Liverpool: Sturridge Subbing Proves Rodgers Won't Allow Ego To Affect Us
It seems slightly absurd to point out after the fact but, when the Liverpool team sheet first appeared an hour before the Derby was due to kick off, the first response was one of muted panic.
All the issues that had caused such chaos in the first half of the 2-2 draw with Aston Villa were present once again; too many attack minded players on the pitch with Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling and the still supposedly out of form Coutinho all starting, no midfield enforcer, Gerrard apparently carrying out the holding role that had proved so ineffectual in the previous league game once more and a back four that was a convincing reassessment of the dictionary definition of 'unconvincing'.
'Mirallas will destroy Cissokho' some of us protested. 'We're going to be swamped in midfield, Barry and McCarthy will run the game, Barkley will push on Gerrard all game.'
This, it seemed, was Everton's chance to record a convincing win at Anfield, to overhaul us in the battle for that fourth spot (and I'll say it again now; who says that we're battling for fourth? Four points off Arsenal, everybody still to come to Anfield - we're in the fight for top spot and we'll see where we end up. I was scoffed at over the weekend for extravagant claims, I'll accept written apologies at the end of the season), to deal us a massive psychological blow.
Everton have, after all, only lost twice this season and have a fine squad who are capable of playing creative, impressive football. This Derby was potentially worrying.
It's lovely to be wrong sometimes isn't it?
4-0. Let's say that again shall we? Four. Nil. Again, that score flattered our opponents; six or seven would not have been unmerited such was Liverpool's utter dominance and clinical efficiency. Such was, quite crucially, Brendan Rodgers' tactical superiority over Roberto Martinez in the latter's first attempt to alter Everton's fortunes on our side of Stanley Park.
Martinez got every aspect of his game plan as wrong as was possible; an injury list matched only by our own ensured that the Everton manager was forced to employ players out of position and to recall those that were clearly not yet close enough to fitness to influence a game of this magnitude.
John Stones looks to be a potentially impressive young centre back a right back he clearly isn't; his role was clearly to push up on the hapless Cissokho as often as he could in order to exploit the many weaknesses of our current left back. This was a glorious tactic. Glorious in that it gave Daniel Sturridge the run of the left side of the pitch. Rodgers' stroke of brilliance here was to line up as a 4-1-4-1, Gerrard as the libero or regista or whichever fancy term we're using this week for the lad that sits in front of the back four and dictates the pace of the game, Sturridge and Suarez taking turns as alternately left winger and lone front man. Everton's midfield could see no way through our back line, their defence could't figure out who to mark so gave up altogether and watched as eleven red shirts harried and chased every time a blue shirt so much as thought about touching the ball.
It was, as one of our current favourite songs would have it, 'poetry in motion'.
It seems churlish then to want more but after fifty minutes the match was over and a succession of substitutes broke the rhythm of the second half altogether.
The damage had been done in the first 45 minutes, specifically in a thirty minute stretch when Liverpool had been phenomenal. Howard had made five saves in the first twenty minutes before Gerrard's header broke the deadlock. Suarez' corner looked as though it would be most notable for the amount of cash that the 'travelling' fans were willing to donate to him but it should be fairly obvious that if you try to wind up Suarez then he will reply by hurting your team. A perfect corner, a powerful header and Gareth Barry putting Lukaku out of action with ligament damage all in one movement. Throw as much money as you like at Luis.
Suarez started the rout, Suarez finished the rout with the fourth goal, running half the length of the pitch calmly slot past Howard after a moment of carelessness from Jagielka. In between, though, it was the Daniel Sturridge show with his movement, pace and vision proving far too much for Everton's makeshift back four. Such was Sturridge's effectiveness, so strong was his performance that, when Sterling was upended by a sliding Tim Howard in the area, Gerrard decided that the penalty should provide the striker's hat trick.
Yes, we were four nil up and the game was safe but there is still no space for sentimentality. 5-0 would have been an even more humiliating scoreline ad could easily have lead to more. Sturridge still could have hit his third from open play. Instead he skied his kick into the Kop.
And then 'his head went'. He was single minded in his pursuit to atone for his error. Too single minded. Too self concerned, ignorant to the needs of the team or the availability of his colleagues. The only person that was shocked when Rodgers chose to remove him from play was the player himself. Words were exchanged on the touchline. The player's apology followed soon after.
The message is clear; the manager can make unpopular decisions and won't allow ego to run a game. It was one more thing that Brendan Rodgers got right on a quite glorious night.
This was the difficult game. This was the six pointer. This was the test. This was where we would stumble.
We walked it. Anything is possible.
Follow Ian on Twitter, @fish2310