Carragher Skrtel Hyypia Riise
Kuyt Gerrard Babel
When Torres opened up the scoring within the first ten minutes, it looked like it could be one of those days. No such luck in the derbies.
In the 7th minute, with Liverpool taking the game to Everton from the opening whistle, Alonso stripped Yakubu following Gerrard’s corner, Kuyt fed Torres out wide, and Liverpool’s top scorer beat Howard inside the far post for his 28th of the season.
To their credit, Liverpool were in control for the rest of the half: keeping possession, creating chances, and limiting Everton to next to nothing, with Yakubu completely isolated as a lone striker. It’d be little exaggeration to say the home side could have gone into halftime two or three to the good.
In the 25th minute, Gerrard’s corner eluded both Kuyt and Lucas in the six-yard box, followed by Babel unable to get on the end of Riise’s cross minutes later. Before the end of the half, Gerrard’s superb volley struck the foot of the post while Kuyt volleyed wide from Torres’ layoff soon after.
But despite their dominance, Liverpool was unable to get the second goal that would have seen the game off, which, unfortunately, is a story we’ve heard before.
Although it looked like a matter of time before Liverpool notched another in the first half, the second was a different matter. For all of Liverpool’s possession in the opening 45, it was Everton who dictated the tempo and stretched the field in the latter, with Liverpool seemingly content to soak up pressure and forage for a second on the counter. But Liverpool didn’t force Howard into a save until the final five minutes.
However, for all of Everton’s possession, they also created little of their own. For all the time on the ball and all the free kicks and corners, their lone clear chance came in the 59th minute, when Osman’s diving effort from Arteta’s corner sailed wide.
But it was still edgy, and it felt like it could have been avoided with some substitutions, especially with Lucas clearly tiring early in the second half and Alonso less influential as well.
Admittedly, Liverpool was restricted by who was available (the bench was Itandje, Finnan, Crouch, Benayoun, and Pennant), but it didn’t seem coincidental that Liverpool’s two best chances of the second half came in the final five minutes, after Benayoun had come on for Babel and Pennant for Torres. In addition, had Mascherano been available, Everton assuredly wouldn’t have had anywhere near as much time on the ball, and today was a clear demonstration how he’ll be missed. No matter how few chances they created, given Everton’s amount of possession and the fact that anything can happen in a derby, it still felt like they could nick one if given an opportunity.
The main reason they weren’t given that opportunity was Martin Skrtel, who’s probably the man of the match. Although Yakubu operating as a long striker didn’t help matters, Skrtel (who played 90 minutes midweek for Slovakia) kept him in check all game long, and made some timely interceptions when Everton looked to go long or break.
Adding his pace to a defense that’s lost a step this season (and has been further hurt by Agger’s absence) is a big reason why Liverpool’s still in 4th place. But credit goes to the entire defense as well, allowing Everton nothing from their multiple set pieces, with additional plaudits for Riise, who was composed all game long and put in some dangerous crosses in the first half.
Gerrard also had an excellent first half, although his influence diminished with Everton’s increased possession and he wasn't helped by Alonso and Lucas being bypassed by much of the play. But earlier in the match, he, Alonso, and Lucas bossed Carsley and Neville (with both Everton’s central midfielders picking up bookings within 20 minutes), and the captain showed some immense vision in his long-range passing. When he’s on his game, he can turn defense into attack in the blink of an eye, so critical to the quick-strike counter that Torres feasts off of.
And that man Torres merits another mention as well, again scoring the winner (his sixth-straight game with a goal at Anfield in the league), while Kuyt, although spurning a couple of good chances, got the assist and was absolutely everywhere on the field, superbly defending from the front.
No matter the nervousness and scrappy play in the second half, a win in the Merseyside derby is sweet no matter how it’s earned. And doing the double over Everton makes it even sweeter, especially after last season’s debacles.
Liverpool’s now five points clear of fifth place with six games to play. Roll on Arsenal, Arsenal, and Arsenal.