Liverpool Rout Neighbors Everton 4-0 in 222nd Merseyside Derby
By Greg Hudson
No rivalry in American sports can compare to an English derby match. Certainly, the U.S. has classic sporting rivalries: Yankees and Red Sox; Steelers and Patriots; Canadiens and Bruins. But nothing in America approaches the intensity found when two teams from the same city square off in the English Premier League, where opposing fans are kept segregated to prevent violence that threatened the future of European football during the 1970s and 80s. Derby games, matches between local rivals, are particularly heated and often produce the most intense and hostile atmospheres both in the stands and on the pitch.
While all local derbies are special, the Merseyside Derby is something truly unique. Liverpool and Everton football clubs are located less than a mile apart, separated only by a small park, so the entire city is divided between Liverpool red and Everton blue. But what makes the Merseyside Derby, England’s longest-running local derby, so special is the relationship between the opposing fans, who, away from the field, support each other through good times and bad, earning the nickname the “friendly derby.” In recent years, however, the fixture has produced many memorable and hotly contested games. In the past 20 seasons, no matchup has produced more red cards than the Merseyside Derby.
When the two sides met at Everton’s Goodison Park in November, another hot contest produced a stunning 3-3 draw which saw both teams rally from losing positions in the second half. The match was not without controversy, however, as Everton’s Kevin Mirallas escaped what should have been a red card for a tackle on Luis Suarez which was both late and high and actually drew blood from the right knee of the Uruguayan striker. Mirallas later provided an assist for Everton’s second goal, sparking debate among the two sets of fans as to whether or not Everton really deserved the draw, or whether Liverpool really deserved to win. Tuesday night, Liverpool set out to answer those questions definitively, this time in front of their home crowd at Anfield, where they had not lost in 9 games, and where Everton had not won in their last 13 visits.
Both teams entered the game after being struck by an injury bug plaguing defenders in both camps. For Liverpool, Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger, Mamadou Sakho, and Jose Enrique were all unavailable through injury, along with midfielder Lucas Leiva, while Everton were forced to play without start fullbacks Seamus Coleman, nursing a pulled hamstring, and Brian Oviedo, out for the season after horrifically breaking his leg the previous week. In their places Everton fielded John Stone and Antolin Alcaraz, a significant step down in terms of defensive strength, which would be a concern against Liverpool’s high-powered strike pair of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, who had combined for 33 goals in 22 matches.
But it was the visitors who opened the brighter, attacking Liverpool right from the kickoff, and less than a minute was on the clock when local phenom Ross Barkley sent a long-range effort whistling over the Liverpool crossbar, much to the relief of keeper Simon Mignolet.
The Reds soon found their stride however, and created a chance of their own just moments later after some scintillating passing enabled Jordan Henderson to slot the ball into the Everton penalty area for Suarez, whose shot was blocked back to Henderson, who volleyed over the crowd and forced a strong save from American keeper Tim Howard.
It set the tone for an attacking, end-to-end game which took shape during the opening 20 minutes, and a trend quickly developed: Everton possessing the ball well but failing to carve apart the Liverpool defense, and Liverpool counterattacking with fast-paced breaks looking to set up Suarez or Sturridge.
The two strikers, who combined for 33 goals entering play, soon figured out the Everton defense and began peppering Tim Howard’s goal with shots, and it was little surprise when the Reds took the lead after 20 minutes when Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard rose highest to head home a Suarez corner. It was Gerrard’s eighth career goal against Everton, more than any other player in the history of the derby.
Liverpool, known for striking twice in quick succession, looked to press home another goal, but Everton responded well to falling a goal behind and dominated the game for the next ten minutes, bending but not quite breaking the Liverpool defensive resolve, with Mirallas firing just wide from the edge of the 18-yard box on 32 minutes.