Philippe Coutinho injected some Brazilian flair in the 50th Merseyside Derby of the English Premier League era, as sparkling Liverpool eased past Everton 3-1 in their Premier League clash at Anfield on Saturday.
"We will play three at the back because that is the best way to attack Liverpool,” Everton manager Ronald Koeman said while speaking to reporters prior to the match,.
Koeman, perhaps, is aiming to be the first Everton manager to win at Anfield in 18 years.
A bold theory but in practice, the execution was severely lacking as a youthful Toffees unit were torn to shreds by Coutinho and co on a day when Red was the dominant colour in just about every department.
Koeman opted for a 3-4-3 formation, with Matthew Pennington playing his first Everton game of the season alongside Ashley Williams and Phil Jagielka. With Seamus Coleman and Ramiro Funes Mori both injured, young Mason Holgate essayed the role of wing back with Leighton Baines operating on the other flank. Morgan Schneiderlin was another regular to miss out and his absence proved to be massive as Everton were dominated in the possession battle with ease by the hosts.
Jurgen Klopp, as expected, chose to fill Adam Lallana’s void by selecting the combative Lucas Leiva in midfield. And with Dejan Lovren fit again, the defender returned to slot in alongside Joel Matip.
The hosts dominated as soon as the game kicked off and took the lead as Sadio Mane proved just why he is considered among the finest wingers in the Premier League with a brilliant run and a fine wrong-footed finish in the 8th minute. Playing a smart one-two with Roberto Firmino, he cut in across from the right. As he neared the edge of the box, he let loose a low finish to the opposite corner to leave Joel Robles stranded.
Everton responded with a goal of their own. Matthew Pennington scored a goal in the 29th minute and will be remembered for a long, long time. Reacting speedily to Jagielka’s flick from a corner, he toe-poked home to level proceedings and expose Liverpool’s defensive failings yet again.
Liverpool were, however, undeterred. Coutinho’s moment of brilliance three minutes later effectively sealed the deal in the hosts’ favour. The Brazilian feinted to go outside but cut in and curled a fine finish into the top corner to restore the Reds advantage.
At half-time, Liverpool were clearly dominant and looked like scoring everytime they got the ball and in stark contrast, Everton looked quite toothless in attack, despite having the league’s top scorer in Romelu Lukaku, in their ranks. The big Belgian had just one touch in the box, a damming statistic for the visitors.
And substitute Divock Origi, who replaced the injured Sadio Mane, put the icing on the cake for the home fans with a fine finish from just outside the box after being set up by Coutinho on the hour-mark.
With the result, Liverpool move up to joint-second with Tottenham Hotspur, behind only on goal difference (but Spurs have played two games fewer). Despite Mane’s injury, a strong finish to the season is on the cards.
For Koeman and Everton, the defeat is damaging for their top four hopes as they remain in seventh place, seven points behind fourth-placed Manchester City (who have played three games fewer). With star striker Lukaku supposedly mulling a summer move to a 'bigger club', this result might have done some irreparable damage.