The blackforest cake is a worldwide favourite. From the outside, you can see the different layers, icing and the little cherry on the top. But once you bite into it, you get a taste of what it is actually made up of. Your taste buds touch upon each layer, identifying the different ingredients as you take a second bite, making the cake a heavenly experience and bringing you to a different world. The Merseyside Derby is the blackforest for football fans.
Everton hosted Liverpool in the 219th Merseyside Derby on Sunday afternoon. The Toffees finished the season over Liverpool last year and were ahead of their neighbours prior to this game. As fans of Everton and Liverpool all over the globe were gearing up for a game of high adrenaline and tempo, the two teams walked out of the tunnel with plenty of faces making their debut for the first time in England’s favourite derby.
The 4-3-3 formation set out by Brendan Rodgers had six debutants of the Merseyside Derby. Brad Jones on goal, teenagers Suso and Sterling supporting Suarez upfront while Andre Wisdom, another Academy promotion, at right back for the first time in this feisty clash of red and blue. Summer arrivals Nuri Sahin and Joe Allen started in midfield alongside captain Steven Gerrard. Last but not the least, new Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers was going to witness his first Merseyside Derby, something which would now be etched in his mind for many years to come.
Everton were doubtful of kicking off without the services of Marouane Fellaini but the Belgian international was passed fit prior to the match. For the Toffees, Kevin Mirallas and Steven Naysmith were featuring in their first Merseyside Derby. With Steven Pienaar absent from the squad due to suspension, Mirallas had a key role to play on the left-wing for David Moyes’ side.
The first half began with Liverpool’s domination all the possession. Raheem Sterling straightaway got into the thick of things as he was the runway for the Liverpool attack out from the right. Over at the left, Suso was shuttling between a link-up play with Suarez and left-back Jose Enrique. The partnership between Spanish duo paid off in the fourteenth minute when Suso chipped the ball away from an incoming Osman towards Enrique who went past Seamus Coleman and whipped in a low cross. The ball made its way past the goal but fell to Suarez who gave it a thunderous kick which ricocheted off Leighton Baines and into the goal. Liverpool drew first blood.
Soon after a taunting celebration in front of the Everton box by Suarez, Liverpool were awarded a free kick outside the box. Steven Gerrard did well to whip the ball right into the center. The ball glanced Suarez’ head en route to goal as Agger was backing up in case the Uruguayan missed. It was poor defending from Everton’s part really, their centre-backs Jagielka and Distin failing to get the better of Suarez aerially on that one occasion, which actually was the exception if you consider the entire game from there on.
At this point, things were clearly heating up at Goodison Park. Everton knew that they had to get back in the game as soon as possible if they were to get something out of it. The nature of this derby was taking Liverpool time to set into their passing rhythm and Everton knew that disturbing them at this point by getting a goal back will put them in good stead to mount a serious challenge to win the derby.
Within a matter of minutes, their wish was granted, as Liverpool showed a lapse a defence not once, but twice! First, Brad Jones failed to punch the ball a good distance away from the goal towards a difficult direction, gifting Leon Osman the easy clearance which the veteran fired back into the net off a sweet connect.
This consequently unsettled Liverpool and they started to lose their drive even before getting into it. Everton on the other hand, did the right thing by piling on attacks. And shortly after their first goal, Everton scored a second through Naysmith who met the end of a ball sent in by Fellaini from within the box. Liverpool could have well avoided the goal had Andre Wisdom showed a little more desire to mark defending Fellaini failing which, Skrtel could have stuck out a leg to push the ball behind for a corner. Instead, there was a gaping hole where it should have actually been a crowded Liverpool box and Everton made the most of it.
Once the scoreline read 2-2, it was just a question of which team was going to come out as the cherry on the blackforest. But this was just the beginning. Four goals in a matter of seven minutes brought the game back to the start but with a new level of push and resilience. While Everton’s confidence was growing by the minute, Liverpool panicked too soon and failed to control the tempo of the game. To make matters worse, Sterling’s position on the right was getting jeopardized as he and Leighton Baines were engaged in a close battle. Rodgers made the right move of switching the winger’s position with that of Suso on the left.
As expected, Fellaini was the epicenter for Everton’s attack in the first half. Joe Allen was tasked with marking the boisterous Belgian and was clearly struggling to get the better of him. Liverpool didn’t really have much of a choice here due to Lucas Leiva’s injury. This resulted in a change in personnel for the second half. Sebastian Coates was brought on to form a trio of central defenders taking turns to mark Fellaini. Jonjo Shelvey also started the second half instead of Suso to add that physical clout to the Liverpool team.
The changes made by Rodgers did bring some consistency to Liverpool’s game as the pace of the match decelerated a bit in the second half. Liverpool did come close to regain the lead when Enrique played a beautiful curling ground pass around Jagielka to Sterling, leaving the teenager in a must-finish position. Instead, Sterling failed to even connect correctly and test Howard in the goal. Had that pass been converted into a goal, Everton would be feeling the pressure once again, considering they have never come from behind to win against Liverpool at Goodison Park since the World War II.
The game slowed down a bit from Everton’s end too. Nikica Jelavic came close on a couple of occasions but otherwise the first few minutes didn’t really take off for the Toffees either. Although the teams were pretty much on par in terms of possession, Everton seemed to be the team with a more effective attack, bringing them in pole position for a winner, if either of the teams deserved one.
The problems at Liverpool’s end were twofold – a) The gap between midfield and the lone striker was too much, leaving no chance for any of the Liverpool midfielders to stay within Everton’s box and build game; b) Sterling and Suarez, no matter how talented they are as football individuals, failed to partner up when it mattered most. It looked like both the attackers were intending on getting that winner himself. This saw a lot of easy chances go out of the window. With a dearth of strikers and hence goals, Liverpool’s attacking line needs to co-operate eyes-closed if the club intends to climb the Premiership ladder.
To top it all, Suarez went in for a rash challenge on Sylvain Distin which deserved a red card for the striker, but the referee decided to restrict himself to just yellows for the afternoon. Liverpool did finally up the ante in the last ten minutes of the game, leading Everton to a struggle to get out of their own half. David Moyes’ side wasn’t doing much wrong up till that point. However, since they were on full throttle, there was nothing more they could do as Liverpool stepped up their attack.
As the four minutes of extra time came into effect, Liverpool were looking to come closer and closer towards a winner. And, with a few seconds left, Gerrard’s free kick stirred a controversial debate. Although Sebastian Coates (who met the free kick first) and Suarez (who converted Coates’ header pass in the box) weren’t offside at the time of the pass made, the assistant referee flagged Coates for an offside position, hence disallowing what would have been another fantastic finish to a Merseyside Derby.
Everton and Liverpool might have shared the spoils at the end of the day and it does look like a draw was a fair result, but Everton are definitely looking like a team that can challenge the top four this season. While Liverpool are on the same boat as their neighbours, they continue to display their work-in-progress against Everton. Consistency is the need of the hour for the Reds, and if Brendan Rodgers is aiming to take the team anywhere close to the top four, there should’ve been a lot of things he scribbled on his notebook through the game.