The Merseyside teams kicked off this game on the back of fairly unimpressive starts to the new season. Liverpool entered the match with a mere 6 points to their name (2 wins, 3 losses), while Everton were at 5 (1 win, 2 draws, 2 losses). More than the poor point tallies, both teams were acutely aware that they were not firing on all cylinders. Everton’s defence was their biggest area of concern, having conceded 13 goals in 5 games, more than any other Premier League team. Liverpool meanwhile have struggled to score goals, especially in the absence of Daniel Sturridge.
Liverpool’s Tactics: A Lopsided Attack
Both teams played a variation of a 4-3-3 formation. Liverpool had Mario Balotelli up front with Adam Lallana playing just behind him. Balotelli would drift out wide to create space for Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson. At times he received the ball practically at the touchline on the left flank. This also had the added advantage of allowing him to cut inside and take a shot on goal with his preferred right foot.
With Sheamus Coleman injured, 33-year old Tony Hibbert was given his first start since December 2012. Rodgers was probably looking to exploit this perceived weakness, and what resulted was a very lopsided Liverpool attack. Raheem Sterling played on the left flank, where he and full-back Alberto Moreno tried to attack Hibbert as often as possible. Balotelli, Lallana and Henderson also spent more time on the left side of the pitch than the right. The shots on goal diagram below reveals just how left-heavy Liverpool’s attack was.
Everton’s Tactics: Naismith deep, Lukaku the major goal threat
Everton used a tactic they have employed successfully before, most notably in the 3-0 victory over Arsenal in April of this year. Steven Naismith started as the central player in the attacking trio of Everton’s 4-3-3. He was, however, not the furthest forward, with Romelu Lukaku and Kevin Mirallas further forward with instructions to cut inside as soon as they received the ball. This had worked well for Roberto Martinez in the Arsenal game last season, where Lukaku drifted in to score a magnificent goal. Unfortunately, Mirallas injured his hamstring around 30 minutes into the game and had to be replaced by Aiden McGeady. While McGeady is a talented player in his own right, Mirallas is one of Everton’s best attackers and his injury put a big dent in Martinez’s tactics very early in the game.
Naismith played almost as a false-9 and was charged with pressing Steven Gerrard, which seems to have become a standard approach for stifling Liverpool’s midfield. He did not do as good a job of it as Gabi Agbonlahor did for Aston Villa, or Stewart Downing did for West Ham, and Gerrard was able to spray some of his signature long passes forward.
Penalty shouts ignored
Over the course of the first half, both teams had a penalty claim each turned down. Everton’s penalty shout came when Alberto Moreno brought down Lukaku just inside the 18 yard box, with replays suggesting he may have nicked the Belgian’s leg. Liverpool’s came when a Raheem Sterling shot hit Gareth Barry in the arm. Both could have been penalties on another day, but the referee didn’t award either.
Balotelli and Lukaku frustrate
Mario Balotelli has failed to score his first Premier League goal, having started in Liverpool’s last 4 League games. This game was another outing where he was influential, but failed to get on the score sheet. Two of those chances especially stand out, a cross by Moreno (around the 30th minute mark) and a low cross from Sterling (around the 68th minute mark). He should have scored both, but squandered these precious chances.
Romelu Lukaku’s problem was different; it wasn’t so much lack of an end product, rather more that he simply didn’t do enough to get into a goal scoring position. He was dispossessed 6 times in the game, twice as much as anyone else. The difference between the two is that Balotelli managed to get 10 shots on goal, while Lukaku only had 3. While all 3 of Lukaku’s shots were on target, Balotelli only managed to place 2 of his correctly.
Balotelli’s also building a reputation for himself as someone that goes down too easily. He collapsed to the ground a number of times under minimal contact. It was especially comical to see when you see him holding off two defenders at a time when he wants to.
Lallana, Markovic and Coutinho
Lallana and Lazar Markovic, Liverpool’s new attacking midfielders, both started the game, but both had very different outings. Adam Lallana was probably Liverpool’s best player on the pitch, alongside Henderson. He really worked his socks off; the game started with him pressing Everton players hard, and he was still running up to the 90th minute mark. His creativity and goal threat were also on display, as he was constantly involved in Liverpool’s build up play.
Lazar Markovic continues to disappoint, as he had next to zero contribution to Liverpool’s attack. To be fair to him, he had the difficult task of keeping an eye on Everton left-back Leighton Baines, and was forced to play very deep for most of the game. This is especially significant considering that he isn’t a classic wide-man by nature, rather more of a wide-forward. Still, he seems to be struggling to adapt to the Premier League, and was taken off at the 60th minute mark.
Philippe Coutinho came on to replace Markovic, and for the first time this season looked like his usual influential self. His movement and passing was excellent, and he instantly began dictating play like a maestro. With both Lallana and he having excellent outings, Rodgers surely has to come up with a way to play these two and Sterling together in the same side.
After all of Liverpool’s attacking threat and creativity, they were punished right in the final minutes for not putting away their chances. At 1-0 up, a 90th minute corner was cleared into the path of an onrushing Phil Jagielka, and the Englishman produced a scorching, swerving volley that a young Steven Gerrard would have been proud of. As much as the pace, the manner in which it curved in the air meant that Simon Mignolet had no chance of saving this rocket of a shot. A tough lesson for Liverpool, a reminder that football can be a cruel game. And a sweet point for Everton for whom one more loss, especially to their better rivals, could have been proven to be too big a dent to their confidence.
Taking the good with the bad
Everton will walk away from this game content with finally having given a good defensive performance. They didn’t concede from open play, despite spending most of the game on the back foot. The make-shift defensive line absorbed the Liverpool pressure well. On the flipside, it was a woeful performance by the Everton attack. Barry spent most of the game passing sideways, while none out of Lukaku, Naismith and McGeady really looked like a threat.
Liverpool will feel the sting of losing two points in a game where they really should have scored 3 or more goals. But Brendan Rodgers will be pleased by the intensity with which the players performed, as well as by the increasing chemistry between the new look attacking line-up. If Balotelli can now start scoring goals, and Daniel Sturridge returns to the side, Rodgers can look to properly set the Liverpool FC season in motion.