Liverpool won the 217th Merseyside Derby at Anfield on Tuesday night, putting an end to a poor run of league form, and closing the gap on the sixth placed Newcastle to just two points. A Steven Gerrard hat-trick, his fifth for the Reds, in his 400thPremier League appearance, ensured that David Moyes would not be celebrating his tenth anniversary as Everton boss by gaining his first ever victory at Anfield.
The hosts, coming off the back of a dismal performance at the Stadium of Light last time out, made several changes to the starting line-up. Carragher came in for Coates at centre-back, Andy Carroll was recalled as was Stuart Downing, with Dirk Kuyt and Craig Bellamy dropping out, and in midfield, the return to fitness of Steven Gerrard, meant that Charlie Adam was relegated to the bench.
Everton, on an impressive run in the league, unbeaten in six, a streak which has seen them pick up victories over Chelsea, Manchester City and, most recently, Tottenham, made six changes to their starting line-up. Rodwell made his first start after a long injury lay-off, as did Jagielka, with Osman, Jelavic, Cahill and Heitinga amongst those who had to settle for a place on the bench.
Liverpool began the game at pace, passing the ball at a high tempo and with purpose, in much the same vein as they began against Arsenal nine days previously. It was the first time that Gerrard, Carroll and Suarez had been on the pitch from the start in the Premier League, and they immediately showed signs of linking up well. Gerrard’s early burst into the box brought Howard out to clear the danger, however when the ball broke loose in the area, only a sensational block from Rodwell stopped Jordan Henderson putting the hosts in front.
Everton’s response came quickly, excellent work from Baines on the left hand side, allowed the England international to beat Martin Kelly, before cutting the ball back to Stephen Pienaar, who struck at the near post from eight yards. The South African however, leaning back, sent the ball high into the Kop.
It was the home team though that were in the ascendency, and Howard had to be at his best to deny Luis Suarez; the Uruguayan latching on to Carroll’s flick-on and hitting a rasping first time shot, on the volley, across the Everton stopper, who got down sharply to save with his fingertips. Liverpool took the lead shortly afterwards, Martin Kelly’s 34th minute shot, too hot for Howard to hold onto, and when the ball was laid back, Gerrard lifted a perfectly flighted, left-foot finish, over the Everton keeper and covering defenders, into the back of the net.
Everton, forced into action by their concession, pushed to get back into the match, and had the better of the play as the first-half drew to a close, without creating anything to trouble Pepe Reina. This pattern continued after the re-start in the opening few minutes, however, the Toffees’ hopes of taking anything back to Goodison with them were crushed in the 51st minute, by another Gerrard finish. Suarez’s run was picked out brilliantly by Henderson’s through-ball, the tricky number 7 picked up the ball, and, cutting in from the right, along the by-line, he beat Distin, and ran the ball straight into Gerrard’s path, for the Liverpool skipper to smash an emphatic, right-footed finish, into the roof of the net.
It was Suarez again who made Liverpool’s next opportunity, keeping the ball in play, he cut along the by-line once more, this time from the left, entered the box, and cut the ball back perfectly for Carroll to power a snapshot just wide of the far post with his, weaker, right foot. Everton’s best chance of the second half followed not long afterwards, Jack Rodwell’s effort, mishit as it was, was heading in, before Jose Enrique’s last ditch clearance. Everton were then fortunate not to find themselves further behind, as Stuart Downing worked a short corner, before producing a sumptuous delivery in between goalkeeper and defenders, which Martin Kelly was within a whisker of converting. The young right back should have scored, however he failed to make meaningful contact.
Moyes, who’d left most of his key attacking players on the bench, perhaps with Saturday’s F.A. Cup clash in mind, now introduced them with a treble substitution; Jelavic, Drenthe and Osman replacing Stracqualursi, Coleman and Anichebe. The move smacked a little of desperation, although it was clearly an attempt to make Everton more of a threat in the final third, it had little effect, with the incoming players finding it hard to make any impact on proceedings.
With the clock ticking down and the first minute of injury time played, Gerrard, clearly enjoying every second, picked up the ball 30 yards from his own goal, after Drenthe’s slip, burst forward with a trademark run, and slipped a fabulous ball through to Luis Suarez. The Liverpool frontman, instead of going himself, turned brilliantly inside Distin, and played a square ball across the box, to the unmarked Gerrard, who completed his second Premier League hat-trick, by calmly sending the ball into the empty net.
Everton, though they had plenty of the ball, were unable to produce any real, coherent attacking threat, and in fact, failed to seriously test Reina over the course of the ninety minutes. Many Evertonians will be left pondering the logic of Moyes’ team selection for such a big game, even bearing in mind the weekend’s F.A Cup clash, to leave so much of his attacking threat on the bench for a Merseyside Derby, was puzzling to say the least.
Liverpool as a football club, manager, players and fans will be over the moon, not only with the result, but in the manner in which it was achieved. To have Gerrard back and fit is a huge boost for their run in, the combination play between the captain and Suarez especially, but also Carroll, Downing and Henderson at times, will have pleased everybody involved with the club, not to mention the importance of keeping a clean sheet. The hope now is that the Reds can continue this form until the end of the season.