RARELY can a Merseyside derby have been so routine and the outcome so predictable.
No real drama, no controversy, no acrimony and no real excitement, just a realisation that the gulf that exists between Liverpool and Everton is unlikely to be bridged this season.
The Big Four is indeed still The Big Four and the “so called” prefix will have to be dropped for the time being. Everton have done well to hold on to their coat tails for as long as they have but yesterday they were left trailing behind the big boys by a Liverpool side which swatted them aside with an ease bordering on the contemptuous.
Derbies are supposed to be raucous, dramatically passionate affairs where common sense joins the form book in being lashed through the nearest window.
But such was Liverpool’s dominance of this one that it became, at times, a mundane affair in which class – not to mention the benefits of a much stronger and fresher squad – told.
Everton huffed and puffed and were allowed to have possession in positions in which they were unlikely to do any damage. But even on the few occasions when they did get players into advanced positions they found the hugely impressive duo of Martin Skrtel and Sami Hyypia totally immovable.
Contrast the ease with which Liverpool’s central defensive partnership coped with the sporadic threat of Yakubu with the way Everton’s back line were continuously stretched to breaking point by the magnificent Fernando Torres and you have the difference between the two sides in a nutshell.
Everton have several decent players and one or two who would be worthy of a place in at least one of the Big Four teams. But in the same way as Liverpool’s deficiencies are regularly exposed when they come up against Man United, so Everton’s frailties are put into sharp perspective when they are asked to take the next step up.
That step involves beating one of the big boys on their own turf and having not defeated any of the current top seven away from home under David Moyes’ stewardship, they never looked likely to change that particular record at Anfield.
Liverpool therefore took the honours, the plaudits and the bragging rights. Victory means they can breathe a bit more easily than they have been of late in their quest to secure Steven Gerrard’s minimum acceptable requirement of fourth place.
But before they get too carried away with their achievements, it would perhaps be more apt for everyone at Anfield to reflect on yesterday’s events and ask how they managed to become embroiled in a battle which they should be winning without so much discomfort.
The gap between Liverpool and Everton was there for all to see yesterday and not even the most blinkered of Blues could dispute the overwhelming superiority of Rafa Benitez’s men on the day.
And yet for much of this season the two sides have been so close to one another in the table that it would be tempting to believe that they are equals when, in actual fact, they are not.
The combination of Moyes’ ability to extract every last drop of perspiration and inspiration from what remains a fairly limited squad coupled with Liverpool’s continued under-achievement in the league has helped create a mirage that the two sides are as close together as they were in the mid-1980s. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Liverpool could and should have scored two or three more goals in addition to Torres’ sixth minute strike and had the scoreline reflected their dominance they would today be boasting an even healthier goal difference advantage over their Mersey rivals than they do already.
Gerrard hit the post with a wonderful volley and saw another long distance effort tipped over by Tim Howard, while Ryan Babel and Dirk Kuyt both should have done better with the opportunities that came their way.
In contrast, Everton’s only threat came when Leon Osman headed wide from a corner and when Hyypia brilliantly dispossessed Yakubu as he bore down on goal.
Pepe Reina was playing his 100th league game but not many of the previous 99 can have been as comfortable for the Spanish keeper as this one.
From the moment Yakubu was dispossessed on the edge of his own box to allow Torres to do what comes so naturally to him in a Liverpool shirt there was only going to be one winner.
Everton have only come from behind once to win a derby since World War Two and that statistic was never in any danger of needing rewriting as Liverpool took the game by the scruff of the neck from that point and never looked likely to let it go.
Even a second half malaise among the Liverpool ranks did not offer the visitors any real encouragement as the hosts simply made up for their relative lack of creativity with a level of organisation and discipline which their opponents could not replicate.
Tellingly, Liverpool always looked like they wanted the three points more as symbolised by Gerrard’s magnificent closing down and tackling of Phil Jagielka on two occasions in the first half and Kuyt’s lung busting harrying of two Everton players in the 92nd minute.
They wanted this victory and they wanted it badly. Faced with such desire, Everton were rendered almost impotent – it was as if they knew that if Liverpool matched them for effort, work rate and commitment they would be unable to compete.
And so it proved as Liverpool cantered to victory with the minimum of fuss to open up a five point gap between themselves and their rivals from across Stanley Park.
The challenge which Everton have managed to sustain for so much of this season is of great credit to everyone at Goodison Park but when they were presented with the opportunity to crash through the glass ceiling above them they were simply unable to do so.
Normal service has been resumed at Anfield. Now Liverpool have to make sure it continues.
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