Steven Gerrard – the man for the big occasion
Steven Gerrard was criticised for his performance in Liverpool’s abject defeat to West Ham last weekend by many and, admittedly, right here.
But he answered those critics with a brilliant performance today.
Make no mistake, the Liverpool captain is the man for the big occasion and he came up with the goods once again against Everton. The 34-year-old loves a derby and scored his 10th goal against the Blues with a well-taken free kick.
Gerrard strode about the pitch, replicating last season’s form with a flawless performance. He snapped into tackles, passed the ball well and even sprayed those trademark 40-yard passes around once again.
When the Reds won a free-kick midway through the second half, all eyes were on Mario Balotelli. The Italian had drawn the foul and, despite hitting the wall with a free-kick just seconds into the game, had scored a wonderful set-piece goal in training.
Gerrard had other ideas.
There’s a reason why the Liverpool skipper takes so many penalties, corners and free-kicks. Mainly because he’s pretty good at them.
Only Luis Suarez, the exceptional Luis Suarez, has scored more free-kicks over the last four years. Not bad considering Gerrard is now in the twilight of his career.
Gerrard’s passing was excellent today, he was second only to Phil Jagielka in terms of passing accuracy and he benefited from having Jordan Henderson sitting in beside him in midfield.
Roberto Martinez, surprisingly, didn’t try to suffocate the Liverpool skipper like West Ham and Aston Villa had done successfully in the two previous games.
He might want to rethink that in the next derby.
Mario Balotelli was a threat throughout
Mario Balotelli is yet to score in four Premier League appearances for Liverpool, but today could have been his best game for the Reds.
Balotelli put himself about throughout, shooting on sight and holding the ball up well to allow the likes of Raheem Sterling, Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic to support him.
The big Italian tweeted his frustration at the day’s result, and he will be equally frustrated not to get on the scoresheet after hitting the bar immediately after the opening goal – which came from a free kick he himself had won.
Score then, and there wouldn’t have been a hope in hell of Everton getting back into the game. Such had been the visitor’s performance.
Balotelli had 10 shots today, more than the entire Everton team, and you could argue that he could have done better. But the Italian put a shift in for Liverpool and was a threat throughout.
Perform like this every week and Balotelli will start getting the the scoresheet, without doubt.
Adam Lallana is growing as a Liverpool player
Adam Lallana of Liverpool tries a header against Everton
Lallana’s Liverpool career has started ever so slowly but, little by little, the England man is starting to build up a head of steam and grow with each performance.
Against his childhood team today he was one of Liverpool’s very best players.
Lallana set the tone early on, beating Gareth Barry all ends up and winning the Reds an early, dangerous free-kick.
He was intelligent throughout, playing short, sharp passes with Sterling, Balotelli, Gerrard and Henderson, getting into dangerous positions and threatening on goal. He was unlucky to be denied a headed goal by Howard within the first few minutes and he also made several excellent tackles, showing he had the stomach for the derby fight.
All that after playing 120 minutes for the Reds in midweek.
A goal could be really beneficial for Lallana and help really give his Liverpool career the boost it needed but after encouraging performances against West Ham, Middlesbrough and now the Blues, things could be starting to come together for the talented former Southampton man.
James Pearce’s video verdict on the derby draw:
Liverpool’s defence held firm, almost
There will be no accusations, no finger pointing and no Monday night analysis of Liverpool’s back four after this performance.
Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel held firm in the centre, Javier Manquillo and Alberto Moreno were energetic and tough at full back. In goal, Simon Mignolet, though rarely tested, was solid.
The goal, they could all do nothing about.
Nine times out of 10 Jagielka would have sent that late half-volley sailing into the Kop. The Reds would have been happy to see the Everton captain shoot from there. It wasn’t their fault he hit the shot of his life.
Indeed, anything they could stop they did. Every corner was repelled and every cross headed away comfortably. Tackles were won and shots were blocked. Lovren was suddenly first to everything and was disciplined in when he dived in and when he stayed on his feet. Skrtel, alongside him was assured on the ball and solid off it.
Moreno ensured that Everton’s record signing, £28m man Romelu Lukaku, didn’t get a sniff all game. Martinez had chosen to deploy the Belgian on the right hand side to try to expose the Spanish full back, just as Lukaku had done to Nacho Monreal in games against Arsenal. He will have found out pretty quickly that Moreno is a different beast to the Gunners full-back.
In goal, Mignolet did what he needed to do well. Catching one dangerous cross from Aiden McGeady in the first half and beating away a Steven Naismith in the second.
Rodgers won’t mind that they didn’t pick up their clean sheet bonus today. More of the same and the Reds will win more than they lose.
Jordan Henderson was superb, again
Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson (left) and Everton’s Muhamed Besic
Steven Gerrard may have stolen the headlines (that is, until Phil Jagielka robbed them from him) but alongside him in Liverpool’s midfield, Jordan Henderson shone once again.
The former Sunderland man just keeps on churning out top performances and, in a more withdrawn role today, he was excellent at the heart of Liverpool’s midfield.
Henderson was excellent in the tackle, won numerous headers and used the ball extremely well. One pass to release Sterling down the left hand side was Alonso-esque. Another, low along the ground, almost allowed the 19-year-old to open the scoring but for a great save from Tim Howard.
Henderson did well when he had a go of his own, shifting the ball on his right foot and testing Howard with a sighter towards the end of the first half.
Rodgers played Henderson a little deeper today, and the 24-year-old’s athleticism gave Gerrard a little more protection and allowed Liverpool to win the midfield battle.
Naismith, a constant dangerman for the Blues this season, was snuffed out throughout.
It worked perfectly and Rodgers may consider that as a more permanent position for Henderson until Joe Allen returns to Liverpool’s midfield.
For now, the vice captain remains one of, if not the, best player for Liverpool.
Here’s to you, Jordan Henderson.
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