Ten Men Liverpool Earn Bragging Rights, Confidence & Top Four Contention

Nabeel KhokharCorrespondent IFebruary 7, 2010

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 06:   Steven Gerrard of Liverpool celebrates at the end of the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Everton at Anfield on February 6, 2010 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Hamish Blair/Getty Images)
Hamish Blair/Getty Images

If you wanted to see a flowing game of football with great passing, moves, and wonderful technical skills, then this was not the game for you.

However, if you wanted to see a match where 22 players gave everything they have in their locker for their team's cause and players that were willing to go that extra mile for their fans, then the 213th Merseyside Derby was most definitely for you.

Rafa Benitez once again confounded critics and fans by leaving Alberto Aquilani on the bench and playing his two holding midfielders, Mascherano and Lucas, in the middle of the park in a home game.

But the Liverpool manager is nothing if not tactically astute. This game was never going to be pretty and it would not be technical artistry that would win this match, it would be steel and grit.

Benitez’s lineup made a statement that, the men from the Red side of Liverpool were up for the fight.

This particular encounter was always going to be a fiery affair with Liverpool and Everton coming into their latest battle fairly evenly matched. And sure enough with less than 30 seconds on the clock, Steven Pienaar went into a challenge with Jamie Carragher.

The Liverpool vice-captain’s comments in the build up to this derby left no doubt which match he considered the most important to him above all others in the League programme.

So of all the players on the pitch, up for this battle, Carragher was probably the most charged up and Pienaar felt the full force of a hot blooded challenge.

This set the tone for the match; this was not going to be a footballing spectacle, this was going to be a battle and an ugly one at that. It was not going to be decided by anything less than shear desire to be the ones left standing at the final whistle.

As Rafa Benitez said in the post match interview, there were far too many challenges and tackles that could be discussed and analysed, but some stood out more than others.

Challenges for high balls as well as those when the ball was on the park were equally contested in the most ferocious manner. Lucas was sent sprawling when contesting a bouncing ball that showed that, the young Brazilian may not be blessed with samba-skills, but is willing to roll up his sleeves and make up for this with hard work and commitment.

Steven Gerrard’s post match comments have indicated that he thought Martin Atkinson, the referee, was “superb” in letting the game flow and the tackles fly.

But in his leniency, Atkinson, let some tackles go unpunished that would be considered horror tackles in any other Premier League match, with Everton’s Marouane Fellaini being the major benefactor of this clemency.

His knee into the side of Dirk Kuyt’s head while the Liverpool player was on the ground, left the Dutchman with very visible bruising to his cheekbone and but luckily no fracture.

But the Belgian’s stamping on Liverpool’s Greek giant defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos in a fifty-fifty challenge, was inexcusable and malicious and warranted a straight red card. This coming together of these two giants did result in a red card, but to the surprise of the Liverpool defender and to the visible shock of Benitez, it was Kyrgiakos that was given his marching orders.

Fellaini also left the field of battle, but on a stretcher and was not able to continue and one of the much anticipated battles ended prematurely.

But the shocking tackle by Pienaar on Mascherano was what incensed the crowd and in particular the players in Red. And to make matters worse, the card shown to the South African was yellow, when Anfield and the Liverpool players expected red.

Jamie Carragher took particular offense at this miscarriage of justice and a minute later took out Pienaar with a tackle from behind which earned him a yellow card, that he happily accepted.

With the Reds a man down, in a hotly contested derby, it was now time to show all the pundits and media that this Liverpool team may not be living up to expectations this season, but their commitment, heart, and desire cannot be questioned.

Once again it was Dirk Kuyt that came up with the goods for the Reds. Gerrard delivered a superb inswinging corner and despite the pushing and pulling of Phil Neville, the Dutchman was able to angle a close range header past the flailing limbs of Tim Howard.

The ten men of Liverpool had their goal and there was no way that they were going to let their advantage go.

Everton did push on and David Moyes made attacking substitutions that almost paid dividends, but for some agile goalkeeping from Pepe Reina.

Tempers flared over with the long overdue and expected scuffle between the players after Steven Gerrard caught Pienaar, who seemed to be the focus of Liverpool’s attentions following his terrible challenge on Mascherano in the first half that seemingly had not been forgotten.

But deep in injury time, the South African’s attempted retribution earned him a second caution and he was off.

With the final whistle ending the battle, the undeniable joy on the faces of the Liverpool players and staff illustrated how important these three points were. But the expressions of victory from Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher showed something more; pride.

Once again the Reds showed fantastic tenacity, desire and commitment. While this set of players is currently not producing the quality of football they know they can, they are showing the League that they will not be written off just yet, with performances full of passion and heart.

Confidence is growing in the corridors of Anfield as Rafa Benitez’s men are now unbeaten in their last seven games with six clean sheets in the process. The other teams with Champions League aspirations next year be warned; Liverpool are right back in the hunt and ready for the scrap.


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