luis Suarez’s exquisite free-kick saw the Reds enter the break 2-1 up.

Romelu Lukaku notched up two devastating goals for the hosts to seemingly complete a gutsy turnaround, only for Daniel Sturridge to come off the bench to tie things up right at the death.

Saturday’s Premier League opening game was a spectacle for Liverpudlians and neutrals alike, and displayed to a full extent the attacking philosophies of the respective managers on the Goodison Park touchline.

Here are six talking points from a thrilling Merseyside derby draw between Everton and Liverpool. Enjoy and let us know what you made of it all in the comments below.

The Spotlight Shines on Luis Suarez, Simon Mignolet and Romelu Lukaku

After Luis Suarez’s goal, diving celebration and non-goal in this corresponding fixture last year, we knew there wasn’t a chance he’d let this one pass him by either.

If his free-kick in the 19th minute—an expert low curler from outside the box—was impressive, equally eye-catching and perhaps even more important was his fanatical work rate, desire and commitment to the Reds cause.

Sergio Aguero would have had something to say about this after his barnstorming performance in Manchester City’s demolition of Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, but there’s a very strong argument that Luis Suarez is currently the best player in the Premier League.

If Suarez is the best outfield player in the top flight, surely Simon Mignolet has an equal shout as the best shot-stopper currently in England.

Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool fans will, in the aftermath of the draw, look at the positive side of Mignolet’s nine saves and conclude that he has indeed been an upgrade on Pepe Reina, and ignore all the insinuations that come with conceding so many shots on goal in the first place.

Mignolet has won the Reds many a point and kept them in many a game this season, but Everton’s loan star Romelu Lukaku made sure that the Belgian goalkeeper would have to concede three times before making the return journey across Stanley Park.

The cream of the crop among some fine transfer window business by Roberto Martinez, Lukaku simply had too much for Liverpool as they looked to recover from Joe Allen’s horrendous miss.

With two goals in 10 minutes, Lukaku enhanced his burgeoning reputation as the premier target-man striker in the Premier League and he’s only 20 years old.

Liverpool Hurt by Kevin Mirallas, Phil Dowd and Joe Allen

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Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

It wouldn’t be a Merseyside derby without its fair share of controversy and drama, and a single dose of Kevin Mirallas provided all the poison this traditionally fiery clash warranted—not that it needed it.

Currently doing the rounds on the Internet are comparisons between Mirallas’ knee-high challenge on Luis Suarez and the other noteworthy referee blunders of the weekend—starring Wes Brown’s sending-off and Wayne Rooney’s petulant lash—but he wasn’t finished there.

A further stamp on Suarez and a bloodying elbow to Jordan Henderson’s face ensured that Mirallas ended the game as the villain. So it was all too fitting that he’d opened the scoring for Everton before any of the above happened.

If Phil Dowd had stuck to the referees’ guidelines of sending players off for dangerous tackles to protect the recipients, perhaps this game would have turned out differently.

As it were, just as we predicted before the match, the referee’s decision and the Fat Lady came to the fore, like it did in both the derby fixtures last season. Mark Halsey was demoted to the Championship after his blunder against West Bromwich Albion a few weeks ago; Dowd might just be fearing the same.

Of course, Liverpool could’ve rendered any outside forces and chance to a mere afterthought if they had taken charge of their own destiny and made their own luck.

We’re talking, of course, about Joe Allen, who found himself clear with just the goalkeeper to beat from a mere 10 yards, and proceeded to fail to test Tim Howard so comprehensively that Everton—as though footballing karma actually exists—completed their comeback almost immediately.

Another “coulda-woulda-shoulda” for Liverpool, who, thanks to other results in the Premier League, keep their spot behind league leaders Arsenal for another week.

Time for a Change to the Reds’ Central Defence

After Mamadou Sakho’s heroics for France during their World Cup play-offs against Ukraine last week, one could’ve reasonably expected him to start in the derby with his confidence sky-high, especially against the sheer force that is Romelu Lukaku.

But marshalling the defence instead were Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger, Liverpool’s tried and trusted central defensive pairing back in those days when they didn’t have any quality backup.

The problem, of course, is that the visitors do have alternative options these days, and in not playing Kolo Toure and Sakho, Brendan Rodgers opted—wrongly—for more of the same, and a continuation of old tradition.

Against a busy Lukaku and an energetic Everton midfield, and with a lacklustre and tired central midfield ahead of them, Toure and Sakho would have offered steel, composure, experience, physicality and pace as a defensive partnership.

Alas, the lack of strong defensive options meant that Saturday’s Liverpool had a soft core, and Everton’s approach play almost fully exploited it, like Southampton had done before them.

