After three straight losses in the league, my stomach felt as if someone had forced me to drink a milkshake of creosote and cat sh*t prior to last night’s Liverpool v Everton match. Then David Moyes’ bizarre selection - leaving the limited Straquaclursi against Carra and Skrtel – gave Liverpool the impetus from the off and it was a night to enjoy. Liverpool have, of course, been desperately inconsistent in the league this season - this victory cannot gloss over that and there is clearly a long way to go until this team can challenge for the title. Yet for one night only lets focus on the positives.
By some distance, this was Gerrard’s best game of the season.
I’m not, if you’re wondering, entering a stating the bleeding obvious competition. A hat-trick in a local derby would be the stellar performance in most footballer’s seasons. Yet it’s worth leaving the goals aside for a moment to have a look at Gerrard’s overall play. Despite flashes of his old self in the games he played post groin injury, there was a school of thought that his legs might have gone as his mobility seemed restricted. Both in his passing and his movement tonight, he proved this to be folly. A local derby will, of course, put a bit of extra fuel in the tank, but if you look at his total passes, passes received and passes in the final third, this was clearly Gerrard at his roaming best. His acceleration in attacking positions also seemed to have gone up a notch.
Without Jay Spearing, Gerrard wouldn’t have been able to play this well.
I’ve got nothing against Charlie Adam, but him and Gerrard simply cannot play together as a central midfield partnership against strong opposition. Adam, when played, has been ineffectual in Gerrard’s absence with the only consistent part of his game the amount of times he holds his hand up to apologise for another misplaced pass. When Gerrard plays alongside Adam, most notably and recently in the Carling Cup final, he is restricted mentally because he knows that Adam doesn’t have the tactical discipline, or engine, to cover him. This was possibly Spearing’s best game for Liverpool. Handed the daunting, and nigh-on impossible, job of replacing Lucas, he has been naïve in his passing, positional sense and tackling at times this season but put in a classic Makelele performance last night. He screened the defence, made the lion’s share of his passes in his own half and kept things ticking. He has no real desire to get forward and doesn’t need to. Adam wants to be the star, Spearing wants to do his job. It will be crucial to Liverpool’s future that players like him are kept around for their whole career as vital squad players who are happy to play 20-25 games a season.
But he couldn’t have done it without Jordan Henderson
After two minutes it seemed that Hendo was having one with two hideous crosses and a misplaced pass into touch. His passing stats of 22 completed out of 32 total don’t look good, but his workrate was exemplary and he topped the interceptions chart with seven. He showed what he can do when he settles down with a beautifully weighted pass to Suarez that led to Gerrard’s second and did a huge amount of work off the ball harrying Pienaar into passing sideways and backwards on the right. I’m not about to say he is anywhere near to justifying his £20m price tag, but this was also probably his best game.
Andy Carroll could do with a derby every week
And based on what I’ve said so far so could most players. Carroll in particular has been at his best in home games where you can smell the cordite before kick-off and this game was no different. Every part of his game showed a marked improvement. He won 8 of his 13 aerial battles, received the ball 40 times from a wide variety of passes in plenty of different positions and, although his passing completion rate of 54% seems poor, he tried a lot of first time or one touch balls into dangerous areas. His ball retention was excellent and a real feature of Liverpool’s play was his ability to keep hold of it in tight areas and move the ball on. He did snatch at his two chances, but for a man nicknamed 'The Tractor' in our house, he was more Lambo than Massey Ferguson last night.
There were, of course, plenty of other positives from the game from a Liverpool perspective. Jose Enrique looked back to his imperious best following a slight dip in form, Suarez’s decision making has improved as the fall-out from the Evra case has dissipated, Martin Skrtel showed again why he deserves to be in the Premier League team of the season come May and Martin Kelly was the rampaging full-back who burst onto the scene under Dalglish last season. It will take a huge amount of clever man management for Kenny Dalglish, Steve Clarke and Kevin Keen to get the players to treat every game from now on like a local derby, but when Liverpool play at a high tempo they have shown this season that they can match all of the top sides. The problem is, and has been for at least ten years, beating the sides they are expected to beat. There is a long way to go, but this was a very good performance and it would be nice if it was a catalyst rather than a one-off.
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