It wouldn’t really be a Merseyside derby without any controversy and yesterday was no exception. For the neutral, there may not have been much controversy, no red cards, only 5 yellows, no major decisions to be made but if you ask any Everton fan, they’ll tell you that the controversy came an hour before kick off, when the team sheets were released. David Moyes will be celebrating his 10 years in charge today by having to answer questions of many disgruntled Evertonians.
A lot of Evertonians were shocked at Moyes team selection, with him making six changes altogether to an Everton side who have been pretty solid as of late. John Heitinga, Tim Cahill, Leon Osman, Royston Drenthe, Nikica Jelavic and Phil Neville were all left out, changing the spine of an Everton team who beat Tottenham at the weekend.
Moyes drafted in Jack Rodwell, Victor Anichebe, Phil Jagielka, Denis Stracqualursi, Tony Hibbert and Steven Pienaar, with the majority of those making their first start for a while. The way I saw it, Moyes was going for a solid, defensive team with a bench that would make the difference. Without a doubt the plan will have been to hold Liverpool out for around 60-70 minutes and have a number of game changers waiting to come off the bench, hitting Liverpool’s tired legs and making an impact, hopefully nicking a win. It was a gamble by Moyes, and a gamble which didn’t pay off.
That said, I would definitely argue that the team that walked onto that Anfield pitch, last night, wasn’t as much of a gamble as people seem to think. No, it wasn’t the strongest side Everton have but I believe it was a team that was more than capable of getting a result, or at least holding out until changes were made in the second half. The problem that I see was not so much making six changes (as Everton’s biggest game of the season so far is on Saturday) but more so the particular players that were brought in, with many of them drastically lacking match practise and returning from long spells out.
Hindsight is brilliant in situations like this, everyone loves to point out what they would’ve done, who they’d pick and tactics they’d use, but realistically, if Moyes’ tactics would’ve paid off, no one would say a word. Maybe the choice of leaving Johnny Heitinga out was wrong, to mess with something as solid as the back two, especially taking out arguably the best player of the last few months, if not season, for Everton and replacing him with Phil Jagielka, making his return from injury, was probably a bit naive of Moyes. Yes Jagielka is a fantastic defender but this game was clearly too much too soon.
The choice of Stracqualursi and Anichebe up top wasn’t necessarily a bad one. The Liverpool defence were there for the taking. Two big, powerful players upfront would’ve given them a lot to think about. Moyes knew Carragher was going to play and, as good a player he has been in the past, he’s definitely a player coming to the end of his career. Sadly the rest of the team didn’t give the front two much to do. The play was rushed, and the moment seemed to get to the players.
Gerrard’s first goal on the 34th minute was avoidable. A ‘keeper of Howard’s quality should’ve controlled that situation and kept hold of the ball. Once the ball fell to Gerrard, his skill was beyond avoidable and Everton found themselves one nil down at a time when they were doing ok both defensively and offensively.
It wasn’t a complete disaster to be going in one nil down, but it was a disaster to concede so early in the second half. 6 minutes in and Distin failed to control Suarez, the Uruguayan was in his element slipping and sliding between the defensive and as soon as Gerrard could see even an inch, he buried the ball into the Kop end net.
It was at this point that Moyes’ decision to mess with the back four seemed so costly. He quickly threw on three subs, three of the game changers he was undoubtably planning to introduce eventually. Drenthe, Osman and Jelavic were all introduced on the 61st minute but at this point the game was gone. There was no real effort put in, no fight, no threat. It is vital to point out that every single player on that pitch was more than capable of providing that fight yet none of them did.
The difference between the two sides was Gerrard and Suarez. There was no leadership in the Everton side, there was a lack of sharpness and desire. Yes, there was a possibility of fatigue, lack of fitness maybe and there was definitely the possibility of an eye on the FA Cup but by time the ball fell for Gerrard in injury time for him to net his hat trick, the Everton side were simply a shadow of the team who have been undefeated in their last 10 matches.
The team selection was questionable, yes. Moyes had an eye on Saturday, yes. It hurts to lose a derby, yes. But this season is about cup runs for both Everton and Liverpool and in my honest opinion, silverware is much, much more important than local rivalries. I’d like to speak to any Evertonian who disagrees.
I understand the argument that you ‘have to put your best side out week in week out’ but my point is that the team that was put out wasn’t particularly a weak side. If this was any other game, against any other team, no one would say a word.
It hurts to lose a derby, especially 3 nil, and of course we all like a good moan but we all need to lick our wounds, take the stick and get on with things.
The biggest match of our season wasn’t last night, it is on Saturday. It’s important to remember that.