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01st Apr 2017

Philippe Coutinho provides much of the magic in Everton disappearing act

Toffees found wanting at Anfield

Tony Barrett

A feint, a shift of the feet, a slalom away and an opponent left embarrassed on the seat of his pants.

Philippe Coutinho’s one-sided duel with Ross Barkley in the second half might not have decided the 228th Merseyside derby but it did define it. In a single incident, the gulf in quality and execution of skill that allowed Liverpool to win with routine ease was encapsulated and personified.

From start to finish, Barkley, drowning under the weight of an expectation which demands that he features for country before he has even convinced consistently for club, characterised an Everton performance which blended careless use of the ball, wild fluctuations in effort between trying too hard and not trying enough and general ineptitude.

All Liverpool had to be was adequate and assured and they managed both. With Coutinho in this form, all that is required of his team mates is that they do the basics and in the event those in red were all superior to their opposite numbers in blue.

The only consolation for Everton, if it can be described as such, is that neither the scoreline nor the game became as one-sided as the two recent occasions when they departed Anfield on the wrong end of a 4-0 defeat.

That Liverpool never hit those heights made their latest derby victory almost mundane. A stadium which usually revels in the vanquishing of a rival treated this win as if it was absolutely normal which, in a way, it was.

There is currently no shock value in Liverpool beating Everton, certainly not at Anfield where they have not lost a derby since 1999, and the familiarity of results has bred contentment. There was no euphoria this time, just an acceptance that Liverpool had been the better side once again.

Not that Ronald Koeman saw things that way. In the spirit of Roy Hodgson and Roberto Martinez, past losers of this fixture who attempted to accentuate the positive when everyone else could see only negatives, the Everton manager spoke afterwards of his pride in his players and their performance.

“We played the way I want Everton to play and that’s why I’m proud,” Koeman said before claiming there had been times when Everton had controlled the game. None of his analysis made sense, unless his sole objective was to ensure that such a demoralising defeat did not cause fractures between manager and players.

Besides Matthew Pennington’s equalising goal in front of the Kop, there were seldom moments when Liverpool did not seem at least one step ahead of Everton. It always looked that they had an extra gear to go to and more weaknesses to exploit, a situation which allowed them to play sporadically throughout in the knowledge that doing so would be enough.

The tone was set after just eight minutes when a spin and a surge by Sadio Mane culminated in the winger scoring an opening goal that Koeman claimed was “lucky” because his shot had gone through a player’s legs.

From that point, the scenario that Everton had needed to avoid was established as they were left needing to come from behind to win against Liverpool, something they had done only once in their previous 66 meetings.

Pennington’s goal, capitalising on Liverpool’s eternal weakness at set pieces, gave them hope but nothing more. If it had been a goal that triggered a swing in the balance of power or a change to the dynamic of the game things might have been different but it did neither, and stood as an isolated response when much more was required.

With both teams allowing the other to play, except on those occasions when Barkley misdirected his passion to threaten the safety of opponents, the game suited Liverpool, as illustrated when Coutinho was afforded too much space on the edge of the Everton penalty area and took full advantage by sauntering away from Gueye before curling a wonderful shot into the top corner of Joel Robles’ goal.

This time, there would be no response from Everton, although they did become more creative in the second half only for Divock Origi, the Liverpool substitute, to end the game as a contest when he shot at a space where a goalkeeper is expected to be.

Robles, like everyone at Everton, had been found wanting at Anfield once again.

For Koeman there are mitigating circumstances, particularly in terms of personnel with injuries prompting him to select a quartet of youngsters who all struggled one way or another, but this was a bad day for the Everton manager. Afterwards he took pride in his tweeted response to Martin O’Neill’s criticism of his handling of James McCarthy but in the circumstances it seemed particularly hollow.

This was not the time for moral, individual victories, it was a day to reflect on why Everton had come up short against their neighbours yet again and unfortunately the gulf in quality was not restricted only to Barkley and Coutinho.

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