Frank Lampard’s tactics should have come as no surprise in the Merseyside derby. To give Everton a chance to beat Liverpool they had to frustrate them, excite them and put them in a position that made them – and the Anfield crowd – uncomfortable.
Had Liverpool evicted a player, or couldn’t find a way around the low block Everton employed, it could have led to an unlikely result.
As it was, Andy Robertson and then Divock Origi had other ideas, and once the stalemate was broken by the former’s lead after good work leading up to the latter and Mohamed Salah, Liverpool were always heavy favorites to hold out for the win.
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It took 62 minutes for Liverpool to find the opening goal and a patient approach was required. Lampard refuted full-time the suggestion that he had been inspired in 2014 by Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea squad – in which the former Chelsea midfielder started – yet Liverpool players took a very different approach this time around.
In some ways it was the perfect dress rehearsal for their upcoming Champions League semi-final – not just for the players, but for the Anfield crowd.
Again on Wednesday night, then again the following Tuesday, Liverpool and their supporters will likely need the same patience against a team likely to align themselves in the same way.
In the first leg of their quarter-final in Spain, Villarreal had 38 percent possession of the ball and one shot on goal, from which they scored. At the Allianz Arena – perhaps comparable to playing at Anfield – they had 32 percent possession of the ball and shot only on goal, which also found the back of the net.
Bayern Munich may have struggled and struggled to find clear opportunities (one goal from 55 shots in the 180 minutes of the quarter-final), but they were dominant in terms of having the ball. The problem was that they couldn’t do much with it and were clinically penalized for mistakes in the back.
It is Liverpool’s job to break down Villarreal’s rear guard and also make sure they don’t allow forward counterattacks to cause trouble.
Horace Danjuma may be a better version of Anthony Gordon, but the game plan will be much the same – and Gordon sometimes gave Liverpool a hard time with his speed and directness.
While Liverpool had only one day to properly prepare for Villarreal after a recovery session on Monday and the game on Wednesday, their preparations will have been aided in many ways by Everton’s Merseyside derby plan.
Emery could, of course, surprise and change his plan. But that would only play into Liverpool’s hands anyway. When he does what most expect and sits deep and thwarts, Liverpool have just made the perfect (and successful) first attempt.