Liverpool’s season has been full of inconsistencies. Outstanding Champions League performance stick in the mind as much as dire League performances.
Today though was a day where Liverpool showed anybody who’s interested that they should not be fighting for fourth place.
Liverpool went into the game with a long injury list. Chris Kirkland, Sinama Pongolle, Alonso, Mellor, Kewell, Cisse, Traore. Now add Warnock, Hamman and Morientes, who all went off injured in the first half, and Luis Garcia who was forced to carry on with an injury for 45 minutes because Liverpool had no subs left.
Liverpool dominated the first half. They played with style and purpose, and by the end of the first half Everton had managed only one shot on goal – not on target – to Liverpool’s 11.
In the second-half, with Garcia unable to perform well for at least 30 minutes, Liverpool needed character – particularly when Milan Baros was sent off.
At the heart of the dominance of the first half and the character of the second were local lads Carragher and Gerrard. Captain Gerrard, a life-long red, said after the game he loves playing and scoring for Liverpool, and it was his goal that opened the scoring. Carragher meanwhile marshalled the defenders, playing a captain’s role within the back five. It would be difficult to find two more committed players in any game than those two.
Carragher’s future at Anfield has seemed under threat repeatedly during his career – as central midfielder to start with when he made his debut, he was too far down the pecking order for a regular place. He was later played at centre-half in the 3-5-2 days, before having spells as full back – on both sides – for quite some time. Carragher has been under threat from Henchoz, Babbel, Ziege – all of whom have now left, and Finnan, Riise and Hyypia, who all perhaps get picked after Jamie.
In fact Hyypia’s days could be numbered now. Pellegrino was selected by Benitez on Wednesday due to Hyypia suffering from a flu bug. Today he was selected on merit, Benitez preferring the Argentinian to the Finn. And Pellegrino played well, very well, and seems to be setlting in.
Everton struggled to deal with Liverpool and in the end had to resort to smash-and-grab tactics. On came "Big Dunc" to try and unsettle the Liverpool defence. Ferguson managed to foul Carragher, Dudek and Pellegrino, quite forcibly, in addition to pulling the referee back, but somehow escaped a booking. He actually pinned Carragher to the ground during an Everton attack to try and give a team-mate some space.
In the end Everton’s goal was actually a well-taken shot by Cahill, perhaps one of the more impressive Everton players. Everton’s football is not pretty, almost along the lines of Wimbledon North, but Cahill showed that with a little more money maybe Everton could play better football.
Baros was sent off for what look like a genuine attempt to win the ball – albeit what used to be known as a "striker’s tackle". Running at speed, he tried to block the ball cleared by Stubbs, but failed to connect with anything other than Stubb’s leg. For the referee to come running at the speed he did brandishing the card was a little over the top, from a referee that had already let an Everton player off from getting a second yellow card. Allowances need to be made in derby matches, but rarely are these days.
Liverpool succeeded in doing their talking on the pitch today. Their lead and the three points only looked shakey towards the very end of the game – playing with 10 men, one who was injured, with a referee finding it difficult to discipline a rough and tumble Everton team – and with no out-and-out strikers on the pitch. Before that Liverpool were confident, and more than capable of adding to their tally.
The gap to fourth place is still four points. Everton’s goal difference is inferior to Liverpool’s, but Everton still have their destiny in their own hands. There’s an international break coming up again now – which Liverpool always seem to follow with a defeat. Liverpool’s next place is against Bolton, who they replaced in fifth place after today’s win.
A thoroughly deserved win for Liverpool – although Everton will no doubt complain that three minutes stoppage time wasn’t enough at the end – and the huddle from the players at the end showed how much it meant to them.