A Mercilous Mersey Derby

By Kevin Koczwara
It wasn’t a game for the faintest of heart or the admirers of the “beautiful game,” but one thing the Merseyside derby between Liverpool and Everton at Anfield did have was drama.

The game lacked a good amount of skill–especially in the first half–but it didn’t lack passion. The game was not only a local rivalry, but also had important table implications for both squads.

And it wasn’t the only important game this weekend in the English Premier League. Let’s look around the league at some other important results.

Liverpool Survive at Anfield with 10 Men

Jamie Carragher started the derby off with a crunching tackle on Steven Pienaar in the first minute. The South African fell grabbing his shoulder after Carragher came in clean and put a little extra thump in his tackle. Carragher’s tackle  foreshadowed what would come in the blood-thirsty derby.It was a physical battle that lacked any semblance of beautiful soccer.

Not all challenges were crunching and clean, Pienaar dished out a disguising tackle on Javier Macherano that earned him a yellow card. He went for a tackle with his cleats up and dragged them from the Liverpool midfielder’s knee all the way to his shin, it could have easily have been a red card but the Everton player got away lucky.

The big controversy came when Sotirios Kyrgiakos challenged Marouane Fellaini with two feet and Fellaini, fearing for injury and dishing out his own dirt, dug into the Liverpool defender’s shins with his spikes. Neither player  was able to continue after the challenge. Kyrgiakos was given a red card for the offense, and Fellaini could not continue. Both players deserved a red card, at the very least they deserved the same punishment because both were at fault for poor challenges. Kyrgiako had to receive stitches in the dressing room from the cuts from Fellaini’s cleats and Fellaini had to be helped to the dressing room because he could not continue.

It seemed to be a perfect time for Mikel Arteta to sub on for his first action of the year. But the Spaniard looked rusty. He hasn’t played all year and the 10 men Liverpool didn’t allow the play-maker space to create despite being down a man. The teams went into half time bruised, dirty and beaten. Kuyt had a scar on his face from a boot from Fellani before he was injured and the Dutchman would have his revenge come the second half.

The game opened up more in the second half with Mascherano moving to right back and Jamie Carragher moving into the center of the defense for Liverpool. This allowed the middle of the field to open up and play to flow from both sides. Liverpool took a vantage of it and went after Everton in the opening minutes of the second half. With the Kop behind them, pushing them forward, Liverpool won corner after corner and exploited the space that was created with dangerous runs and quick counters. And Steven Gerrard sent in a killer corner into the 6-yard box where Dirk Kuyt was camping out and giving the Everton defense and goalkeeper Tim Howard a fit before the ball was in the air. It showed, because when the ball was crossed he was the first to react, ignoring the pushes and crushing in a header for the only goal of the game.

Liverpool packed in a nice shape and showed some guile as they defended against a searching Everton team that couldn’t make the killer pass.  Everton had 69% of possession, but couldn’t do anything with it, and there was really only one chance that Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina had to worry about.  Yokuba turned and quickly took a strong shot, off balance, aimed at the upper 90 and the Liverpool keeper just got a paw on it.

The display was pure heart from Liverpool as they held off Everton’s attack in the waning minutes of the game. The game had its spats and Steven Pienaar was given a red card in the closing minutes of the game, but the second half was much more entertaining than the first.

Benetiz needed this win to keep his team in contention for Champions League play next year, and his team showed what they were made of by getting the win.

Squandered Points By Contenders

Liverpool made a statement winning on Saturday. But their closest contenders for the fourth and vital position in the table lost ground and failed to keep pace with critical results.

The biggest loss goes to Manchester City (they still have 2 games in hand though) as they lost the lowly Hull City on Sunday 2-1. This should have been an easy win for the Blue Boys from Manchester. They have yards upon yards more talent than the boys from Hull. But the young American Jozy Altidore got his first goal in the Premier League in the 31 minute with a great goal. And City couldn’t recover. Another goal from the splendid George Boateng gave city a 2-0 lead right after half and the game was over. City would get a second goal from Adebayor in the 59 minute, but they couldn’t crack the Hull City defense again.

Adam Johnson and Patrick Viera got their first starts after their transfers over, but they couldn’t make a large enough impact to change the outcome of the game. If City could have turned the result around they would be in the driver’s seat for the fourth spot, but now they need to make those 2 games in hand count and get positive results from them.

As for Hull, they have moved out of the relegation zone, but they don’t have any breathing room with only 3 points separating them from the bottom teams. But this result could help Hull stay positive moving forward.

Tottenham and Aston Villa couldn’t break a deadlock as they tied 0-0. Both could have kept pace with Liverpool and Manchester City, but neither could get the full three points. Tottenham stay in fifth place 2 points behind Liverpool with Wolves and Wigan coming up in their Premier League schedule.

Aston Villa stay tied  with Manchester City in points, but with one more game played. Villa have Man U and Burnley coming up in Premier League play and they will have to capture some points from those games and not be distracted by their FA Cup tie with Crystal Palace in between the matches.

Manchester United and Chelsea Prove Their Worth

Chelsea beat up Arsenal 2-0 at Stamford Bridge with class and power. Arsenal is missing the killer defender in the middle and a powerful holding midfielder that can control the game. Chelsea proved that Arsenal wasn’t a viable threat to the top of the Premier League and Chelsea are definitely the front runners.

Chelsea have proved week in and week out that they are a tough nut to crack and they dominate the physical play of the game, and with Drogba back in the mix they can sit more players back and counter with fury. They are the scariest team to try and score against because they can break out with fury.

And Manchester United poured on my poor pain for Portsmouth with a 5-0 victory. They won it with ease and there was no doubt going into the game that Wayne Rooney was going to score. This was a message sent: United is out to put the hurt on anyone, no matter who you are or where you stand in the table. They came off the victory at the Emirates against Arsenal, and they will continue to pile on positive results for the rest of the season. The EPL is a two horse race and everyone else is just watching Manchester United and Chelsea see who can outlast the other.

Kevin Koczwara can be reached at kkoczwar@gmail.com

By the way, I hope you got to see the goal by Robinho in his first game for his boyhood club Santos. If you haven’t then check it out here.

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