Without a strong right-sided central defender anchoring in beside him, Glen Johnson struggled as well, perhaps predictably, against the dynamic duo of Steven Pienaar and Leighton Baines, in a generally testy and nervy performance by the Liverpool defence.

We will reserve our compliments for Jon Flanagan, who, despite the pre-match doubts of almost all Liverpool fans, put in a shift that Jose Enrique would’ve been proud of. Aly Cissokho went on record stating his hopes of making his loan move from Valencia permanent (h/t Sky Sports)—on current evidence, he’ll need to work a whole lot more.

A Tale of Set Pieces

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Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

It is curious that one of Liverpool’s likeliest ways to get a goal these days is also one of their most vulnerable areas, and that the main protagonist in the former is also one of the main culprits for the latter.

Let’s mention attacking set pieces first, and salute the deliveries of Steven Gerrard time and again, for it was his corner kick that led to Philippe Coutinho’s opening goal, and it was his free-kick in the 89th minute that made Daniel Sturridge’s dramatic headed equalizer possible.

A week ago, of course, two Gerrard set pieces got the ball rolling at Anfield against Fulham. It’s no surprise that with the captain in such inspired form from these situations, he currently leads the Premier League in assists, with five.

On the flip side, as inventive and effective as Gerrard has been from set piece situations, he has unfortunately been equally lethargic and lacking in mobility as a central midfielder, which would be less obvious if a dominant defensive midfielder were supporting him.

As it is, the combined energy, pace and positioning of Lucas and Gerrard have created holes in the midfield this season that have let opposing midfielders run past them all too easily, especially those with the physicality and power to do so.

This leads to the unfortunate propensity of conceding free-kicks in the Red half. Not an ideal situation, especially given the set-piece frailties that still plague Brendan Rodgers’ side.

Liverpool fans will be fervently hoping that Yann M’Vila, spotted in the stands on Saturday, was doing more than just paying his friend Mamadou Sakho a visit, as was rumoured by the Liverpool Echo.

Young Blues Full of Pace, Power and Promise

According to the main events in the match, it seemed like Kevin Mirallas and Romelu Lukaku stole the spotlight for Everton and will be the Blues’ main men this season.

After all, both profited from defensive mishaps to score the goals to almost win all three points for the hosts, and with five assists and seven goals respectively, they are high in both charts thus far this season. Mirallas leads the assists table with Gerrard, while Lukaku is joint fifth in goals scored with Robin van Persie and Olivier Giroud.

But many of the excellent performances that Everton have put on this season have been down to their young midfield duo, Ross Barkley and James McCarthy, both of whom put in mature displays on Saturday in one of the biggest matches in the Premier League season.

Barkley’s driving runs from midfield were relentless as they were tormenting, while McCarthy’s composure alongside the experienced Gareth Barry set the platform for the hosts’ impressive second-half comeback.

Just as Lukaku has been a brilliant loan signing, so too has Barry been a real bargain for the Blues. Looking long term, the trouble is whether or not Martinez will be able to replace them in his starting XI. But that’s a problem for another day—for January, or for next summer, perhaps.

For now, this Everton side have added pace, dynamism and an aesthetically pleasing brand of attacking football to their play. Martinez’s philosophies—and his excellent summer signings—seem to have found their place at Goodison Park already.

Daniel Sturridge Has Much to Learn

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Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
With his match-winning goal-scoring prowess, affable confidence and crowd-pleasing dance celebrations, what’s not to like about Daniel Sturridge?

From Brendan Rodgers’ post-match press conference, however, it seems that this exact attitude may have found its way into Sturridge’s own head, with the Liverpool manager citing “different personalities, different types” while comparing Suarez’s competitiveness to Sturridge’s lack of fitness, according to the Telegraph.

It is indicative of Rodgers’ man-management approach that he has embraced the qualities of Sturridge—qualities that were evident as he scored a dramatic equalizer after coming off the bench—but also that he has seen fit to criticize Sturridge’s fitness in times like this.

When your strike partner is Luis Suarez, though, it means you almost have to improve in every facet of your game.

Suspended for the first five games of the season, Suarez has roared back into first-team action and is already currently tied with Sturridge on nine league goals (just one behind league leader Sergio Aguero). But Suarez also brings with him a tremendous work rate and an eagerness to compete, even in training, which Rodgers has brought to attention.

“A lot of players, especially the top ones, are never 100 percent fit. Suarez will never have been 100 percent in his time here.”

