WHEN Seamus Coleman had his leg virtually snapped in two by Neil Taylor during the recent international break, the widespread reaction (including from Liverpool fans) was, quite rightly, one of enormous sympathy for Coleman. Not that footballing ability is relevant in these debates, but Coleman was enjoying a fantastic season for Everton and has earned a deserved reputation as one of the best right-backs in the Premier League in recent years.
Whoever you support, it was a harrowing sight to see his season ended by a horrific lunging tackle which resulted in a double leg fracture. Some players fully recover from these injuries, while for others it can put a premature end to their careers in the game. The hours spent alone having rehab will take an enormous psychological strain on the player, and it’s a painful memory which will be etched into his mind for the rest of his career.
You wouldn’t wish that on any footballer. It’s safe to say Taylor did not outright intend to break Coleman’s leg with that challenge, but when you lunge in, off the ground, with that kind of force, that high on a player’s leg, you are actively putting yourself in a position where breaking a leg is a real possibility. For that, you have to accept the consequences.
It’s all well and good Taylor saying how “sorry” and “regretful” he is, but he won’t miss a whole year of his career from it. It doesn’t change anything for Coleman, and the fact is there is simply no place for challenges like that in football. Wreckless, out of control, and downright dangerous.
That is why, when watching the latest Merseyside Derby yesterday, it was difficult to watch some of the tackles being thrown in by Everton players. Now, I would argue that when you see what happened to Coleman so recently, as a teammate, you might try to avoid making the same kind of challenges that results in such a horrendous injury. Everton’s players will have all seen Taylor’s tackle and the resulting effect. Liverpool’s players will have done so too.
Some image this…
— Match of the Day (@BBCMOTD) April 1, 2017
Of course, it’s different in the heat of the moment in such a high-stakes encounter, but surely it’s not unreasonable to think such a recent, high-profile injury as that might make players think twice about the way they challenge other professionals on the pitch. There is a difference between tough but fair challenges and those which are uncontrolled and can only result in a highly dangerous situation for the player on the receiving end.
The Derby is always a feisty, high-intensity affair — and so it should be. That’s part of the beauty of it as one of English football’s great rivalries. Yet there is a fine line between courage and cowardice, and based on the past few Derby games in particular, it’s fair to say the Blue side of Merseyside continually fall on the wrong side of it.
Last season, when Everton came to Anfield and got beaten 4-0, they simply could not compete on a footballing level. Jürgen Klopp was even laughing at how easy it was. They resorted instead to thuggery, with Ramiro Funes Mori purposely stamping on Divock Origi’s ankle — a cowardly and pathetic challenge which put an end to Origi’s season when a young striker in the form of his life.
Rather than showing any kind of remorse, Funes Mori then celebrated his “achievement” by kissing the Everton badge as he walked off, as if proud of himself.
Again, when Liverpool traveled across Stanley park for the Goodison Derby this season — otherwise known as “the Sadio Mane” Derby- Ross Barkley put in a disgraceful lunging challenge on Jordan Henderson’s planted leg. Barkley had absolutely no chance of getting the ball and flew in with totally unnecessary force on Henderson, studs up. Quite how his leg didn’t buckle is astonishing when you view the replays, but it could very easily have had catastrophic consequences. Barkley was fortunate in that Henderson was the bigger man and spoke sympathetically in his post-match interview, explaining that “Ross is a good guy — he’s not that kind of player.”
Yet based on Saturday’s evidence, Barkley quite clearly is exactly that kind of player. Yes, he may be a local lad who gets caught up in the occasion, but that is no excuse for repeatedly dangerous and frankly pathetic behaviour such as this.
In the first half, very early on, he flew in two-footed on Emre Can and somehow escaped a booking. Luckily for Barkley, Can isn’t one to make a meal of heavy tackles and gets on with playing his football, but for Anthony Taylor to allow such a challenge to pass by unpunished set a precedent which condoned that kind of behaviour throughout the match.
Can put in a couple of strong challenges himself, but none quite in the same rash, uncontrolled manner as Barkley and co. He managed to keep his head and do a professional job for his team.
Barkley then went a step further with a wild lunge on Dejan Lovren which looked like a typical “leg-breaker”- right on Lovren’s planted ankle. Somehow, the Croatian escaped relatively unharmed but this was exactly the same kind of challenge which resulted in Coleman’s injury so very recently and could so easily have had the same outcome for Lovren here.
Rather than actually demonstrating any kind of skill, Barkley seemed intent on making some kind of statement as if to show just how “hard” he is. If you wanted to see a Scouser showcasing actual footballing ability, then 18-year-old Trent Alexander-Arnold showed more of that in his 20-minute cameo than Barkley did all game.
Ashley Williams was another repeat offender, first stamping on Can’s back in the first half (which ought to face retrospective action from the FA), before a wild two-footed challenge on the German in the second-half, studs up, right on his knee, absolutely nowhere near the ball. Once again, Can was, fortunately, able to continue despite the heavy knock.
Quite how Everton still had 11 men left on the field by full-time was incredible, but such is the general incompetence of Taylor as a referee that he let these challenges go without a single red card. There is absolutely nothing wrong with showing desire, spirit, and determination, but the nature of Everton’s challenges was plain cowardice and recklessness throughout.
When Ronald Koeman comes out afterward and take to Twitter to express his “pride” for his side’s performance, you realise it’s part of a difference in culture between the two clubs. What was there to be proud of? He even stated how Everton “controlled’ the game, in a fully Roy Hodgson-esque manner of delusion.
— Ronald Koeman (@RonaldKoeman) April 1, 2017
Klopp, meanwhile, refused to bite on any of the loaded interview questions regarding the nature of the challenges on his players. He was simply delighted to have deservedly won the three points.
There was an absolute chasm in quality between the two sides, and once Everton realised they could not compete, they resorted to kicking lumps out of our players. Only one side came out to play football and yet again, it was the men in red. Liverpool were able to rise above Everton’s cowardice and calmly demonstrated their superior quality. A brilliant performance was not even required — just a few moments of magic were enough to do the business.