06 February 2010

Liverpool 1-0 Everton

Carragher Kyrgiakos Agger Insua
Lucas Mascherano
Kuyt Gerrard Maxi

Kuyt 55’

Wonderful. “Can we play you – with 10 men – every week?”

It was a typical Merseyside derby, and the first half seemed typical of Liverpool’s season. Chippy beyond belief, multiple set plays for both sides, chances few and far between, and the inevitable red card. And given Liverpool’s luck, it was Kyrgiakos sent off when Fellaini stamped on his ankle, with the Belgian escaping any sanction. After Fellaini had kicked Kuyt in the face eight minutes earlier.

Unsurprisingly, it was finely balanced to begin the match: the game played mostly in midfield, with fouls, free kicks, and corners quickly piling up. Gerrard tested Howard early on with a dangerous free kick from near the byline, but neither side carved out much in front of goal. Reina was first called into action on an Everton set play, tipping Baines’ free kick over the bar in the 22nd.

The story was clearly the battle in the middle. Carragher, Mascherano, and Pienaar all picked up cautions before the 30th minute, and there probably should have been more, most significantly the aforementioned Fellaini incident, kicking the ball into Kuyt’s face from inches away after Pienaar committed his first bad tackle. The South African’s second tackle, where he got the yellow, could have seen him off as well.

And in the 33rd minute, Fellaini was in the middle of more controversy. Both he and Kyrgiakos charged for a loose ball. The Greek defender dove in two-footed, winning the ball and getting the man, with Fellaini stamping on Soto’s ankle as he rode the challenge. Both players stayed down while the commentators bayed for a red card, and the red card came, but not for whom the announcers and fans expected. If anything, both should have gone. But Kyrgiakos bafflingly wandered off the pitch as Fellaini was stretchered off, to be replaced by Arteta hoping to exploit the space between Liverpool’s 10 men. To be fair, it's almost impossible to referee a derby, and at the end of the day, Atkinson tried let the game flow, but to say I was infuriated at this decision is a massive understatement.

Liverpool shifted to 4-4-1, with Mascherano moving to right back, as Everton looked to put their numerical edge to use. Yet Liverpool had the best chance of the half, with Gerrard pinging a 25-yard free kick off the crossbar in the 45th. The second half started with Everton’s best spell of pressure, finally using the ball with a man advantage, and Cahill nearly heading in from Mascherano’s errant clearance in the 47th (although there looked to be an offside flag in the build-up).

But in the 55th, Liverpool got the goal the only way it was coming, finally putting the set plays to good use. Kuyt, making a nuisance of himself in the six-yard box, got between Neville and Howard to redirect Gerrard’s in-swinging corner past the keeper. I can’t wait to hear the media condemn the man marking on that one.

The goal clearly knocked Everton off their stride, possibly remembering Liverpool’s 3-1 win with 10 men in 2006. After Kuyt deftly cleared for a corner from Donovan’s clever run and cross in the 59th, the away side took 30 minutes to threaten Liverpool’s goal. It was the perfect display of how to play with 10 men, as two banks of four soaked up pressure, and Babel (on for Ngog in the 64th) put in an impressive performance as a lone striker relieving the pressure with pace.

Liverpool was perfectly content with a contentious, closed off game as Lucas and Gerrard were outstanding in midfield and Carragher a rock at the back. Emotions boiled over the 84th, Gerrard seeing yellow for a rude tackle in which he won the ball but purposely followed through Pienaar’s shoulder, prompting Anichebe to start handbags for which he was also cautioned.

Everton pressure was obviously coming, and they finally threatened in the penultimate minute of normal time. Yakubu worked out an inch of space and forced an excellent save from Reina with a fierce shot. Three minutes later, Anichebe rolled Insua to get to the byline, but tried to chip the on-rushing Reina, who smoothly collected. The game went out with a rightful bang when Pienaar finally got his marching orders, a second yellow for elbowing Gerrard, which was basically the last action of the match. And now we get to gloat.

It’s easy to be a Kuyt and Lucas apologist today. Along with the two Scousers, these four were utterly instrumental to the victory. Make no mistake – everyone played well, it was an immaculate team performance, which was needed given circumstances – but those players were head and shoulders above the rest. Another derby goal for Kuyt (who seemingly loves big games) – his 50th for the club and another season in double figures – while Lucas and Gerrard (in an inspiring and vocal performance worthy of Liverpool’s captain from Stevie) shut down the creative Arteta and Osman. Carragher gave Saha and Yakubu no space to operate, diving in reminiscent of Istanbul even if Everton posed half the threat of Milan. Special mention also goes out to Insua, who memorably kept Donovan quiet for long stretches.