For all the right noises that have been coming out of Daniel Sturridge, there is still plenty for him to learn. Fortunately for him, he’s got the perfect role model alongside him—at least for this season.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

Everton vs. Liverpool Preview: How and Where the Merseyside Derby Will Be Won

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Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
 
 
The Red and Blue halves of Merseyside will meet for the 221st time on Saturday, as Liverpool prepare to travel across Stanley Park to take on Everton at Goodison Park.

After two successive derby draws last season, the rivalry has a different complexion to it this time around: Having finished outside of the European places last May, Liverpool enter this fixture second in the Premier League table, while Everton, with 20 points in hand, are just a solitary point behind fourth-placed Chelsea.

As we look forward to a Merseyside derby with a renewed significance, let’s look at five areas—outside of focus on Liverpool’s Luis Suarez-Daniel Sturridge strike partnership and Everton’s in-form Romelu Lukaku—where the points might just be won on Saturday.

Enjoy, and let us know your views in the comments below.

Full-Backs and the Flanks

Let’s start first with a position that both Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers consider to be integral to their style of play: the full-backs.

With both managers preferring wingers that cut in and build through the middle, the full-backs figure prominently in the tactical setups of both Everton and Liverpool—Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines have been every bit as impressive and important as the Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique duo over at Anfield.

And with Enrique out with a knee injury (according to BBC Sport, he will likely face surgery), Liverpool’s deputy left-back—whether it’s Aly Cissokho or Mamadou Sakho—will face a battle on his hands against Coleman and the talented Kevin Mirallas.

Johnson and Baines over on Everton’s left flank will be a battle between two of England’s most all-rounded full-backs, and will be equally mesmerizing. We can’t rule out a Baines free-kick or a Johnson stunner as the match-deciding goal either.

Steven Gerrard and His Young Pretender

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The central midfield at Goodison Park will likely feature a matchup that more than fans of the Merseyside derby will be keeping an eye on: Premier League fans, England fans, England manager Roy Hodgson and journalists looking for quick headline fixes will be paying attention as well.

That’s because in Steven Gerrard vs. Ross Barkley, we have the makings of a battle between the present (and soon-to-be past) and the future of the England central midfield.

Everything that Steven Gerrard is and used to be—the influential midfield playmaker, talismanic captain and erstwhile match-winning driving force—Ross Barkley, at 19 years of age, is currently aspiring to emulate.

And everything Barkley has been for Everton this season—a young, energetic talent with a penchant for the spectacular, and a snappy attitude to boot—Gerrard wishes he still had in his locker as a precocious teenager.

A changing of the guard, one that Liverpool fans surely wish was happening at Anfield instead of the derby, could also be pivotal in determining the result on Saturday.

Potential Match-Winners off the Bench

But it’s not just the starting XI that will influence proceedings, especially given the talent present in both squads these days. The match could easily be affected by a managerial masterstroke.

Let’s look at the home bench first, where on-loan Barcelona starlet Gerard Deulofeu is clearly the danger man for the Reds to keep an eye on. His pace, dribbling and eye for goal will be a threat to the Liverpool defence—the No. 10 might even find himself in the starting lineup on Saturday.

Outside of Deulofeu, Everton also have Steven Naismith, who scored the winner against Chelsea back in September, and the admittedly short-of-confidence Nikica Jelavic to call on. Three goalscoring options off the bench, then. Not too shabby.

Quite on the contrary, Liverpool don’t have any strikers to call on, but they do have one of the league’s best strike partnerships in Suarez and Sturridge, of course. Victor Moses and Raheem Sterling are valuable attacking options that will help open up the midfield for SAS and Philippe Coutinho to push through the middle and attack.

Luis Alberto and Joe Allen also help add a sense of calm to the midfield possession play and could be crucial in changing the tempo of the game.

The Swansea Old Boys

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As we look ahead at a new and freshened up Merseyside derby this weekend, it’s also time to pay tribute to Swansea City, for it was at the Liberty Stadium that both Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers made their names as up-and-coming managers.

Indeed, it was Martinez who implemented the aesthetically pleasing and now-famous passing style at Swansea, and Rodgers who continued that legacy and brought the Swans into the Premier League for the first time.

With their similar footballing philosophies of emphasizing technique and passing on the ground, Martinez and Rodgers share one other unique trait: Both were linked with the Anfield hot seat in the summer of 2012.

It was Rodgers who ended up receiving the offer, of course, which potentially makes Saturday a chance for Martinez to settle a personal score with his predecessor at Swansea. It’s already been referenced in the South Wales Evening Post.

The Daily Mail tells us that Martinez has never beaten Rodgers in the league, with the latter winning four and drawing one of their five meetings. Let’s see where the record stands at the end of the 90 minutes.

