On Saturday, Everton recorded their first back-to-back defeats in the Premier League for over a year after a controversial encounter with Liverpool. As with any derby defeat, the result will sting supporters for a considerable length of time. Far too often Everton fans have seen their bitter foes waltz away from Goodison Park with all three points, and Saturday's defeat came with an additional portion of injustice for the Toffees.
Few can deny the script was not drastically altered after Jack Rodwell's red card, a card received for a challenge that few would even class as a foul. Dismissed after only 20 minutes, Everton had to quickly abandon any attacking ambitions and initiate a rigid defensive scheme in an attempt to survive the ensuing 70 minutes.
This plan initially worked until late goals from Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez saw Liverpool victorious. In the gloomy aftermath for Everton, here are five points David Moyes may have taken from Saturday's loss.
Martin Atkinson's decision to show Jack Rodwell a red card ruined the game as a spectacle and as a contest. The challenge was not even a foul. Rodwell went in without his studs up, got the ball and brushed Luis Suarez on his follow through.
Before the red card, the game had been an open, end-to-end contest. Everton even dominated the statistical columns, reeling off six shots to one and won a number of early corners. Admittedly, neither side were truly on top, but once Rodwell left, the game's dynamics completely transformed.
Atkinson's last visit to Goodison Park ended with further controversy. In added time against Manchester United, Everton broke and attacked with four on two. As the Toffees closed in on goal, Atkinson decided to blow for full time, despite Everton's clear goal scoring opportunity.
Luckily for Atkinson, the players did not hear his whistle and played on, eventually missing the chance. However, the call to end the game riled David Moyes and he and his assistant, Steve Round, both collected fines for their fierce on-field verbal confrontation with Atkinson.
Moyes had expressed surprise at Atkinson's appearance in this pivotal game for Everton. Prior to kickoff, he had issued more red cards than any other referee this season. The Merseyside derby will always be a feisty, volatile game, but needs careful refereeing, something Atkinson did not provide on Saturday.
The derby has now produced seven more red cards than any other Premier League fixture. Atkinson's decision to assert himself, brandishing a red card to try and prevent further potential skirmishes, was an unforgivable error.
Four years ago, again against Liverpool, Mark Clattenburg gave one of the worst refereeing displays in recent memory. He reduced Everton to nine men, awarded Liverpool two penalties, ignored the worst foul of the game (a Kung Fu kick by Dirk Kuyt) and similarly missed the most blatant penalty of the match, as Jamie Carragher wrestled Joleon Lescott to the ground in the last minute of the game.
Amazingly, Clattenburg is yet to return to Goodison Park since. He is still detested by many Everton fans and after Saturday's showing, Atkinson may now have reached a similar status among Evertonians.
This point is certainly not trying to appear at all deluded and claim that with 11 against 11 Everton would have triumphed. As David Moyes made a point of saying after the final whistle, playing Liverpool is one of the toughest assignments of the season. Beating them will always be hard, but doing so with 10 men for 70 minutes is nigh-on impossible.
To pursue a few more positive notes for Everton, Tim Howard's spectacular penalty save has capped off an impressive start to the season for the American. After a man of the match performance against Blackburn, where he single-handedly denied the opposition, Howard has continued to be consistent in every game he has featured in.
Penalty saves have become his speciality. Howard has now saved four out of his last seven penalties and surely few goalkeepers rank higher in this category than Everton’s stopper?
At the time of his save, Everton were still holding Liverpool out and it kept them in with a chance of gaining something. When it mattered, he stood up and made a play in one of Everton’s biggest games of the season. The Toffees will hope he can build on this and go on to produce his best season in goal at Goodison Park.
After Saturday's performance, Luis Suarez is now certainly the newest villain in town for Everton fans. Yet for every second he agitated the crowd, constantly rolling around in apparent agony, feigning numerous injuries, as a footballer, there is no denying his considerable class and skill. He was integral to Liverpool at the weekend.
With Fernando Torres off to Chelsea and Steven Gerrard appearing less due to injury, Suarez is evidently Liverpool’s new focal point. If he stays at Anfield, how Everton fair in future derbies may be determined by how well they nullify his threat.
On Saturday, Everton found Suarez a constant nuisance. He created chances, drew a lot of attention from defenders, passed well and was central to all the key moments in the game. He contributed to the Toffees losing a man (with an excessive reaction), he also won his side a penalty, again with a reaction suggesting he was moments from death and, of course, scored the decisive goal.
Clearly only going to improve as he adapts to the Premier League, he is a talent and Liverpool supporters will greatly appreciate having him. Everton must factor in a way of coping with his game in order to condense Liverpool’s offensive strategies.
Of every player in an Everton shirt on Saturday, none performed better than Marouane Fellaini. The Belgian international tackled more than anybody on the field, he constantly disrupted play, showed grace and skill in possession and was by far Everton’s most prominent passer, passing at above 80 percent.
Despite Liverpool’s stranglehold of possession only three Liverpool players passed more than him, showing just how prominent he was. Everything Everton tried went through Fellaini. True, at times there were a few over elaborate touches, but his performance was another certain to enhance his inflating stock in the game.
However, why this is such an issue is that his contract has barely another 18 months to run. If he does not extend it, Everton risk losing one of their most valuable assets for a cut price, the same way they lost Steven Pienaar in January.
The perilous financial situation at Goodison Park means this is simply not an option for David Moyes. Even if Fellaini is to move on soon, for Everton’s future, it must be at a top price.
The board must make securing his signature a top priority above all other contracts, otherwise he must surely be offloaded in January or, if not, the summer. If Fellaini does not sign very soon, Everton will pass up a lucrative fee they cannot afford to miss out on.
To finish on a final positive for David Moyes, Royston Drenthe has now shown enough glimpses in an Everton shirt to suggest he could play an important role this season. Initially signed short of match fitness, he has only appeared fleetingly so far. It is now time to see him for a full 90 minutes.
As soon as he was introduced on Saturday he showed imaginative skill, blistering pace and confidence to run at people, something few players in Everton colours have been willing to do in recent seasons. Liverpool backed off him and he gave the Toffees an extra dimension in attack, looking more likely to produce something than anyone else in royal blue.
Moyes may well feel that Goodison Park is the best place to initially integrate him into the starting 11. His cameo was indeed impressive and exciting, but defensively he was also tactically caught out of position a few times.
Moyes ordered his troops to be rigid in formation, yet Drenthe came on and roamed freely from left to right, allowing Liverpool a spare wide man on a couple of forays forward. Whilst this was not what was required on Saturday, Drenthe was not exposed and looks as though he may flourish in a free role.
Doing this at home, with 11 players on the field, may be the best way to bring him in. Away from home, if he were not more disciplined, he would restrict other players.
If instructed to wander just behind a front man, as Leon Osman has done often this season, he would give David Moyes' side a fresh look. If not there, then he will be just as capable on the right cutting in on his left foot, or over on the left supporting Leighton Baines. Wherever Moyes deems best, it is certainly time to see more of Royston Drenthe.
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