Sky’s department for renaming days of the week once again cursed a much-anticipated fixture as Mersey Monday provided general misery unless you were supporting the red side of Liverpool.
Everton came into this derby with their city rivals off the back of a well-earned win at home to Arsenal. Liverpool, meanwhile, comfortably defeated Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium as they too looked to put an end to some stuttering form in recent weeks.
There was just one change across both teams from the previous games as Ramiro Funes Mori replaced the suspended Phil Jagielka in Everton’s central defence.
Many expected a fast and furious start by the home side as they looked to maintain the momentum from their late victory against the Gunners.
The Goodison Park faithful were particularly raucous at kick-off as the Toffees went in search of their first win over Liverpool since 2010.
Long, direct balls to striker Romelu Lukaku appeared to be the go to tactic. The Belgian target man proved fairly successful in disrupting his markers as he went on to win an impressive 11/17 attacking aerial duels (nine more than second placed Mori and Sadio Mane). Although, Lukaku’s physicality failed to churn out any opportunities of note in what was a disappointing and turgid display by both teams in the attacking thirds.
Once Liverpool – who misplaced a number of passes early on – had survived the first quarter, Everton began to tire and struggled to sufficiently support Lukaku in attack.
The tables below show how Everton dropped off after a full-throttle opening 23-minutes with less than half as many passes per minute during the final three-quarters of the match. The only numbers that improved during that period were tackles and interceptions, evidence of more defensive duties and a lack of possession.
Lack of chances
Ronaldo Koeman’s side only managed four attempts at goal with two blocked and two off target during the opening 45-minutes.
The only chances worth reviewing at the break were Funes Mori’s header from a corner and Divock Origi’s miscued attempt following some nice build up play by the Reds.
Everton’s failure to capitalise on their best phase of the game left them vulnerable to defeat with Lukaku looking increasingly isolated as the game progressed.
The second half saw Liverpool get a grip on proceedings and Roberto Firmino should have given his team the lead early in the second half. The Brazilian was thwarted by Martin Stekelenburg having outmuscled Funes Mori beforehand.
It was no wonder Everton struggled to provide any real threat in attack as they only managed three successful passes into their opponent’s area compared to Liverpool’s 22.
Key to that was the performance of Lovren who rose to the occasion and seemed to thrive in his battle with Lukaku. The Croatian defender finished top for passing (69/81), clearances (11), headed clearances (8) and defensive duels (5/7).
The former Southampton man was often allowed to have possession of the ball down Liverpool’s right as he entered into Everton’s half. Presumably that was to try and directly matchup Lukaku with Klavan for a long ball should possession get quickly turned over by the deep defending Toffees.
Koeman had few attacking options from his bench to change the game, particularly as two of his subs were forced by injuries. Both James McCarthy and Stekelenburg were withdrawn from the battle at half-time and in the 64th minute respectively.
Jurgen Klopp, meanwhile, was able to welcome back Daniel Sturridge for his first appearance in a month. The 82nd minute substitute would inadvertently provide the assist for the injury-time winning goal as his scuffed shot struck the foot of the post before Mane tapped in.
Whilst Koeman labelled his team’s first-half performance as their best of the season – probably in reference to their organisation and intensity – the second did little to excite Evertonians.
Liverpool’s and Everton’s responses after half-time were polar opposites. One looked like they were just starting while the other seemed happy to call it an early night.
As the table below shows, Liverpool completed six times as many passes in the attacking third than their opponents during the second-half. They also had four times as many attempts at goal.
Everton found their defence under more pressure with three times as many clearances compared to the first-half. But one stat which stands out the most is the number of crosses attempted by a home side that was regularly utilising the long-ball approach from the start. Just one cross in the entire second-half against a defence that is supposedly vulnerable to balls into their box with a striker of Lukaku’s stature is far from acceptable but a measure of how dominant and in control Liverpool were after the break.
It’s hard to argue that Liverpool didn’t deserve to leave with all three-points and it could have harshly been two-nil had Seamus Coleman not cleared Firmino’s goal bound effort off the line as the clock edged close to the 100-minute mark.
Koeman can take positives from his side’s spirit and commitment in their last two home encounters against title challenges. But the fact Everton ran out of steam, ideas and options would have concerned the Dutch manager. Such clear limitations are likely to be addressed during the January transfer window as rumours of interest in Man Utd duo Memphis Depay and Morgan Schneiderlin persist.
For Liverpool, this could prove to be a vital victory as they reduce Chelsea’s lead to six-points before Christmas and climb up to second in the league. Klopp would have enjoyed his side showing patience and control in the second period after a wild first 45, not to mention a fifth clean sheet in seven games too.
If the Reds can maintain this form, then they’ll be involved in a title race for only the third time in the last 15 years. But they’ll be far better equipped for such a challenge if they can acquire a pacey attacker to provide further depth to the squad. That will be particularly important in the absence of top scorer Mane who is heading to the African Cup of Nations with Senegal while Danny Ings is out for the season and Sturridge has the wrong kind of reliable injury record.
But if this win told us anything, it’s that Liverpool can also win ugly.
EPL Results (Gameweek 17):
Crystal Palace 0-1 Chelsea
Middlesbrough 3-0 Swansea
Stoke 2-2 Leicester
Sunderland 1-0 Watford
West Ham 1-0 Hull
West Brom 0-2 Man Utd
Bournemouth 1-3 Southampton
Man City 2-1 Arsenal
Tottenham 2-1 Burnley
Everton 0-1 Liverpool