On a day when Arsenal were beaten, a poor performance from Liverpool at Goodison Park saw them lose ground in their push for a Top 4 finish. Everton remain 12 points behind their local rivals from across Stanley Park. Here are 5 talking points from what turned out to be a drab Merseyside derby, one that may turn out to be Steven Gerrard’s last.
Playing out from the back only gets Liverpool into trouble
Liverpool supporters to see their team imitate Barcelona as only given them heartache every time one of their defenders dawdles on the ball in the penalty area. This time last year, Liverpool defenders had made 33 errors in executing Brendan Rodgers’ philosophy of playing out from the back, and it was slow passing out at the back that led to the Steven Gerrard error that cost them the title. Crisp forward passing from Liverpool defenders over the Christmas period and thereafter has contributed to the Reds being more solid at the back, but the Reds unnecessarily went back to old habits at Goodison Park. Mamadou Sakho was the chief culprit, attempting to play his way out of trouble with two man covering him, while laboured passing from Joe Allen at the base of the midfield provided opportunities to Steven Naismith and Kevin Mirallas to counter on more than one occasion. The buck stops with the manager here, because Liverpool defenders are clearly being told to do what they are told.
Raheem Sterling’s decision making in the penalty area
There were at least 3 occasions on the night when Sterling would get himself in a good position to do something with the ball inside the box, yet decided to go for the shot rather than pass to other players who were in better positions to score. To be fair to Sterling, he has only started playing for Liverpool as a striker recently; and errors in decision making in that position can be forgiven. However, it must be noted that he gets himself into similar positions when playing out wide. Sterling’s finishing has continuously improved since his debut and will only get better, so learning from days like this will only help him score more frequently over time. After all, Luis Suarez made the same kinds of mistakes 3 seasons ago, but improved so far beyond recognition in 2 years time that his wastefulness under Kenny Dalglish has been long forgotten.
Gutsy showing from Jordan Ibe
Did anyone tell Jordan Ibe that he was playing in a Merseyside Derby at Goodison Park? A thumping shot against the post and a toe poke away from giving Liverpool a first half lead would suggest that Ibe was playing without any fear of the occasion.
For all of Brendan Rodgers’ questionable decision making in the first half of the season; credit must be given where it is due. Rodgers proclaimed at the start of his tenure at the club that he is willing to give Academy graduates a chance even on big occasions, and the selection of Jordan Ibe for only his second start for Liverpool was long overdue sign of him willing to take a tough decision once in a while. Rodgers is showing an affinity to making big calls on Merseyside derbies at Goodison Park; throwing Jon Flanagan into the deep end in November 2013, and now Ibe in a position he has probably not played in before. Ibe faded away towards the end of the game, but showed enough guts to justify his manager’s faith.
Lukaku’s poor positional sense
Having lost their best player last summer, Liverpool supporters can at least blame their struggles this season on the loss of Luis Suarez. Everton, on the other hand, actually signed their best player from last season. That should have made them a much stronger team, but a raft of injuries to key players this season coupled with the Toffees not playing to Lukaku’s strengths has resulted in him doing very little to justify the GBP 28m spent on the big Belgian. To sum up Romelu Lukaku’s performance in a few words, he spent too much time during the game out wide or offside. It was one thing to take up an offside position as a decoy when Everton were passing the ball slowly inside their own half, but his positioning in wide areas left him closer to Everton supporters rather than his own players.
Roberto Martinez has had success in instructing Lukaku to engage opposing left backs in wide areas in the past (like v/s Nacho Monreal at home to Arsenal in April 2014), but Liverpool playing 3 at the back leaves him too far away from the goal to engage Alberto Moreno on the right. His next option was to take on Mamadou Sakho, but he did not create much of an impact even with Sakho dwelling on the ball multiple times. Even switching wings to take on Emre Can did not work; unlike Sakho, the German actually looked comfortable in dealing with Lukaku. It is no slight on Martin Skrtel’s ability as a defender, but the Slovakian has faced problems with big strikers in the past, so placing Lukaku in a central position may have been the best option, as that would have put him in a better position to take advantage of his strengths. Roberto Martinez definitely got it wrong on this count today.
Was Muhamed Besic on the field for too long?
Bosnian midfielder Muhamed Besic plays like he is out to tackle his way into cult hero status at Goodison Park. Everton manager Roberto Martinez decided against starting Ross Barkley in midfield to create chances, instead opting to assign Besic the task of marking Steven Gerrard out of the game. He did well in that aspect, but also mistimed a number of challenges on the night, with Coutinho and Jordon Ibe being notable victims. Besic clearly loves to tackle, but will get into trouble in the future if he made the same kinds of challenges against top teams with players more willing to make a meal out of a foul.
Ross Barkley’s lapses in concentration in midfield prompted Everton manager Roberto Martinez to keep him on the bench, but Barkley’s near-assist to Coleman deep into the second half would suggest that he should have been brought on for Besic much earlier. Barkley himself has a bright future, and Besic will eventually become a key player for the Toffees once Gareth Barry leaves the club.