As the biggest Merseyside Derby in the last 20-ish years got started on Tuesday, it definitely felt like the winner would have a huge shot at being a top-four contender and the loser would feel that the Europa League might be their highest target. For Liverpool, this means a return to a competition that Anfield has always relished and the retention of star man Luis Suarez. For Everton, it would mean a continued reversal of fortunes as they try to assert themselves as the dominant club from their area and another notch in Roberto Martinez’s impressive “belt.” It is bigger than 3 points and bigger than most fixtures in England during the course of the year: it’s the Merseyside clash!
Despite Everton’s Ross Barkley still looking a bit of experience away from being deadly from anywhere within 40 yards, Liverpool were piling pressure down on Tim Howard and the Everton goal during the first minutes of the game. If Sterling, Coutinho, Suarez, and Sturridge can bring the same connection they showed throughout this game, there can be little doubt that Liverpool will impress for the remainder of their schedule. Liverpool are also starting to see their investment in Jordan Henderson paying off. Throughout the season there have been few players covering as much grass as the English youngster and he, like Ross Barkley for Everton, seems to be growing into a truly impressive footballer.
A big positive from this game will be the clean sheet and some more obvious growth from the captain Steven Gerrard in his new defensive role. Despite being 33 years old, Gerrard is definitely still learning this position and his quality will only improve over time. Where he was occasionally questionable and uncomfortable, it always seemed like Liverpool’s number eight was able to get in front of shots and keep attacks from truly developing.
Everton will feel that they were unable to even get a single attack to build all the way into the defensive third of Liverpool’s half for a large chunk at the beginning of the game while Tim Howard will definitely have felt under siege from the Liverpool barrage. It was only a matter of time before Captain Fantastic scored from a corner and opened the flood-gates. Considering how susceptible Liverpool have been from set-pieces, it definitely felt odd that Liverpool would punish Everton instead of the other way around. As Liverpool celebrated, some Everton fans may have started to mourn. Romelu Lukaku had to be subbed off in the 24th minute and post-match statements seemed to suggest that the Chelsea man might spend a significant amount of time on the sideline. Despite not being as prolific recently as he was in at the start of the season, only a fool would not have Lukaku directly attached to the Toffees aspirations in 2014.
After Steven Gerrard’s goal, Everton suddenly sprang to life and the fixture seemed like it might become competitive. However, after a few close calls, Liverpool not only doubled but TRIPLED their lead through the amazingly hot Sturridge. A fantastic counter that saw an amazing quality of passing from their attacking players and a through ball that meant Sturridge only had to beat Howard shows just how fluid Liverpool are playing at the moment. Moments later, a perfectly timed ball over the top saw Sturridge chip Howard from outside the box and effectively put the contest to bed with almost an hour to play still! Of course, Suarez would also find his way onto the score sheet and Liverpool still look anything but strong against crosses and set-pieces, but the result will be all that matters. Even more impressive would be the fact that Sturridge actually missed a penalty (in true English fashion), otherwise the score would have favored Liverpool even more!
Liverpool will leave this match with their prized attackers still playing in a rich vein of form and with their defense finally putting in a complete ninety minute shift without conceding. The three points and the Arsenal stumble at the top of the table will mean that there is definite life in their top four aspirations, but anyone still pegging Liverpool as potential Premier League victors clearly have not watched Manchester City play recently.
Everton will leave this match needing to quickly regroup. The loss of Lukaku and the sheer fact that Everton are realizing that their direct competitors around them in the table are Tottenham and Manchester United could demoralize their squad if they are not able to bounce back quickly. Newcastle’s loss of Cabaye would suggest that Everton should remain above the current 8th placed team, but this result will definitely be hard to swallow.
Considering that Liverpool have two of the top three scorers in the Premier League, any team that does not consider them a true force will do so at their own peril. The odds definitely have shifted into momentum for Liverpool and the Reds will definitely feel that the top four finish they crave is in their own hands at this point. Everton will hope that this game becomes an aberration in terms of the rest of their season and that their European dreams can still be attained. With everything left to play for in the season, bragging rights might still be decided by the end of season table…we love rivalries here at the the Center Circle…love them…