A lineup that featured workrate over skill
In this match, Ronald Koeman once again opted for the line-up that gave him the win against Arsenal. He left the speedy but skilled Kevin Mirallas and Gerard Deulofeu on the bench and instead opted for Aaron Lennon and Enner Valencia. In addition, James McCarthy got his second consecutive start over Gareth Barry. The stage was set for a fast paced, high pressing game from both sides and that’s exactly the show we were given in the first half. Everton were able to stifle Liverpool’s speedy game plan for the first half, keeping the majority of the offensive pressure out of the penalty area. On the offensive end, Everton were able to work the ball up the field, but the lack of skill seemed to hurt them as Lennon and Valencia struggled to link up with Romelu Lukaku and create any danger.
This strategy worked well for Everton until McCarthy went down towards the end of the first half and he was replaced after half time with Gareth Barry. Barry, who has been great for Everton all year, was not suited for the type of game Koeman was trying to play. For all his strengths Barry is not fast and not particularly mobile. Liverpool were able to slowly push Everton back into their defensive third and started raining chance after chance against the Toffees. Despite an excellent performance it seemed only a matter of time before Liverpool took the lead.
Lukaku and Barkley were left isolated far too often
When playing a team that presses as well as Liverpool, you cannot leave your best offensive players on an island. It seemed as though every time Lukaku, Barkley or any of the wingers got the ball past the halfway line they were immediately surrounded by two to three Liverpool players and given no outlet. Credit has to be given to Liverpool for executing their press so well, but all of Everton’s attackers seemed so spread apart that there was no way they could find each other once the defensive pressure arrived.
We’ve seen just how dangerous Lukaku can be when he has a partner to play off of. But as we saw over the last few months, when he is left up top with no one to play the ball to, the attack stagnates and the chances never come. There is really no one in the line-up that Koeman put out today that can go and get a goal on their own. There needs to be a concerted effort to attack as a group and yet again that was lacking. Liverpool may have looked the better team, but Everton did have their chances and were unable to capitalize.
A frustrating end to an otherwise fantastic game
This game had everything you could want from a Merseyside Derby. Everton fought off a talented Liverpool squad but were sadly undone by a disastrous and gutting last minute goal. Whether you want to blame Joel Robles, Ashley Williams or lady luck for Sadio Mane’s last minute goal is up to you. However, there is a big positive to be drawn from this performance. Everton showed the effort and heart that they had been seriously lacking throughout their winless streak. Obviously a derby match will bring out the best in the players, but as they did against Arsenal, the Toffees looked interested in grinding out a result.
Everton will have some opportunities for points in the next few weeks as they face underachieving Champions Leicester City, followed by Hull City and will look to get revenge on Southampton a few days later. The points are there to be taken, Everton just need to grind like they have the last two weeks.