A lethal Fernando Torres double ensured life was looking rosy for the red half of Liverpool, who won their third Merseyside derby in succession in Saturday's lunchtime game. Tim Cahill was sent off towards the end of the match, but the result had long since ceased to be in doubt.
Liverpool dominated throughout - few of the 204 meetings between these proud clubs can have seen so much possession held by one team. Rafa Benítez's side struggled to make their dominance count in a poor first half, but were a different proposition after the break.
Such inconsistencies are commonplace. The problem with being a Liverpool fan is you never know which team is going to turn up: the one that beats Manchester United 2-1, or the one that fails to score at home to Stoke (refereeing blunders notwithstanding).
At least Mike Riley can't be accused of being inconsistent - though he should find such faint praise damning. The referee, who appeared to be training as a Las Vegas dealer at Stamford Bridge last weekend, was again too quick to punish. No Premier League match-up has produced so many red cards - 16, since 1992 - including the dismissals of Phil Neville and Tony Hibbert in this fixture last season. Clearly, what this match needed was an official ready to apply a cool head.
Instead, Riley was brandishing his yellow card as early as the eighth minute, the largely blameless Marouane Fellaini the unfortunate recipient following an inoffensive trip on Alvaro Arbeloa. Riley then further infuriated the Goodison faithful by failing to book Albert Riera and Torres for more serious offences.
It says much about a half of football when the main points for discussion surround a couple of disputed non-bookings, but the football on display was rank. Liverpool had more possession, but Everton squandered the best chances. On 14 minutes, an Everton corner from the left was missed by no fewer than four red-shirted defenders. The resulting chance fell to Cahill, who opted to shoot with his right foot when better positioned to strike with his left. He missed - the ball, that is, not just the goal.
The scrappy nature of the game was personified in the 28th minute when mistakes by José Reina, Fellaini and Riley combined in a moment of pure farce. Reina, the autumn sun low in his eyes, misjudged a hopeful punt forward, spilling the ball at the feet of the Fellaini. From six yards out, and with the goal at his mercy, he shot straight at Jamie Carragher, covering on the line. The giant Belgian's blushes, and those of his opposing 'keeper, were spared when Riley blew for some perceived, though invisible, infringement. Shocking all round.
At the other end, the phenomenally expensive front-pairing of Keane and Torres seemed to be intent on proving that Lehman Brothers have nothing on Liverpool in terms of bad investments. They created nothing, with Tim Howard a virtual spectator despite Liverpool's territorial dominance. Torres had one shot blocked, following good work by Riera on the left, while Riera missed with a wild shot when better-placed to cross. And that was about it.
The half ended with Xabi Alonso booked for a foul on his childhood pal and close neighbour Mikel Arteta - appropriate for a derby which sees family and close friends at loggerheads twice a year.
The second half began as the first had ended - scrappily - with Ayegbeni Yakubu booked for a pathetic dive, tumbling over Martin Skrtel's outstretched nothing. At the other end, a frustrated Torres was booked for gesturing at the referee's assistant.
Nine minutes later, though, it was all smiles - for the red half of Liverpool, at least. It's worth remembering, in these troubled times, that the value of investments can go up as well as down. And how! Robbie Keane sprinted through to the byline before dinking a peachy cross from the left over Howard. Dirk Kuyt's run dragged Joleon Lescott to the near post, leaving the advancing Torres in acres of space to fire home on the volley from close to the penalty spot. The move was good, the execution excellent, the defending characteristically abysmal.
Characteristically, because going into the match Everton had conceded 14 goals in seven games this season, and had gone behind in every single one of them. Fifteen became sixteen three minutes later, although this time Everton were unfortunate. A promising Liverpool attack, again involving Keane, looked to have come to nothing when Kuyt was dispossessed by a fine tackle, but the ball broke to Torres 12 yards out and, in an instant, was hitting the roof of the net.
At least one of the Merseyside teams had begun to play football, and things almost got worse for Everton moments later. Kuyt had a goal disallowed (correctly) after the ball had gone out of play in the build-up. In almost the same breath, Torres was denied his hat-trick (wrongly) when his brilliant, angled finish was ruled out for a Kuyt obstruction.
A Fellaini effort, off a mixture of stomach and hand, slipped past the Liverpool upright on 78 minutes, but time and again Everton attacks foundered against a wall of red.
Speaking of red, Cahill saw a little bit more of it than he would have liked when Riley showed him a card of that colour with 10 minutes to go. His challenge on Alonso was clumsy, but worthy of a yellow at worst. The Respect agenda is important and overdue, but it will prove trying for players while Riley continues to flourish his cards with such abandon.
The final minutes confirmed Everton's humiliation - how it must have stung home fans to hear You'll Never Walk Alone resounding around Goodison. That his side have yet to claim a point at home this season will concern David Moyes. The manner of this defeat will trouble him even more.
|Final score ||Everton
||0 – 2 (HT 0 – 0)
- Torres 59
- Torres 62
- Fellaini 9
- Yakubu 48
- Neville 64
- Alonso 39
- Torres 50
- Arbeloa 77
- Cahill 80
||Everton's Percentage||Liverpool's Percentage
- Tim Howard,
- Joleon Lescott,
- Phil Neville,
- Joseph Yobo,
- Tony Hibbert (Louis Saha, 63),
- Phil Jagielka,
- Marouane Fellaini,
- Tim Cahill,
- Mikel Arteta,
- Leon Osman,
- Ayegbeni Yakubu
- Jose Manuel Reina,
- Alvaro Arbeloa,
- Andrea Dossena,
- Martin Skrtel,
- Jamie Carragher,
- Albert Riera (Fabio Aurelio, 67),
- Steven Gerrard,
- Xabi Alonso (Lucas Leiva, 86),
- Dirk Kuyt,
- Robbie Keane (Jermaine Pennant, 86),
- Fernando Torres
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