Arbeloa Skrtel Carragher Dossena
Kuyt Alonso Gerrard Riera
Torres 59’ 63’
Just as promised: hands up, I was wrong. Liverpool deployed the 4-4-2, with Alonso for Mascherano because of injury the only deviation from my guess at a squad, and Liverpool leave Goodison two-nil winners thanks to the genius of Fernando Torres.
The first half left me wishing for the 4-2-3-1, though. Liverpool didn’t get a shot on target, and were probably second best even though they had more possession. Not out of character for a Merseyside derby, it was an exceptionally cagey 45 minutes.
Everton will rue their missed opportunities. Skrtel could have been whistled for a penalty within 4 minutes, shoulder-to-shoulder with Yakubu trying to shield the ball to Reina (incidentally, Yakubu’s got Drogba syndrome – someone that large shouldn’t fall over that easily, and I thoroughly enjoyed his yellow for diving in the 48th). Cahill had the chance of the first half, but was unable to turn his body to poke in Arteta’s corner that ran through the box. And Carragher had to clear off the line in the 28th, although it wouldn’t have counted for an invisible foul on Reina.
Meanwhile, as in the past, Liverpool couldn’t link attack and midfield even though Gerrard and Alonso did well in the center, and the first 45 felt an awful lot like last Saturday against Stoke. However, things changed fairly quickly in the second half.
Within 10 minutes of the restart, Liverpool finally started getting shots off, even though none tested Tim Howard. They continued to up the pressure, with Gerrard and Alonso’s dominance in midfield beginning to pay off, and in the 59th minute, that man Torres finally made the breakthrough, with a lot of credit going to his strike partner.
Keane, who continued to be frustrated up front (and still looks hesitant to shoot), got to the byline and chipped a perfect cross for Torres to volley in at the far post. The way the two strikers celebrated shows what the goal meant to them. And less than 4 minutes later, the same player put the game on ice when Kuyt and Keane linked up excellently, with the ball falling to an open Torres after Kuyt was tackled in the box. Liverpool’s number nine doesn’t make mistakes from there.
Liverpool had the ball in the net twice more within four more minutes. First, Kuyt’s was rightfully ruled out because the ball went over the byline before Riera’s cross. Then, Torres was wrongly denied his hat-trick when Riley blew for a foul by Kuyt (unsurprisingly, Riley couldn’t keep his whistle out of his mouth), which would have been his best goal of the three.
After that spell and two goals to the good, Liverpool looked content to sit back and wait for the counter. Everton let a couple of chances go begging before Cahill was red carded for a late, studs up two-footed tackle on Alonso in the 80th minute, the third red card in the last three derbies. Howard made a superb save on Gerrard in the 84th, and Saha unleashed a cracker that wasn’t far wide in the 89th, but Liverpool easily saw out the end.
So what can I say? Benitez knows this team better than I, and even though the first half wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing, Liverpool did the job. Merseyside derbies are usually tight contests, and that’s where players like Torres make the difference.
All credit to Liverpool’s number nine. He had been frustrated for long spells and earned a yellow card for dissent in the 50th minute. For the most part, Jagielka did an excellent job denying him space. But when given the opportunity in the 59th and 63rd minutes, he won the game for the away side.
In addition, I’ve got to highlight Gerrard’s performance. I still believe he sits too deep in the 4-4-2 to attack as effectively as he did last season, but he was involved in everything in the middle of the park, and with Alonso, was the key to Liverpool getting more and more possession (and making better use of it) as the game went on. And don’t let my praise for Gerrard detract from Alonso’s performance: the Spaniard was just as responsible for Liverpool’s play in the middle, and that’s where the game was won. It was Alonso who sent in the throughball for Keane to set up Liverpool’s first.
And yes, I’ve got to mention Kuyt as well. It’s uncharacteristic for me to criticize him, and I should have remembered that these are the types he thrives in. He worked his shorts off, denied Everton space whenever possible, and was much more involved in the second half when he looked to come infield more often.
But other than a couple of questionable moments from Skrtel and Dossena, I’ve got little to complain about. It’s very hard to nitpick after a win in the derby. Wins over Everton and United make last Saturday much easier to forget. Even though I don’t think the formation or the team’s fully settled, Liverpool’s made their best start to the season under Benitez. Now, they’ve got to continue that against PSV on Wednesday.