celebrate for goalscorer Gerrard and his team-mates.
Red-hot Rafalution now
spurs title aspirations
By Chris Bascombe - Liverpool Echo
A classic finish by the Liverpool nine, fans singing
'we're gonna win the league' and post-match angst at the
It was just like old times at Goodison last night.
Liverpool's followers had refrained from openly
expressing their belief a title challenge is on, but in
the face of nine consecutive wins the proof finally
Perhaps it took this convincing win over neighbours who
severely embarrassed them a year ago to provide the last
piece of evidence.
Or maybe it was a purely symbolic gesture, underlining
where their side has gone in the 12 months since the
last wholly unsatisfactory visit to this venue.
The Blues fans mocked Rafa Benitez for much of last
season, but now they've paid the price at the hands of
the manager who never makes the same mistake twice.
Benitez's first year in the Premiership is looking more
like an elaborate reconnaissance mission.
At Goodison last December, Steven Gerrard didn't play in
midfield, Xabi Alonso warmed the bench for 75 minutes
and Liverpool opted for a lone striker.
Only four survivors from the lineup began here, which
not only reveals plenty about the injury list a year
ago, but also how swiftly Benitez has come to understand
the idiosyncrasies of English football.
While David Moyes has spent £25m since the corresponding
fixture in December 2004, including first pick in a line
of Southampton strikers, Benitez has spent a net £15m.
The differences between both sides undermines such
facts. The old arguments which used to claim finances,
not managerial clout, separated both clubs doesn't
survive close scrutiny.
The most significant question for fans of both sides
today is how is it Moyes has invested more in a team
which finished above Liverpool, yet the gap between the
two is now developing into a chasm?
Such matters will worry the home faithful more than the
thrilled visitors, whose most dangerous opponent proved
to be those indulging in premature gloating midway
through the first half.
At 2-0 up, memories of a certain Ian Rush-inspired win
in 1983 were creeping into the consciences too readily.
This explained a temporary lull when Liverpool decided
to stop doing what they'd done so well for 20 minutes.
They didn't just take their foot off the pedal, but
virtually turned the engine off.
A Blues goal was threatened before Beattie obliged those
who wanted balance restored in a hitherto onesided
Half-time spared Benitez's side the indignity of holding
on in the final stages prior to the interval.
The break was needed, since the Achilles heel which has
been exposed throughout the recent run almost led to
The Reds still need to develop their ruthlessness. When
an opponent is wounded, they need to fire some extra
bullets, just to be sure. Otherwise, positions of
superiority can be squandered.
The excellent Djibril Cisse made the game sensible with
a delicious finish two minutes into the second half.
This was comfortably Cisse's finest game for Liverpool.
There was a maturity and intelligence to his performance
which has too often been missing amid erraticism.
His goal provoked justifiable comparisons with Thierry
Henry. Earlier in the season, such opportunities were
snapped at with power substituting guile.
This was an altogether different Cisse goal and display.
Scoring in a derby has transformed many a career, and a
week before the transfer window opens, this may prove to
be the French striker's most significant of all.
Both he and Peter Crouch tormented the home defence.
Even when Liverpool didn't create a chance of their own,
they looked likely to get one via an error.
At 3-1, Liverpool didn't make the same mistakes as they
did at 2-0.
They were assisted, of course, by some appalling
refereeing. If Graham Poll ever takes charge of a dirty
game, his dream of officiating in a five-a-side derby
will be realised.
But to suggest his influence was decisive is delusional.
Liverpool were already commanding proceedings before
Poll decided to remind everyone he was on the pitch.
Having comfortably consolidated their position in third,
there was still one moment of symbolism left behind the
Goalscorer Crouch admitted the Reds were gutted to hear
Chelsea had won again.
It's over a decade since Liverpool left Goodison Park
worrying about how a result impacted their title hopes.
A year ago, they departed in despair, justifiably
fearing they wouldn't finish in the top four.
The word 'progress' scarcely does justice to what's
The Blues may have ensured Liverpool left Goodison
feeling frustrated again, but sadly for Moyes and
company, it's the men from Stamford Bridge who occupy
Benitez's thoughts now.
Derby goal one
of my sweetest
By Chris Bascombe - Liverpool Echo
Peter Crouch described last night's debut derby
strike as one of the sweetest moments of his career -
and then vowed Liverpool will push Chelsea all the way
in the race for the title.
The Reds striker handed his side an early initiative
which they never surrendered on their way to a 3-1 win
Now Crouch wants the momentum of nine straight league
wins to continue into the New Year as Rafa Benitez's men
try to cut the 15 point gap to Chelsea.
"I think that's my sweetest goal of all," said Crouch.
"We all know what this game means to the supporters in
this part of the world, so for me to get the first goal
gave me a great buzz because I know it was crucial.
