Following a poor showing against Aston Villa and an at times less than convincing FA Cup tie against Bournemouth, there were a slew of doubts and questions surrounding Liverpool as they headed into the most important derby match in recent memory. In the end, thanks to few well considered tactical tweaks and some top performances, it was Everton left with doubts and questions for their season.
After failing to impress with the 4-2-2-2 in recent weeks, Brendan Rodgers split his strike pairing and pulled Philippe Coutinho inside, returning to a three man midfield that paid instant dividends. Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez trading spells on the wing at times meant Liverpool's left flank was exposed, but given the choice of an exposed left flank or an exposed midfield, Rodgers chose correctly.
"I thought what was important was that we could control the space better," said the manager. "Once we got the goal up front we were able to close the space and we've got real quick players on the counter attack and that allowed us to break forward and look a real threat. You learn from every game, both as a player and a coach. And I think against Everton you could see in the response from the players that they are always learning."
Steven Gerrard, in a first for him as Liverpool's deepest midfielder, largely stuck to his task positionally. Whether he will be able to similarly restrain himself when it comes to matches not quite as weighty as the derby—a game he has traditionally been at his very best in—remains a question, and even a more restrained Gerrard wasn't a perfect fit for the role, but on Tuesday he at least largely resembled a capable holding player.
As important as Gerrard's restraint was to Liverpool's suddenly functional midfield, at least as much credit should go to Philippe Coutinho, taking on a true central midfield role for the first time at the club and putting in a man of the match calibre performance. Along with Martin Skrtel, Coutinho was Liverpool's best on the night, both creative in attack and industrious in defence. If Gerrard's performance served to comfort, Coutinho's served as revelation.
Coutinho harried, he tracked, he cut off passing lanes and supported fellow midfielders Gerrard and Jordan Henderson when their movement left gaps. Then, when Liverpool got the ball, he was usually key in getting it quickly up to Suarez, Sturridge, and Raheem Sterling in attack. He did tire as the second half moved along, but given his impact until then that tiring was both understandable and easily forgivable.
"To get a 4-0 victory against a team that has only conceded 11 goals away from home shows the real quality in our performance," continued Rodgers, adding he was most pleased by his side's ability to press Everton into mistakes on the ball. The game also showed that we're capitalising on mistakes. The first goal was a brilliant ball in by Luis and Stevie has risen strongly and it's a brilliant header to put us 1-0 up.
"The second one was a perfect counter attack. We set up an immediate block, we intercepted and then it was one pass to Coutinho, who played a great through ball and it was a wonderful finish by Daniel. The third goal, Daniel has made a great run and Kolo has found him with a high ball over the top and it's a sublime finish. It reminded me of the one away at Fulham last year, but this one here was probably more difficult.
"So it was 3-0 at half-time and we had closed the game out in the last five or six minutes of the period. We didn't want to give Everton any encouragement, and that set us up well for the second half."
Liverpool and Rodgers certainly looked to have learned something by their performance against Everton. Now it will be key to show they can remember some of those lessons, and that things like a more responsible Steven Gerrard and a return to three midfielders wasn't a one-off.