Liverpool enjoyed a triumphant Saturday afternoon at Anfield, as the Reds defeated Everton 3-1 in the Merseyside derby.
The huge day in the city may have begun with a morning period of rain, however, the heavens opened up for the start of Liverpool’s clash with their close neighbours, which was marked as the first game the club have played ever since the sad passing of Reds legend Ronnie Moran.
A mosaic reading Moran’s nickname ‘Bugsy’ and a minute applause was followed by the game’s opening goal in the eighth minute courtesy of Liverpool’s Sadio Mané.
Everton, though, equalised through young derby debutant Matthew Pennington in the 29th minute, but just two minutes later Philippe Coutinho produced a moment of sparkling brilliance to make it 2-1 to the home side, restoring their lead as they head into the half-time interval.
Everton may have begun the second half on the front-foot, putting pressure on Liverpool in search of an equaliser but the Reds dealt with the heat well and substitute Divock Origi sealed a great performance with a third goal for his side on the hour-mark.
Here are five things we learned from a dominant display by Liverpool.
Excellent day for Reds’ strike-force
Whilst Everton’s hopes for this game were heavily placed on the shoulders of one Romelu Lukaku, Liverpool could afford to place theirs in at least three men the shape of Sadio Mané, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino.
The Reds’ fluid attacking trio rarely disappoint on the big occasions and the Merseyside derby wasn’t to be the odd one out, as each produced an excellent performance to contribute to Liverpool’s win.
Mané opened the scoring, after being played in by Firmino, going at it alone to finish in Everton ‘keeper Joel Robles’ far left corner. The Senegalese was again key to unlocking the Toffees’ occasionally compact defence with his pace and movement causing a lot of Blue confusion.
Add to that the sheer brilliance of Coutinho. For a while, after a long-term lay-off, the league could be forgiven for forgetting just how good the Brazilian is but a lovely solo run from deep in midfield into the box, topped by a sweetly struck curler of a goal was a more than good enough reminder of his quality. The goal – and an assist for Origi’s winning goal – was just a cherry on top of a cake that was a brilliant attacking performance and he would’ve enjoyed his rest after coming off midway in the second half for Ragnar Klavan.
Add again to that another great performance by fellow countryman Firmino, whose best days in a Liverpool shirt often come without him scoring a goal. The Brazil international displayed immense quality on the ball, acting as a link-up man and an exceptional keeper of the ball in situations when it could’ve easily been lost.
Credit also has to be given to Firmino for moving out wide when Mané, unfortunately, came off injured, providing a great platform for Origi to operate centrally.
Zonal marking system doesn’t work for Liverpool
It perhaps isn’t a secret that everytime Liverpool concede a set-piece, be it a corner or a free-kick, the Anfield faithful hold their hearts in their mouths.
That is because their side has often displayed a weakness in these situations, conceding a number of points-costing goals.
A lot of fans and experts can claim to have found the reasons behind this issue, however, anyone who concludes that it is indeed Liverpool’s zonal marking system that allows in so many set-piece goals is arguably the most correct.
In fact, Everton’s goal explains it all.
Instead of marking each blue shirt in the box man-for-man, not to mention assigning two men to guard Simon Mignolet’s goal, Liverpool took up various positions yards away from the Belgian goalkeeper and as a result, the Reds couldn’t keep track of Phil Jagielka, who won a header or Pennington, who simply timed his run to put himself in a perfect position to score.
Based on this evidence, Reds manager Jürgen Klopp may want to consider chucking the zonal marking system in the bin in favour of a man-to-man marking system, that would help his players keep track of each opposing player in set-piece situations as well as guard the goal-line of Mignolet, which has too often been breached.
Commanding display by Matip and Lovren
It has so often proved to be Klopp’s preferred central defensive partnership and why not, when the pair hasn’t lost a single Premier League game when deployed together?
Jöel Matip and the returning Dejan Lovren were given the task of keeping the league’s top scorer quiet, something which a number of defenders have failed to do in games against Everton.
But the duo were absolutely commanding in their roles, constantly holding great positions to tackle, kick, block and head away the Toffees’ attacks.
A pleasing reflection on their contribution should easily be found in Lukaku’s lack of it. The Belgian striker was restricted to just one touch in the box, one chance created and no shots at goal.
Lovren and Matip will now be expected to stay fit and keep producing these kinds of performances, which will help Liverpool’s campaign for that elusive place in the top four come the end of the season.
Can the man in the middle
The Liverpool defence’s strong performance was backed by a similarly impressive display in midfield, where Emre Can stood out in particular.
The German will probably deserve more credit than he receives after this game, given that it was in midfield that many predicted Liverpool would suffer the most in this game following the confirmed absence of captain Jordan Henderson and the ever-influential Adam Lallana.
Without taking any credit away from fellow midfielders Lucas Leiva and Georginio Wijnaldum, who both put in a solid shift, Can was immense in his performance, operating in a classic build-and-destroy role which saw him break a number of Everton’s attacks, as well as feed the ball to Liverpool’s forwards to initiate new ones.
A point of criticism to be used against him, though, is that rather childish tendency to be rash in some challenges. The home side conceded a number of fouls in key areas courtesy of the German international – one of which earned him a yellow card – and it is something Klopp should certainly be working to carve out of him as, especially on the big occasions, calm heads are needed.
Besides that, though, this performance by Čan serves as a welcomed continuation of his good form and a further experience that will help to grow his talent.
Historic win reaffirms Liverpool’s position in Merseyside
Funny enough, there are still a few observers who doubt that Liverpool are indeed Merseyside’s top club, reasoning that it all exists in the minds of the Reds and that Everton are still yet to let go of their underdog status.
Even more hilarious is the timing of such a claim, it usually comes through when the Toffees have entered consistent runs of good form and confidence is flowing through each player’s legs.
However, with Klopp’s third successive victory in the Merseyside derby sealed – making him the first manager to win his first three derby matches in charge – it must be noted that the fact Everton mostly bottle this big occasion, be it at Anfield or Goodison Park, speaks volumes of just who remains the dominant side.
As has been proved on multiple occasions not far from the memory, Everton do not struggle for confidence in this fixture, in fact every player relishes it, but that they lose or fail to win even when they perform well (remember Goodison’s performance back in December?) is either due to wasteful finishing or that Liverpool remain the better team – I am in no doubt that it’s the latter.
Either way, the sky over Merseyside remains red, the Liverpool-born Anfield faithful can enjoy reason-less walks around the city centre for fun this coming week, while Klopp’s men continue their fight to bring UEFA Champions League football back to the city.