"My confidence is really high and that's natural when
you're in the goals. When my chance came I had no
hesitation putting it away.
"It feels even better because it's helped us to a good
win in very difficult circumstances. It's never easy to
win a derby."
The only downside to Liverpool's winning streak is
Chelsea's refusal to buckle. The Londoners remain well
ahead of Benitez's side, albeit having played two games
But Crouch admits it's frustrating that a magnificent
run hasn't taken the Reds closer to top spot.
"It does deflate us a little bit when we come off the
pitch and find out they've sneaked another win, but our
main focus has been our own form," said the striker..
"We go out there to win every week and we've been
succeeding. A lot of other teams around us dropped
points last night, which is to our advantage.
"If you start thinking too far ahead you can get
complacent. I'm sure if we keep playing as we are, we'll
be there or thereabouts at the end of this season.
"We're doing our job superbly. I'm not surprised how
quickly we've put ourselves in this position. I don't
think anyone should be surprised when you look at what
Liverpool achieved last year by winning the Champions
"If you do that, you're no mugs."
By David Prentice - Liverpool Echo
Having seen every other footballing tactic fail them
in recent weeks, Everton ran out for the derby match
clinging onto the window principle.
You know the one - that peculiar footballing thought
process that says in derby matches at least, the form
book usually flies out of said window.
Last night, however, somebody had locked it.
The 202nd Merseyside derby ran as true to form as
possibly any of the 201 which had preceded it.
Liverpool, a side which had just won eight successive
Premiership matches - all without conceding a goal -
looked every inch the Premiership's form team, as they
comfortably beat an Everton team which had just lost
back-to-back matches by an aggregate of 8-0.
And they effectively wrapped the game up by the 17th
James Beattie's 41st minute consolation merely provided
a mood of defiance around Goodison Park during the
It lasted barely 75 seconds after the restart, until
Djibril Cisse killed off the match for good. That strike
ensured Rafael Benitez's name was chanted relentlessly
from the away section of Goodison Park.
There wasn't one solitary rendition of their rivals'
red--haired version. It had been conspicuous by its
absence at Villa Park, too.
But while David Moyes raised Evertonian eyebrows by
suggesting his side had played well during back-to-back
hidings by Bolton and Aston Villa - blaming individual
errors for his team's plight - this time he might just
have had a point.
Moyes stuck stubbornly behind his men after the 3-1
Some might say he didn't dare alienate them with two
crucial and winnable matches looming.
But, in truth, they simply never looked good enough to
challenge a Liverpool team in this kind of form, playing
this quality of football.
Everton tried to take the game to their neighbours as
best they could. But they were facing a side which has
grown in authority, style and swagger since their
watershed week in London two months ago.
Then they made more mistakes. Everton gave away
possession cheaply to allow Peter Crouch to sweep past
Martyn; Joseph Yobo reared away from Steven Gerrard's
shot like the ball had been dipped in sulphuric acid.
Then, just when Beattie's goal had given the Blues hope,
David Weir let Cisse run straight through him and clip
in an uncharacteristically classy finish.
As if individual errors weren't enough for Moyes to
contend with, he couldn't even turn to his tartan
Many fans had hoped to see Duncan Ferguson produce one
last derby hurrah. They prayed that, already
contemplating retirement, he might want to bow out with
a bang against the team he has so often tormented.
It seems, however, that his legs weren't up to it. As a
result, his lurking presence couldn't even be used on
the substitutes' bench.
Not that his presence would have perturbed the
rock-steady firm of Carragher and Hyypia unduly. They
defended superbly yet again, against a willing but
increasingly isolated Beattie, and provided the platform
for the midfield triangle of Alonso, Sissoko and Gerrard
to pass Everton to death.
All three possess stature, too, while the Blues'
triangle of Davies, Cahill and Neville looked
lightweight in comparison.
When Neville trailed a foot for Sissoko to tumble
theatrically over in the 67th minute, that trio was
reduced by 33 per cent and was the signal for many to
exit the blue sections of the stadium.
They missed Beattie crash another close range shot into
his favourite section of the Gwladys Street stand - the
same one efforts against Newcastle and Middlesbrough
also landed in - but his work ethic was admirable.
It was just never going to be enough against a Liverpool
team which can now combine aggression and bite with
quality and class.
As Liverpool's ecstatic fans were only too happy to
remind the other half of the city - it was 3-1 in their
In about 48 hours time, however, Everton face an even
more important match: A Premiership play-off - and this
is a match Everton most definitely can win.
They must go to Sunderland without Mikel Arteta and
Neville, Andy van der Meyde and probably Davies, without
a striker who can't push his body through the pain
barrier any more, and another whom Moyes patently does
That can be the only reason for Marcus Bent being left
in the dug-out during successive home matches, while the
Blues have been crying out for goals.