Referees—and the Fat Lady

Suffice it to say that the men with the whistles have been at the center of the past two Merseyside derbies.

For Liverpool fans, this fixture last year should’ve yielded all three points to the Reds—Luis Suarez’s would-be winner was wrongly chalked off for offside in injury time—while Everton fans will have been incensed at Sylvain Distin’s own ruled-out effort in the reverse fixture in May.

And it’s not only the ruled-out goals: Since the start of the Premier League, the Merseyside derby has seen more red cards than any other matchup, making the referee a central figure in such matchups. According to the Mirror, Phil Dowd will be officiating the 221st derby.

There’s also the small matter of luck. Lady Luck will look to make her presence felt in a pivotal game like this, but that’s the subject of a totally different analysis.

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

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.

Everton 10/01/2011: Professionally Pedestrian

Professional.

That’s what Kenny called our derby win at Goodison Park. That’s what the players will say in the interviews leading up to the next game. That’s what the journalists will write in their post-match reports. That’s what the fans will claim after the labored win.

But the fact of the matter is that Jack Rodwell’s sending off, so undeserved even from a Red perspective, was the turning point in a match-up that’s seen the most number of red cards issued in Premier League history. And Everton’s reduction to ten men didn’t result in an immediate advantage for us either.

As much credit as David Moyes and his men in Blue deserve for grinding out a solid, hardworking performance the ultimately couldn’t resist Liverpool’s finishing, Kenny Dalglish and his charges will shoulder an equal amount of responsibility for a tepid affair.

With Dirk Kuyt restored to the starting lineup, the big-game player, the clutch finisher, the erstwhile derby hero, we fans rested assured that Leighton Baines would have to endure a troublesome 90 minutes. And so this proved, with the left-back rarely enjoying a yard of breathing space. It is a testament to Kuyt’s evolution (or devolution) from an out-and-out striker into a defensive winger, and to the importance of his dogged workrate in this position, that his contribution to this game will be judged based on his closing down of Baines’ left side and how unlike Jordan Henderson he was, rather than his penalty miss.

Of course, he would be remembered for his first penalty miss in a Red shirt had the game ended in anything but a Liverpool victory.

On the back of a solid game all afternoon, Everton’s defence will have been disappointed with their lax marking of Andy Carroll, allowing him to finish clinically into the far corner following Kuyt’s classy dummy from Jose Enrique’s cross, and infinitely more so with Sylvain Distin’s careless clearance straight to Luis Suarez’s chest. That’s how you take your chances when presented them, and let’s hope both strikers, especially the former, will take great confidence from their goals.

The more worrying aspect of the performance was the lack of mobility and movement across the front third, and in Rafa’s jargon, between the lines. On one side of the coin, it’s pleasing to know that we possess the strength in depth to bring on two experienced attackers, Steven Gerrard and Craig Bellamy, with pace, energy and creativity, and it shouldn’t be a surprise to know that both of Liverpool’s goals were scored after their substitute appearances. On the other, it’ll be a cause for concern that we needed the injection of said attributes before we were able to break the deadlock.

We often accuse our midfielders and strikers of passing the ball sideways and backwards when in possession of the football, but it’s also down to a collective lack of penetrating and incisive movement in and around the box. With the ball out wide, the only movement we see is the full-backs providing support but no movement whatsoever in the middle of the park. The ball once again stays forced out wide, and the crosses that do come in aren’t being attacked by our header-in-chief, Mr. Carroll. Where was the constant switching positions so evident early on in the season? Kenny and his coaching staff need to ensure that the bright footballing start to the season doesn’t fizzle out, because if this pedestrian showing persists, we could be in for a long season.

The bright sparks were the substitutes. With Gerrard and Bellamy’s desire and energy so evident in their 20-minute cameos, they should be considered as strong contenders for a first-team spot. Gerrard’s encouraging return from injury has in particular been the highlight in our recent underwhelming performances. Let’s hope he will add some much-needed pace and leadership from the center of the park.

With this potential banana skin out of the way, our upcoming clash against Manchester United has been billed as a key encounter, a test of our credentials. Following their unrelenting start to the season, United have arguably dropped down a notch in their recent performance levels. We’re capable of catching them off-guard to get the optimism back at Anfield in full force.

But my interpretation is slightly different. As much as our matches with United are always important, I see our subsequent fixtures as even more pivotal to our season. Next up in the League are Norwich, West Brom and Swansea, and we know how important it is to be able to kill off these so-called lower-table teams. I’ll hope for stylish, but I’ll be more than satisfied with professional.