14 April 2012

Liverpool 2-1 Everton

Jelavic 24'
Suarez 62'
Carroll 87'

So, how meaningful was that Blackburn win? Liverpool's last two matches have clearly demonstrated the importance of self-belief. That and late winners. Few things in life are better than late winners.

For just over an hour, Liverpool's tactics and team selection were under rightful heavy criticism because of yet another goal conceded because of yet another individual mistake. Agger was at left-back; Downing's ineffectiveness on the left forced him to the right, relegating Henderson to the left; and Gerrard and Spearing struggled to hold the center. And yes, Carragher was playing. But sometimes tactical and personnel errors can be overcome by self-belief.

Especially when David Moyes' Everton are your opponents. The Blues were just as insipid tactically, if not more so, failing to take advantage of Liverpool players out of position and only ahead because of Liverpool's Hari-Carra. Thankfully, what goes around comes around, and Distin's back-pass, incredibly reminiscent of Flanagan's on Tuesday, was seized upon by Suarez, holding off Distin before cleverly beating Howard with the outside of his right foot. From there, only one side was looking to win the match, limiting Everton to a couple of infrequent, self-inflicted counters. And in the 87th minute, Andy Carroll won the match.

The announced line-up did make a certain amount of sense. The front six was the same as the last derby, where Liverpool won 3-0. Agger at left back countered Osman, who frequently plays as a tucked-in midfielder, even if the change was as much to allow Carragher on the field. Again, disappointing, and evidently the wrong decision, but it's Carra, a derby, and he played well in the last one. I don't know what else to say. We all know the elephant in the room.

And Liverpool started relatively strongly: good work from Johnson and Carroll released Spearing, who shot over from distance within three minutes, and an uncleared dangerous set play ended when Skrtel hit his left-footed shot into the ground and too close to Howard. But both were tenuous half-chances, typical for a Merseyside derby, with Everton also threatening on Baines' free kick and when Neville beat Downing but Jelavic saw his attempted bicycle easily saved by Jones.

Then disaster struck, again. Typical Liverpool, and sadly, what's become typical Carragher. If it's any other player on the pitch, save maybe Gerrard, Agger clears immediately. But in this case, Agger leaves it after Skrtel's header ricocheted off Jelavic, either because Carra's screaming or just because of his presence, and when Carra finally takes the initiative, he slams his clearance off Cahill, falling perfectly for (a marginally-offside) Jelavic to slot home. Sigh.

At least Liverpool didn't fall apart, as has happened far too often after conceding, but Liverpool didn't have much of a reply either. The Reds continued to have more of the ball, helped by Everton's preference for sitting back and defending a lead, but frequently lost possession because either A) Downing was terrible on the left or B) too many players were looking for Gerrard to single-handedly rescue the side yet again. That Downing switched to the right late in the first half improved his performance, but rendered Henderson wholly insignificant. And having Henderson and Agger manning the left flank could and should have been punished by more threatening opposition than Osman and Neville.

Half-time couldn't have come sooner, and Liverpool came out for the restart better despite no changes, boosted by what was should have been 15 minutes of shouted lectures. In what eventually turned out to be a delicious bit of synchronicity, Carroll opened Liverpool's improved second-half by spurning an outstanding chance, just as he had on Tuesday. It wasn't especially delicious at the time, though. Soon after Spearing's through ball was just over-hit when he should have released Suarez clear on goal.

But then, Everton began taking the game to Liverpool, and a second goal despite Liverpool's improvement felt certain. It certainly wouldn't have been for the first time this season. However, Distin's equivalent moment of madness happened first, and from there, only one side looked capable of winning. Well, only Liverpool showed any initiative in finding a winner. Carragher still found time to almost be the scapegoat again, turned by Osman in the 77th and allowing Jelavic in behind on Fellaini's flick in the 82nd, but Jones saved the former and Jelavic hit the side-netting with the latter.

After going behind, Moyes finally attempted to take advantage of Liverpool's left flank, replacing Gueye with Coleman, an out-and-out right winger. But Coleman made little impact – Everton's chances came from the other side of the pitch – and Liverpool replaced Henderson with Maxi seven minutes later. The substitute set up Carroll twice – the first shot just wide from the top of the box, the second accidently blocked by Suarez, in the 77th and 84th respectively – but it was Liverpool's second substitute who ultimately made the difference, with Bellamy replacing Downing in the 84th.

Three minutes later, the Welshman's free kick from the left flank arced directly to Carroll's forehead, smartly positioned between Jelavic and Fellaini, unstoppably flicked backward and over the despairing Howard. Just like against Blackburn, a redemptive late winner after earlier missed chances but an overall decent display. There were better players on the pitch, but we couldn't have chosen a more-fitting goal-scorer. Never underestimate the potential for narrative fulfillment; real life loves a happy, appropriate ending almost as much as the movies.

Once again, there's more tactical uncertainty, questionable selections, and individual disappointments. But once again, Liverpool come away winners, refusing to lose a cup tie and obviously buoyed by last week's combative rally.

Suarez was Liverpool's best player, often Liverpool's best and only threat in attack, ruthlessly punishing Distin's solitary error, which was the crucial turning point. Carroll deservedly gets to play the hero for the second-straight match. Johnson and Skrtel continued to be defensive cornerstones, while Agger didn't disappoint in an unfamiliar position. And when changes came, they were the right changes, as both Maxi and Bellamy made a difference off the bench. There's still a fair few questions about both the squad and the manager, but at the very least, Liverpool have answered the mental questions over the last couple of matches. And those were the most important and most necessary. Oh, and now there's a second domestic cup final on the horizon. That should help the side's morale somewhat.

Now, Chelsea or Tottenham in the final, a club Liverpool's beaten in four consecutive matches or a club Liverpool's failed to beat in four consecutive matches. But until then, Liverpool need to continue demonstrating this newly-found self-belief in the league. It's a lot easier to lose confidence than keep building on slow, steady improvement.


Calico Jack said...

Huge momentum swing and character display in 2nd half by LFC. Hoping we get Chelsea in the finals.

LOL ... you got 'Reina' in goal on the diagram!

David Whitmore said...

Hari-Carra! Ha nice one :D

nate said...

Ha, made that same mistake against Villa, but caught it soon after posting. No such luck today. Embarrassing. Thanks, Jack.