Oh, and Sunderland had last night off as well, after
somebody forgot to put 10 bob in the Reebok Stadium
meter. But excuses won't wash any more for Evertonians.
Saturday's clash is one they simply must not lose, or
Monday's date with Charlton may see more than the sound
of silence directed towards Moyes.
As for Benitez, he will step out at Anfield on Saturday
to yet more renditions of La Bamba.
On last night's evidence, it will be a long time before
that song wears out.
Nightmare festive period
seals swift shift of power
By David Prior - Daily Post
That jockey at Leopardstown must be a relieved man
today - there's someone around who has celebrated more
prematurely than he did.
When, last May, David Moyes supped champagne in his
conservatory chair and confidently announced a new
hierarchy on Merseyside, he probably knew only an
extraordinary turn of events would result in those words
coming back to haunt him.
Extraordinary? That doesn't quite do them justice.
Moyes's self-appointed kings have not just been deposed
from the throne, they've been deprived of all privileges
and kicked back down the stairs to feed on scraps with
the rest of the basement stragglers.
Such a slide was unbearable enough, but then there were
Seemingly taking last December's derby defeat as their
cue, Liverpool conquered the Continent and then, with
Rafael Benitez finally cracking the Premiership code,
proceeded to reassert domestic superiority.
Even with a few more glugs of that bubbly, Moyes would
not have believed it.
What a backdrop for the derby. Forget bragging rights -
last night's game was about nothing of the sort.
For the blue half, it meant much more. It was a question
of pride, of responsibility, and, in Moyes's words, of
standing up and being counted.
For the reds, it was - almost - just another game.
Such contrasting priorities probably explained last
night's game. The usual rule of the derby did not seem
to apply. Great levellers they may be, but when
fragility and nervousness meets confidence and swagger,
the identity of the opponents tends to be irrelevant.
While Everton looked like a team who had lost 4-0 twice
in the last fortnight, Liverpool looked like a team who
had spent several hours poring over the videos of those
same eight goals.
From the first minute, the hosts' weak spots were
targeted with ruthless efficiency.
Steven Gerrard, having welcomed Phil Neville into his
first Merseyside derby with a tackle that suggested his
appetite for the game was alive and well, was relishing
the ocean of space he found himself in.
Having seen his side stifled and suffocated on his first
visit to Goodison, Benitez could probably not believe
the extent to which his side were able to roam at
Three months ago, his side would not have taken
advantage. But Liverpool are unrecognisable from those
profligate days when goals were separated by hours.
Now it's only the against column that ticks over so
lazily, and it was almost to be expected that they would
benefit in the match-deciding way they did.
First Crouch, completing his journey from journeyman to
legend, and then Gerrard, powering in a shot that Nigel
Martyn barely caught sight of as it flashed into the
back of the net.
There was little comeback for Everton after that. It was
the start even the most optimistic home fan had feared,
and with their already edgy fans silenced, the original
'long night' was assured.
That's not to say they lost heart. No doubt with their
manager's pre-match reminder ringing in their heads,
they rediscovered some of the pride largely missing
against Villa and Bolton.
Liverpool, helpfully, took their foot off the pedal.
Had it not been for the dreadfully soft way in which
they conceded seconds after the break, James Beattie's
header could have meant something more than the
consolation it eventually did. Possibly. At least it
ended their rivals' clean--sheet record.
So where now? For Everton, their nightmare at Christmas
continues. Now they must pick themselves up from what
will be an energy-sapping setback, and their task at
Sunderland in two days' time was not helped by the
postponement of their game at Blackburn last night.
Somehow Moyes must pick his players off the floor and
prepare them - mentally,, most importantly - for the
second half of this relentlessly unfestive season. The
last few games is hardly overflowing with evidence that
he currently knows how to, though.
For Liverpool, their credentials as serious title
contenders look more convincing by the game. Their
defence was breached last night, but the way in which
Carragher, Hyypia and co. dealt with everything else
Everton could throw at them does not suggest any
imminent bursting of the dam.
The fluidity of Benitez's rotational policy continues to
impress. The likes of Mohamed Sissoko - so beloved by
the home supporters last night, not least for his
extremely amateur dramatics - and Stephen Warnock can
come in and not rock the cruising boat to any negligible
In all, it was as uneven a derby as two seasons ago, and
Liverpool's 3-0 plundering at Goodison. Given Graham
Poll's overly officious refereeing, it could and perhaps
should have been more emphatic than even that game.
Moyes would probably be the first to retract those
ill-advised words, now. For him, being number two on
Merseyside is the least of his problems.
rare goal against Reds
Jamie Carragher admitted a failure to keep a ninth
successive league clean sheet took the shine off
Liverpool's derby success at Everton tonight.
