Bragging rights up for grabs in the North West.
It was derby day in the North West of England this weekend. United played host to Manchester City, but first Everton had to go to Anfield.
Everton has had somewhat of a renaissance since Sam Allardyce arrived. Let me rephrase that. The ship has steadied on the blue side of Merseyside. 3 wins and 3 clean sheets (one of which came in the Europa League) have managed to stave off relegation battle whispers for the meantime. That said, Everton still find themselves inherently flawed and were not given much of a hope going in to this one. Liverpool were fresh off a resounding 7-0 win to top their Champions League group, 16 points in their last 6 Premier League fixtures and scoring goals a-plenty.
Then the team sheets came in. Liverpool’s two Brazilian stars, Coutinho and Firmino were named on the bench. Suddenly the topic of conversation pre game around the ground goes from wondering how many goals, to simply asking why? Why leave the two who make that offence tick sat on the bench in a local derby?
Cut to 75 minutes in. Liverpool seemingly haven’t missed their stars at all. They’ve dominated the whole game. Top goalscorer Mo Salah has opened the scoring and is giving the Everton full back Martina a torrid time. There’s been chances to make it two. Namely when Mane was guilty of not squaring the ball in a 4 on 1 situation before promptly dragging a left footed shot horribly wide. Everton have mustered up only one shot on target and quite frankly are barely threatening to even get out their whole half.
Yet there was something quite inevitable about this game, as there often is when Liverpool find themselves up only a goal in a contest they’ve had much the better of. If they can just get that illusive second goal, it quite often becomes three, four and five. If not, you always fear that one costly mistake that results in dropped points. That mistake came right on cue. There are just two blue shirts in the Liverpool half, compared to six in a red shirt. One long pass behind the defence from wide, one naive lunge inside his own box from Dejan Lovren. Suddenly Rooney finds himself placing the ball on the penalty spot. 1-1. That’s all it took. Its a trend that plagues Liverpool far too often. In fact, their recent form is a perfect example of that.
In their last seven Premier League games, Klopp’s team have found themselves 1-0 ahead on every occasion. Five of those times, they have gone on to make it 2-0. Liverpool have won all of those games, finishing with a +16 goal difference in those matches. When failing to get the second goal, they have gone on to draw the two remaining games. In fact, you have to go back to the second game of the season to find a Liverpool 1-0 victory, beating a Palace team that took a record 8 games to score a goal this season. Just 16 games in, Liverpool have already dropped 8 points from winning positions this year. Klopp’s team selection will get questioned here, but this is a recurring theme on Merseyside.
Everton looked like a Sam Allardyce team. They limited the opposition to just 3 shots on target, despite 23 against. They conceded the possession battle. If it wasn’t obvious Big Sam would be satisfied with a point before the game, it certainly was when he brought on Phil Jagielka on for skipper Wayne Rooney with 10 minutes still left to play. Who can blame him?
Whilst a good result for Everton to take them to 7 points from 9 available under Allardyce, this game was the red’s to lose. Jurgen Klopp and the Anfield faithful will be hoping such lapses don’t cost them a place in the top four come May.
Some things are just too predictable…
The clock struck 4:30pm and all focus moved 30 miles east at the Theatre of Dreams. For all the attacking quality on the pitch, all three goals came in a scrappy manner. Despite controlling the game, The Citizens hadn’t once got in behind the United defence. 42 minutes in, left back Ashley Young found himself caught underneath opposing left back Fabian Delph’s cross. Leroy Sane took the ball down with a neat touch using his thigh, worked the ball on to his right foot, and lashed a shot towards the near post. De Gea tipped over. A poor Lukaku header in front of his own goal dropped to David Silva inside the 6 yard box, which he promptly volleyed in.
Facing going in at half time, behind and being outplayed by local and title rivals, United pressed forward. This time, it was Young providing the cross. A simple chip forward, Otamendi misjudged the flight, only flicking the ball on into an unsuspecting Fabian Delph’s midriff. Marcus Rashford latched on to the loose ball, opened his foot and placed the ball past the onrushing City keeper. Honours even at the break.
Just 10 minutes in to the second half, another City set piece created chaos in the box. Lukaku again the culprit, his right foot clearance only going back into the crowd of bodies and Otamendi latched on to the loose ball to regain the lead.
Despite being the side in need of a goal, United if anything found themselves pinned back. An attack spearheaded by Martial, Lukaku, Lingard and Rashford struggled to get anything going. The only time they did look like scoring was from a City mistake, always a possibility given Guardiola’s intent to play from the back. The one time Mourinho’s men did cut open the defence of Manchester City, Lukaku couldn’t convert. A lovely move, Ibrahimovic layed the ball to Mata who’s first time lofted pass allowed Martial to punch a volleyed cross across the face of the City box. Despite the brilliant ensuing double save from Ederson, it’s a chance Lukaku will know he has to take. His poor record against the big sides continued after he again struggled to have an impact on the game.
Mourinho and his players may feel frustrated after only conceding to set pieces when the scouting report will have focused on City’s intricate play far more heavily. Rightly so. However, Manchester City just had an air about them. Watching them, you always felt they could score another if they really needed to. There is a long way to go of course, but after making a record breaking start and looking so comfortable in their closest challengers home, the only thing potentially standing in their way will be themselves.
The scary thing for the rest of the league? Given the sheer number of young players playing an important part in the squads success; today’s front three of Sterling, Sane and Jesus to name a few, along with arguably the worlds best coach, a generation of dominance could be headed to the blue side of the Manchester.