Liverpool can look forward after derby thrashing of Everton
Liverpool started the 222nd Merseyside derby looking over their shoulders at neighbours Everton and with a glance in the direction of Manchester United, fortified by
Juan Mata's £37m addition.
They ended a thunderous night with their biggest
Merseyside derby win
since November 1982 and, at 4-0, the widest victory margin at Anfield against their rivals from across Stanley Park for 42 years.
Manager Brendan Rodgers will seek satisfaction in those statistics - but of greater significance is that this evolving Liverpool team will feel they can gaze forward rather than back in the closing phases of the Premier League season.
Liverpool are now unbeaten in the last 14 Premier League Merseyside derbies at Anfield, with Everton's last away win coming courtesy of a Kevin Campbell goal in 1999
To suggest Liverpool can be title winners is still stretching reality but a place in the top four, which was seen as the real measure of Rodgers's achievements when the season started, is there for the taking when their remaining fixtures are studied.
This meeting with Everton was billed by some as the most crucial league meeting of these fierce rivals in three decades. Any pretence at a serious contest was ripped away within 35 minutes as fourth-placed Liverpool roared into a three-goal lead by cutting Everton to shreds.
Steven Gerrard scored first, Daniel Sturridge got two before the break and when Luis Suarez added a fourth five minutes after the interval Everton were looking like they could be on the wrong end of all sorts of unwelcome records.
It stayed 4-0, Liverpool paying the price for needless generosity when Sturridge showed why he is not their regular penalty taker with a shocking effort, but the message
delivered by Rodgers and his players
Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester City and Chelsea all
have to come to Anfield,
so Liverpool's fate is - to a large extent - in their own hands despite United's strengthening and
before the spectacular demolition on Tuesday.
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard opened the scoring at Anfield
Liverpool's defence is still a weak spot to be probed but this, in some respects, is a risk Rodgers is prepared to take to give full flight to the attacking talents of the likes of Suarez and Sturridge.
The eventual Premier League champions are likely to be elsewhere, but Liverpool can have a major say in and around those top four places and certainly have the capacity to claim one of their own.
It fell down on several levels. Martinez gambled on players who were clearly not match fit, such as Phil Jagielka, Antolin Alcaraz,
Ross Barkley (who was still excellent)
and Steven Pienaar. They also, to use cricketing parlance, did not just go onto the front foot but charged down the pitch to take on the opposition. It was a fatal, flawed approach.
This was what Martinez may have been referring to when he called Everton "naive" - and it led them right into a trap Liverpool sprang on them time and again in the shape of quite devastating counter attacks.
And most of all, Everton fell down in the face of a Liverpool team superbly marshalled by Gerrard and with creative forces that feasted on the spaces afforded them.
Gerrard was superb in front of the back four and those who are tempted to rather hastily say Liverpool may just be better off without their captain should think again. They are not.
Philippe Coutinho was brilliant in his creation while Sturridge and Suarez are irresistible when given the right service.
Sturridge had an eventful evening, getting carried away with his selfishness in search of his hat-trick and reducing Suarez to a quite magnificent dancing, jumping, arm-waving fit of pique when he refused to play the Uruguayan in on goal.
Daniel Sturridge later apologised after reacting badly to being substituted by manager Brendan Rodgers
And when Rodgers decided to give him an early night, Sturridge responded with a minor hissy fit that ended with him
apologising for his reaction.
All was forgiven in the after-glow of such an outstanding victory.
Nothing can take any gloss off this win for Liverpool, delivering what may be a
psychological blow to Everton
while adding to their own convictions that they can finish in the top four.
Manchester United may well emerge as the big danger, but Liverpool have the attacking talent to give themselves great confidence as well as help to cover up defensive frailties, although those big home games will be examinations as well as opportunities.
And credit too, to Rodgers. After his
transitional first season
when occasionally Liverpool appeared to be implementing his passing game for passing's sake, they have now shifted emphasis to become a more rounded attacking team.
The passing remains but pace, movement and
two outstanding goalscorers
means that the development under Rodgers is there for all to see on nights like this. There will be bumps but there is no doubt the manager is on the right lines.
Everton's problem was always going to be a thin squad and they have been struck by long-term injuries to Arouna Kone, Darron Gibson, Bryan Oviedo and now potentially Romelu Lukaku as he was
taken off on a stretcher with ankle ligament damage,
the victim of an unwitting challenge from team-mate Gareth Barry as he slipped trying to block Gerrard scoring Liverpool's first goal.
Luis Suarez has now scored 23 times in the Premier League this season, matching his goal total from last season in just 18 appearances compared to 33 in 2012-13
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