Peter Crouch, Steven Gerrard and Djibril Cisse got the
goals which gave Rafael Benitez's men victory in the
202nd Merseyside derby.
But James Beattie netted for Everton just before
half-time in a 3-1 win for the Reds - the first goal
they have conceded in nine Barclays Premiership matches.
And Carragher told Sky Sports afterwards: "It's
disappointing to concede just before half-time - we were
expecting a battle in the second half but the third goal
(by Cisse) killed the game.
"We are disappointed to concede because the aim before
the game was to keep a clean sheet and we haven't done
The defender continued: "I know how much this game means
- people talk about the Manchester United games but I
think for me and Steven it's the biggest game of the
Gerrard added: "We've got the bragging rights until
the next derby now.
"I practise shooting as much as I can and although
tonight's goal took a bit of a deflection I'll take it."
Liverpool are now third, four points behind
second-placed United with two games in hand - but 15
adrift of champions Chelsea.
And as for Liverpool's title hopes, Gerrard added:
"We'll keep going, trying to make up ground.
"Chelsea aren't dropping many points but we've got to
just concentrate on what we're doing."
Rafa: We can
play a lot better
By Steve Hunter - LFC Official Website
Rafael Benitez declared himself very happy with
Liverpool's Merseyside derby victory over Everton but
admitted his team can play a lot better.
Benitez said the 3-1 win over Everton was not
Liverpool's best performance of the season but added
that confidence is high in his team.
Benitez said: "I am very happy but at times in the first
half Everton caused us problems in the air and we were
not winning second balls. We can play a lot better and
have played better this season.
"The team is playing well and with confidence. We knew
before the game it would be physical and we knew what to
do. The whole team worked hard, everybody.
"We started at a high tempo and we knew they would make
some mistakes and we wanted to take advantage of that.
"The big difference for us this season is we know how to
handle the physical games and we have players like
Sissoko, Crouch and Reina who have helped us do that.
"Crouch is playing well and scoring goals for us and I'm
very happy with him but the most important thing is he
continues to play well. Before the game I wanted to use
two different kinds of players against Everton and play
Cisse with Crouch. Cisse has the pace and can run into
wide areas and Crouch is good in the air and can hold
the ball up."
storm to win at Everton
BBC Sport Online
Liverpool cruised to their ninth successive
Premiership victory as struggling Everton's problems
Peter Crouch's clever finish and Steven Gerrard's
deflected 25-yard drive put Liverpool two up inside 17
James Beattie, who had a header controversially ruled
out, pulled one back four minutes before half-time.
But Djibril Cisse fired in Liverpool's third after 47
minutes and Everton were reduced to nine men when Phil
Neville and Mikel Arteta were sent off.
Beattie's header may have ended Liverpool's sequence of
761 minutes of Premiership action without conceding a
goal, but it was another impressive performance from
Rafael Benitez's rapidly-improving side.
Liverpool recalled Cisse and left Fernando Morientes on
the bench, while Everton recalled experienced duo David
Weir and Nuno Valente in defence.
And it was Liverpool who flew out of the blocks and
stunned Everton with two early goals.
Cisse had already fired wide when Gerrard's header
released Crouch after 10 minutes, and he expertly
rounded Nigel Martyn to roll a composed finish into an
And seven minutes later, a rampant Liverpool doubled
their advantage as the 202nd Merseyside derby threatened
to turn into a nightmare for Everton.
Goalkeeper Martyn punched clear, but when Cahill's
header fell to Gerrard 25 yards out, he fired a low shot
into the corner with the help of a slight deflection off
Cisse then shot inches over as Liverpool threatened to
run riot, but Everton slowly worked their way back into
They were aggrieved when Beattie had a header ruled out
from Tim Cahill's cross, with replays throwing doubt on
whether the ball was out of play.
But the striker was rewarded with a goal that gave
Everton a lifeline four minutes before the interval.
Kevin Kilbane's far post header was cleverly turned on
by Simon Davies, and Beattie headed past Pepe Reina.
But any hope Everton had of mounting a revival appeared
to be snuffed out when Liverpool added a third only two
minutes after the re-start.
Liverpool broke quickly, and Cisse raced on to Harry
Kewell's pass before easily avoiding a poor challenge
from David Weir to beat Martyn.
Everton's confidence was visibly knocked, and Gerrard
could have added a fourth for Liverpool with a powerful
drive that was only inches off target in the 67th
And Everton's miserable night got worse a minute later
when Neville was shown the red card for a second
bookable offence, a foul on Mohamed Sissoko.
Beattie wasted a glorious chance to give Everton some
hope in the dying minutes, but he blazed over from
point-blank range from Yobo's flick.
As if Everton had not suffered enough, Arteta then also
saw red for his second booking, a senseless foul on
Liverpool substitute Luis Garcia.