Liverpool moved four points clear of Everton in the fight for the final Champions League place with an emphatic 4-0 victory in the Merseyside derby at Anfield. The home side were ruthlessly clinical throughout and, after taking the lead through Steven Gerrard’s powerful header, Daniel Sturridge scored two goals in as many minutes just past the half-hour mark to effectively seal a vital three points before half time. Liverpool continued to be merciless after the break as Suarez seized on an error from Phil Jagielka to extend their advantage. Only a penalty miss from Sturridge denied Liverpool a fifth and himself a hat-trick.
While Everton had their good spells in the match they rarely threatened the Liverpool goal, a failing that was not helped by Romelu Lukaku going off with an ankle injury in the midst of Liverpool conceding the opening goal. The main faults, though, were at the other end, where, as they did in their 5-0 mauling of Tottenham, Liverpool took full advantage of their opponents’ high defensive line. Both sides were missing several players due to injury, but perhaps it was the loss of Sylvain Distin’s pace at the back for Everton that was most keenly felt on the day.
Meanwhile, despite again missing the midfield stability of Lucas Leiva and Joe Allen, Liverpool looked far more secure in midfield than in their last two outings. Up front the pace and intelligent movement of Suarez and Sturridge again demonstrated that they have the firepower to wreak havoc on any team. With the other leading contenders for fourth place, Tottenham, going up against Manchester City on Wednesday, the situation could look even rosier for Brendan Rodgers’s side in 24 hours’ time.
Unsurprisingly, for a Merseyside derby, the match began at a fierce tempo. The returning Ross Barkley went close in the opening minutes with a fierce shot that just missed the top corner. But it was Liverpool whose intensity was giving them the edge.
Indeed, with the wet conditions, Liverpool appeared almost to have a shot-on-sight philosophy as time and again they peppered Tim Howard’s goal. Suarez had the best of the early efforts as he seized upon a slip from Phil Jagielka on the edge of the box and forced Tim Howard to tip wide. Howard was a busy man throughout, and had to use his right leg to deny Raheem Sterling after some fine skill from Sturridge.
He could do nothing, though, as Liverpool took the lead in the 22nd minute. Gerrard, who has justifiably been questioned for his ability to adapt to a deeper role in recent weeks, showed he was still every bit the inspirational captain when he charged toward a near-post corner and powered a header into the top corner. As if that blow wasn’t enough for Everton, they also had to deal with the loss of Lukaku when Gareth Barry slipped and fell into his ankle as the midfielder tried in vain to keep track of Gerrard.
Everton responded well to going behind and, as they did throughout, were enjoying plenty of possession. Jagielka forced a stop from Simon Mignolet, while Kevin Mirallas shot narrowly wide. The cutting edge, though, was all with their opponents. Before they knew what had hit them, Everton, who came into the match looking to show it was they who were the leading force in Merseyside, were effectively faced with a damage-limitation exercise.
Not for the first time, Everton’s defense was caught high and square, allowing Philippe Coutinho to slide a pass through to Sturridge, who raced clear of the less-than rapid Antolin Alcaraz before finishing coolly. It was a similar scenario for the third goal, although with an even better finish from Sturridge.
This time it was a routine ball forward from Kolo Toure that beat Everton’s defense. Still Sturridge appeared to be having trouble merely locating the ball coming over shoulder, never mind looking to see where the onrushing Howard or the goal was. Yet, without a glance at either, he produced a stunning lob over the Everton goalkeeper and, with one bounce, into the corner of the net.
Everton made an encouraging start to the second half and half-time substitute Leon Osman even forced a save from Mignolet. Yet their attempt at a revival was to prove in vain. Jagielka, who had perhaps been unwisely rushed back from injury, was culpable on this occasion in gifting the ball straight to Suarez on halfway. The Uruguayan still had plenty to do, but he surged through on goal, comfortably holding off Jagielka and Alcaraz, before slotting a shot past Howard.
The only negative on a night to remember for Liverpool was when Sturridge blasted his penalty over the bar after Sterling had been brought down by Howard. Clearly desperate to complete his hat-trick, Sturridge then failed to take advantage of another opportunity, ignoring the better-placed Suarez in the process and drawing the wrath of this forward partner. Some stern words were directed in his direction from his manager, too, when he showed his frustration at being taken off minutes later. An apology duly followed after the match, though, as Sturridge wisely reflected on the crucial part he had played in a potentially decisive 90 minutes for Liverpool.