Both the teams had a number of chances to open the scoring, but neither of them could actually take the lead in the first half due to poor finishing. Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard broke the deadlock by scoring a free kick. A late long-range shot from Phil Jagielka brought Everton on level with Liverpool.
Liverpool, injury stricken and after a tiring win over Middlesborough, started with a 4-2-3-1 formation. Jordan Henderson and Steven Gerrard held the midfield positions. Everton deployed 4-3-3 system, similar to the one that was used against Arsenal, with Steven Naismith playing as centre forward.
Everton’s defensive minded midfielders
Roberto Martinez would not have decided to go with a midfield trio consisting of 3 defensive minded players. But injury to Seamus Coleman meant backup was needed to support Tony Hibbert.
Everton maintained rigidity in their defence to keep the Liverpool forwards at bay. The defensive midfield set up by Martinez closely marked Liverpool’s attacking midfield trio – Raheem Sterling was up against James McCarthy, Adam Lallana vs Gareth Barry and Lazar Markovic vs Muhamed Besic. McCarthy, playing to Barry’s right, negated Sterling’s threats. Sterling was drifting inside the box from the left. This kept McCarthy pinned outside the box to the right. Markovic, unable to find space in the final third, dropped into the midfield region. This allowed Besic to move higher up the pitch.
Liverpool target Tony Hibbert
In the absence of injured Coleman, Hibbert was given the start. Coleman always threatens the opposition and offers Everton the width on the right side by making attacking runs from the deep. Hibbert is more of a defensive minded player. Lacking the pace and not being a regular starter made Hibbert the weak link of Everton.
First of all, Hibbert’s defensive role meant Liverpool’s left back Alberto Moreno had the freedom to overlap Sterling, who was drifting inside, and provide incisive crosses to Balotelli and Co. playing through the centre.
McCarthy aided Hibbert as Sterling and Moreno were overlapping Everton’s right back position.
It is clear from the picture shown above that Liverpool targeted Everton’s weak link. Only the chances created from set plays came from Liverpool’s right.
Henderson does well as a box to box midfielder – Everton dearly miss a connector
Markovic’s withdrawn position allowed Adam Lallana to drift to the right forcing Barry to follow him. Space was created as a result of this and Henderson covered the space, created a few chances and had two shots on target. He carried out his defensive duties as well. His role as a box to box midfielder was impressive.
The main difference between Everton and Liverpool was – Everton did not have a shuttler while Liverpool had one. Henderson covered for Gerrard, when the Liverpool captain was caught out of possession higher up the pitch, and also filled the gap.
Everton had a tough time in connecting the deep-lying midfielders and forwards. The absence of a shuttler was felt by Martinez’s side. Everton’s forwards had to work hard and needed to run with the ball from deep positions. Everton’s forwards depended on long balls to attack Liverpool.
Naismith drops deep
Kevin Mirallas and Stevan Naismith flanked Steven Naismith. Against Arsenal, Naismith dropped deep and troubled Mathieu Flamini. Yesterday he targeted Steven Gerrard.
But Naismith could not do much to create openings for Everton’s wide forwards. This is because Liverpool had two midfielders, Gerrard and Henderson, in deep role. Whenever Gerrard was under pressure from Naismith, Henderson adjust his position to provide his captain with a passing option. This was not the case against Arsenal. Flamini was the lone holding midfielder and Naismith also had support from Leon Osman.
Everton’s forward line and 4-4-2 diamond
Lukaku, who likes to play centrally, was once again forced to play on the right side of the pitch by Martinez. The forward line of Everton was very deep and this allowed Liverpool’s defensive line to push higher and pressurize from the back.
Sometimes it looked as if Everton were playing a 4-4-2 diamond formation. Naismith in a deep role, two wide forwards, Barry’s role as the pivot and runs from Besic and McCarthy transformed the starting 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 diamond.
Roberto Martinez’s 4-3-3 with Naismith a false-9 works very well against teams playing with only one defensive midfielder. When facing teams that adopt 4-2-3-1 (most common formation with 2 holding midfielders), he needs to field more players in the midfield region. A 4-2-3-1 ( Lukaku – Mirallas – Naismith – Aiden McGeady – Barry – McCarthy) would have posed a greater challenge to Liverpool. Everton also need a player like Henderson, a box to box midfielder.
On the other hand John Stones was very impressive. Even though he made a few errors, he made amends by putting up a good performance.
Liverpool missed a number of chances yesterday – took 24 shots, had 8 shots on target but managed to score only one goal, that too coming from a set piece. Liverpool players constantly broke down in the final third. Mario Balotelli hit the woodwork once and came close to scoring a couple of times. Daniel Sturridge’s absence was felt by Liverpool.
Liverpool are yet to find a correct formation. Liverpool’s defending was good yesterday. Everton were forced to take shots from outside the box.