Along with those against United, this is my favorite match when Liverpool wins. That they did it with backs against the wall – both because of this season’s form and today’s harsh sending off – makes it even better. The perfect riposte; I couldn’t be prouder right now. Yes, Liverpool needs results, and three points couldn’t be more warmly welcomed, but what we’ve demanded is resilience, fortitude, and Liverpool looking like an actual team. We got that in spades today.

Not a bad morale boost before Arsenal on Wednesday.


Mike Georger said...

Overshot my alarm as always, woke up and grabbed the blackberry immediately to check the score, first thing I saw was the red card, ran downstairs to watch the replay and lost my shit. What a bad decision.

The announcers are fucking idiots. They kept insisting Dirk should have been alone in up top and Babel out right. Yeah, because down a man you want the one who can track back and defend playing alone up top and have the speedster playing in midfield. Ridiculous, they hate us so much.

Was impressed with Babel killing the game off, and he was miles onside for that breakaway, should have had a 1v1.

Insua pantsing Donovan twice in one possession was so tasty it must be fattening.

Marc said...

"We got that in spades today."

Yes. Yes. Yes.

I'm as tired of "new beginnings" as every other supporter, but this stands out above all other new dawns for one reason: when the breaks went against us, we worked HARDER instead of shrinking away.

Atkinson looked terrified by having to ref this game. To let Pienaar stay on the pitch after his assault on Masch was terrible. To not even book Fellaini for his assault on Kuyt was terrible. But to send off the Greek was unforgivable. First, because Kyrgiakos was clearly responding to the "let the players play" tone supposedly set by Atkinson, and second because Fellaini committed the worse offense by stomping on Kyrgiakos. Tossing them both would have been fine, but JUST our best defender of late? Check the man's wagers for signs of fixing (half kidding).

Earlier this year, the team would have slumped over, lost energy, and hung back hoping for a draw. But today they never let up, and that's the spirit that I've been missing and craving this season.

You're dead-on about Kuyt, Gerrard, Carra, and Lucas being the stars, but I want to expand on two others.

1) Benitez

How ABOUT that man management, eh? Putting Babel on and then leaving him as the exposed striker because of his pace, range, and fresh legs was brilliant. Truly inspired. In my opinion, it had as much to do with the victory as anything else, because the guy's such a bundle of energy that he forced Everton to respect him at all times. That decision was the single best tactical move the man has made all year and I hope he's back to feeling bold and confident again.

2) Insua

You mentioned that he bottled up Landycakes, and that he did. (Aside: that flop from Donovan in the first half made me see red.)

But Insua has taken his offensive game to another level. Sure, there were some misfired crosses and the like, but he rampages down the sideline and his confidence shows in his willingness to go full speed. With his occasionally brilliant passes, movement up the pitch, and his ability to get back and challenging all improving, I think we might be seeing a long-term left back emerging.

Part of the reason I think we're all knotted up about 4th place is money. We're all scared of pulling a Leeds and collapsing under the weight of our owner-driven debt. And that's a super real fear. But it's too bad, because it means we have to forget about this win ASAP and try to pile on the deflated Arsenal.

But for one day, at least, we can bask in the glory of an inspired, magical derby win.

And Man City being down 1-0 for the moment. ;)

Marlon said...

I don't really understand Americans not liking Donovan, but I was glad he had one of his few bad games in England today.

nate said...

I don't dislike Donovan, it's just that Landycakes is such an easy target, it's fun to mock him.

When forced, like when the US beat Spain, I'll willingly admit he's a very good player, better than I usually give him credit for.

Abhiram said...

i donno how it works but can we do anything about Fellaini and Pienaar's tackle? Those fuckers would have taken out our best defensive midfielder and our recent best CB. Pienaar's tackle was one of the worst i've seen. I was actually surprised that Mascher was not injured.

This is what is needed for us now. This grit and determination will take us a long way. Loved the way in which we rose against Everton, the ref and every bloody manc press support and won this. Bring on the Arse...


Anonymous said...

I'll echo Marlon's sentiments -- Donovan is quite easily the USMNT's best player who gets bashed way too frequently. I do have to say, though, that Landycakes is a pretty fantastic nickname.

And on another USMNT front, Altidore scored his first EPL goal against Man City.

I'm pretty sure this is the best I've seen Liverpool look in quite a while. Their execution when they went to ten men was superb -- controlled breakouts + impenetrable defense. Outstanding.


Abhiram said...

Read this somewhere :)

"Rafa’s halftime talk: 'It only takes 9 men to beat Everton and you guys have a man extra. So go and do it.'"


Anonymous said...

Great Derby win!Keep it up...

Aravind said...

Great Morale booster indeed. Playing 10 men for most of the game and still end up dominating it means the players have found some of their lost confidence. And what a fixture for Kuyt to get his derby goal.

Here's my take on the events.