Benitez diverts Everton's direct approach

Liverpool 1 Everton 0
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The Independent Online

Now there's a thought. Liverpool and Everton have contested the FA Cup final, the League Cup final and even the Screen Sport Super Cup final. "All we need now," gushed a contributor to the programme for a combustible 213th derby, "is a European final to complete the set."

Hamburg, which has strong links to Merseyside after The Beatles stomped through the cellars of its red-light district half a century ago, will stage the Europa League final in May. There's a long way to go, but both clubs are still involved – the first time they have been in the same European competition after Christmas – and already the rival fans are wondering whether the 51,000-seat Nordbank Arena could cope with a mass invasion of Scousers.

Such speculation is premature, and Rafael Benitez and David Moyes are focused solely on Wednesday's games against Arsenal and Chelsea respectively, though what kind of spectacle the city would export if it did happen is debatable. This match, settled by Dirk Kuyt's goal as Liverpool stretched their unbeaten Premier League run to seven games and reclaimed fourth spot, was replete with flashpoints on the pitch and bile from the stands.

Benitez set the seal on Liverpool's deserved victory, and a double over their neighbours, with a pointed critique of David Moyes' team. Where the Spaniard once reacted churlishly to a stalemate in the Anfield derby by suggesting Everton were a "small club", he now expressed "surprise" at their tactics after Liverpool were forced to play nearly an hour with 10 men by the dismissal of Sotirio Kyrgiakos.

"I was expecting more penetrating passes, more game on the floor because they had [Mikel] Arteta on [as substitute after Marouane Fellaini was injured by Kyrgiakos]," the Liverpool manager said. "But they played direct football, so it was easy to control."

According to Benitez, the key to Champions League qualification – and victory at the Emirates Stadium might have Liverpudlians aspiring to finish third – was the ability to combine "control" and "passion". As mutually exclusive as the attributes sound, the players who succeed at Liverpool have traditionally been those who can select the right pass when the studs are flying yet also respond to the urgings of the Kop by winning a 30-70 challenge through sheer determination.

The latter quality is more readily associated with Jamie Carragher, who was in his element here, than Lucas, the Brazilian midfielder who is the latest player held up, by friends and foes alike, as the embodiment of Liverpool's shortcomings. However, when he won a stoppage-time challenge on Steven Pienaar, shortly before the Everton winger was sent off, the fans roared his name. "The majority of them realise now that Lucas is a very good player," Benitez said. "His team-mates know it. He's the kind of player that has character and that's what supporters want to see."

Kuyt, who headed in Steven Gerrard's corner to raise his half-century for Liverpool, has also struggled for public approval. "I think they know now," Benitez added. "He's not a player who's very skilful, but he has quality and works very hard for the team in every game. Fifty goals for any player in the Premier League is very good, especially when you have to play as a left-winger and second striker."

Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Reina; Carragher, Kyrgiakos, Agger, Insua; Mascherano, Lucas; Kuyt (Skrtel, 90), Gerrard, Rodriguez (Aurelio, 90); Ngog (Babel, 63). Substitutes not used: Cavalieri (gk), Aquilani, Riera, Degen.

Everton (4-4-1-1): Howard; Neville, Heitinga, Distin, Baines; Donovan, Osman (Yakubu, 72), Fellaini (Arteta, 40), Pienaar; Cahill; Saha (Anichebe, 72). Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Bilyaletdinov, Senderos, Coleman.

Referee: M Atkinson (W Yorkshire).

Booked: Liverpool Kuyt, Carragher, Gerrard. Everton Pienaar, Heitinga, Anichebe.

Sent off: Liverpool Kyrgiakos. Everton Pienaar.

Man of the match: Carragher.

Attendance: 44,316.

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