LIVERPOOL 2 (Suarez 62, Carroll 87) – EVERTON 1 (Jelavic 24)
Like Samson shaved of his locks, an effectively wing-less Everton were never able to exploit the wide-open spaces of Wembley and the obvious weakness of a Liverpool who indulged the giggle of playing Agger at left back and still had the last laugh. With Steven Pienaar ineligible, Royston Drenthe on walkabout and Seamus Coleman not selected, David Moyes chose as his wide players the inexperienced Gueye – who effectively froze – and Leon Osman, who may be an excellent footballer, but does not have the pace to be a natural winger. The selection of Gueye had another, ultimately terminal effect on Everton – it effectively neutralized Leighton Baines as an attacking force. The full-back barely ventured beyond the half-way line such was his lack of confidence in the young Frenchman’s defensive capabilities. Had Osman been operating in front of him from the start, it might have been a different story. The Blues lost this game on the flanks; their centre-forward starved of opportunity as they were outcrossed by Liverpool by 21 to 13, that simple statistic encapsulates this defeat.
We were dismayed and astounded that Coleman did not replace Gueye until just twenty minutes from the end. We are unstinting in our support of David Moyes, but on this occasion he was asleep at the switch. Maybe he had allowed himself to become as mesmerised as his players by the myth that this expensively assembled Liverpool team has anything to offer – other than the darting, diving skills of Suarez. Indeed such was the Uruguayan’s frustration at being unable to shake off Johnny Heitinga that he reverted to his usual default setting; try to get your marker sent off. And why not, after all it worked with Jack Rodwell. Had Gueye been withdrawn at half-time in favour of Coleman (or even Anichebe) and Osman switched to the left, the Irishman could have perhaps played himself into form and Baines would have been freed to show his natural attacking game.
That said there is one man who would have won this game for Everton but he was sitting 6,000 miles away glued to his TV, his name; Landon Donovan. Had he been playing the Blues would have won this game at a canter; imagine how he would have dissected the lumbering 6’ 3 inch Agger, systematically demolishing his game and providing a stream of inviting balls into the area for Jelavic.
The bottom line though is that players and management alike must share responsibility for this defeat. The players appeared to have been neutered of their attacking instincts, hesitant and timorous, where they should have been aggressive and strong. Their focus seemed to be entirely on worrying about and countering the imagined threat of the opposition. Little surprise then that when Liverpool finally woke up to the fact that Everton were anxious, had ceded territorial advantage and were playing too deep, their confidence grew. Everton’s crushing sense of inferiority was such that it didn’t matter in what order the goals were scored, Jelavic’s strike was effectively a consolation goal, even as it kissed the back of the net.
We will not discuss Sylvain Distin, other than to say that the man acted with the dignity and humility we would expect of an Everton player, as did his manager, who just as he did following the Cup Final defeat of 2009 made sure he shook the hand of every opposition player. Under these most trying of circumstances few men could have done that.
LIVERPOOL (4-4-2): Jones; Johnson, Skrtel, Carragher, Agger; Henderson (Rodrigues 75), Spearing, Gerrard©, Downing (Bellamy 84); Suarez, Carroll
EVERTON (4-2-3-1): Howard; Neville©, Heitinga, Distin, Baines (Anichebe 88); Gibson, Fellaini; Osman, Cahill, Gueye (Coleman 68); Jelavic
Referee: Howard Webb
Assistants: Peter Kirkup, Mike Mullarkey Fourth Official: Lee Mason
Premier League: Saturday 11 February (15:00); Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium
Saturday 25 February (15:00); Sunderland at Goodison