Sunday 17 December 2017

Kuyt gives Liverpool edge in Mersey war of attrition


Dion Fanning

Late in the first half of yesterday's Merseyside derby, with Liverpool already locked into an attritional struggle after the sending-off of Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Jamie Carragher's shrieking voice punctured the Anfield air. Carragher didn't want Steven Gerrard to take a free-kick. "Stevie, Stevie, go forward," he screamed. Carragher wanted Javier Mascherano to take it so he addressed the captain of Argentina. "Mascherano, you take it."

It is hard to know what a team-mate of Carragher's must do to be on first-name terms with Liverpool's spiritual leader but Mascherano might have earned it at Anfield yesterday. He was one of a number of players who responded to the sending-off with immovable defiance.

It was all that was required to win this game but that is not to diminish the qualities Liverpool showed, even if this was a victory that didn't require Rafael Benitez's side to play much football. The visit to the Emirates on Wednesday will demand different qualities.

"It was a massive game for us and then to win the derby with 10 players at Anfield is very special," Benitez said later.

In the second half, Dirk Kuyt scored the goal that would ensure Liverpool rocked to another victory over Everton and moved within five points of Arsenal. Kuyt is another player who thrives on occasions when heart is preferred to technique.

"Games like these are the reason supporters love derby matches," said David Moyes, who, true to form, conceded that Everton were lucky to play for as long as they had with 11 players before Steven Pienaar was sent off in injury-time. Moyes conceded that Pienaar should have gone long before as Martin Atkinson's desire to be understanding of the traditions of the fixture allowed a thunderous game to develop.

Carragher, naturally, had started it by clattering into Pienaar in the opening seconds and the game continued as a battle of wills with everything being used to claim an advantage.

As the game grew more, in Moyes' word, "feisty", both sides looked for warriors. Everton had Cahill while Liverpool were not lacking. Mascherano was everywhere, Kuyt was tireless while Lucas was exceptional in his industry.

Everton were so outraged by Rafael Benitez's claim a few years ago that they were a "small club" that they issued a public denial. On Friday, Moyes seemed to retaliate by saying that Liverpool were only a big club because they had overspent and they would now be tumbling to Everton's level. Liverpool have certainly overspent but on what is a matter of dispute as the club tries to accommodate its debt and the demands of their supporters.

Both will be placated if Liverpool keep on winning. It looked unlikely yesterday when the game seemed to move beyond their control with Kyrgiakos's sending-off.

The defender couldn't complain after lunging in two-footed, but Marouane Fellaini, who ended up going to hospital for an X-ray, could have been booked at least for his counter-challenge which left Kyrgiakos needing stitches. Fellaini had previously avoided a booking, despite going in dangerously on Kuyt who, having already been booked, could have also been shown another yellow.

Pienaar's tackle led to the explosion however. He went in over the top of Mascherano, mangling the Argentinian's shinpad. Atkinson punished it only with a yellow, the same colour Carragher saw when he sought immediate retribution, hunting Pienaar down and, unlike in the opening minutes, not bothering to play the ball.

There had been a few spells of football in the first half. Cahill should have scored for Everton but headed over while Gerrard clipped the top of the bar with a free-kick. The sending-off subdued the home crowd and brought the calm the referee's non-interventionist policy had failed to do.

At half-time, Moyes told his players to use their extra man. "I told them to keep the ball and play but we didn't create enough chances with an extra man." Moyes felt the sending-off encouraged Liverpool in their mood of defiance but it was from a set-piece that the home side took the lead.

Liverpool had built some pressure with a series of corners. Gerrard isn't always accurate with his delivery but in the 54th minute he was and Kuyt got the touch to put the ball past Howard.

Liverpool then retreated as Everton searched for an equaliser. Arteta had replaced Fellaini but Liverpool didn't allow him to play. Benitez's side also stood tall at set-pieces despite the presence of Cahill and, later, Yakubu and Victor Anichebe.

Moyes acknowledged the role reversal and Pepe Reina only had to tip one Yakubu shot over as Everton pressed. A few more scuffles broke out as Gerrard went in hard on Pienaar, who was finally sent off for a late challenge on Liverpool's captain.

It was a game of football that had everything except a game of football. Nobody's perfect.

Sunday Independent

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