Liverpool vs Everton 1986 Tactical Analysis

Wembley Stadium was a sell-out for the first ever all-Merseyside FA Cup Final. Wembley had hosted the first ever all-Merseyside final when the two met in the League Cup Final two years before. The dominance of the two clubs had meant this was always likely to happen. Read our tactical analysis of the fixture.

This was Everton’s third successive FA Cup Final; Liverpool’s first since 1977. The FA Cup Final was still the biggest fixture in English football, and these two were the country’s biggest clubs. The league title had been shared by the two clubs for the past five years, and seven of the last eight.

Liverpool had just secured the league title the previous weekend and were on for the double. The league and cup double had been won by just two clubs during the 20th century: Tottenham Hotspur in 1960-61 and Arsenal 1970-71.

Liverpool were set for the achievement in 1977 when they lost the FA Cup Final to Manchester United. United were also the team that stopped Everton achieving the feat in 1984-85. This was now Liverpool’s chance again – but this time Everton had the opportunity to deny them.

Both teams were at full strength. Jan Molby was back, having sat out the Chelsea game where Liverpool clinched the league title. For Everton, they welcomed back Derek  Mountfield, Graeme Sharp, Peter Reid and Paul Bracewell, all of whom didn’t take part in the final league match at home to West Ham the Monday before. They both operated a 4-4-2 formation and had both won at each other’s ground in the league meetings that season.

On the bench, each side could only name one substitute: Adrian Heath for Everton and Steve McMahon for Liverpool. Heath had played a part in 36 of their 42 league matches, with 12 of those appearances from the bench. McMahon had lost his starting place to Kevin MacDonald, a less well-known name they’d bought from Leicester City.

Both sides were in top form. Liverpool had won their last seven league matches, with Everton winning five of their last seven. But, the Toffees had stumbled at Nottingham Forest and Oxford United, which ultimately cost them the league.

This was set up as a shootout between two ace goalscorers: Gary Lineker had 37 in all competitions and 30 in the league; Ian Rush 31 in all competitions and 23 in the league. Lineker was well supported by Graeme Sharp, who had found the net 21 times. Alongside Rush was Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool’s player-manager. It was no coincidence that his team’s form improved when he chose to put himself in to start, with them winning the last seven as a consequence.

The defences were equally top draw. Liverpool had conceded just once in their final nine league matches, Everton in just three of their last nine, and only one goal each game. Everton had however suffered a blow when Neville Southall twisted ankle ligaments playing for Wales with still ten league matches left. His understudy, Bobby Mimms, allayed any fears of loss with six straight clean sheets.

Both centre-back pairings were legends within the game. Mountfield and Kevin Ratcliffe were possibly the finest Goodison Park had ever seen, whilst Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson were pushing for the same accolades from Anfield. In the author’s opinion, they most definitely are.

On a bright sunny day (as every cup final in the ’80s seem to be), Everton kicked off. The open exchanges were typically robust and slightly chaotic, both teams choosing to attack each other rather than be patient and play their way into things. Liverpool looked to exploit Craig Johnston’s pace down the right against Pat Van den Hauwe, while Everton looked to disrupt Liverpool’s centre of defence with Lineker’s pace.

Early on Everton were incensed with referee Alan Robinson when he disagreed with them about a challenge on Sharp from a Steven cross. Robinson had officiated in the Milk Cup Final meeting between the two and Everton felt he missed a handball against Hansen that day.

The battle between Lineker and Lawrenson was an interesting one. Both possessed pace and so it was an intriguing match-up. Reid tried to slip Lineker in but Lawrenson was there. The resulting corner was claimed by Bruce Grobbelaar, albeit at the second attempt. At the other end, Ratcliffe’s battle with Rush was equally as compelling.

In the 27th minute Liverpool attacked, but the ball bounced off Dalglish about 30 yards from goal. Reid was first to pick up the loose ball and immediately looked upfield to see where his striker was. This time he found Hansen was tracking him and so launched a long ball forward. Hansen didn’t have the pace of Lawrenson and Lineker was able to get a shot into Grobbelaar’s left. The keeper got down low to save but couldn’t hold onto it. Lineker was first to pounce and converted the rebound. Everton 1-0.

Liverpool were soon hitting back with a slick passing move which saw MacDonald play Johnston in, but, before he could shoot, Mimms had raced out to smother the ball. Liverpool were struggling to take back control of the game, with Everton matching their every move. Molby and MacDonald worked hard to find openings from midfield, but they just couldn’t create anything to really test Mimms. Everton’s midfield four certainly matched them for work-rate.

Half-time came and Everton were still a goal to the good. They looked solid, stubborn and hard to break down, just as they had been for the past two years. Was this a game too far for the champions?

Instead of flying out of the traps in the second half, Liverpool looked tentative and uncertain. Everton on the other hand had the knowledge they just had to sit tight and hold onto what they had. But they also knew they could pick off their opponents if they felt like it. To illustrate the point, Steven fired a left-footed shot just past Grobbelaar’s post.

After Dalglish fired a shot over, Everton came at them again. Hesitation in the Liverpool defence allowed Everton to nick it and Sheedy fired just wide of Grobbelaar’s right-hand post.

At this stage, Everton looked the more likely to score. They then had a free-kick about 25 yards out which Sheedy took. His shot was saved by Grobbelaar low down by his left-hand post, and Liverpool were rattled. The frustration building in their defence –  and then it blew.

Reid curled a cross into the box after one of the corners Everton had earned and Grobbelaar came for it but spilt it. Everton then tried the same approach from the other wing and when Beglin headed it back, Grobbelaar failed to gather under pressure from Johnston in years to come, he says the whole incident settled the team down. It was as if something had to blow and when it did, they could get on with the job in hand: getting back into the game.

Within minutes Liverpool were now visibly quicker. The passing slicker, they were forcing errors. Stevens’ ball forward on the right was intercepted by Whelan and he played it inside for the big Dane, Jan Molby.

Molby was having his best season in a Liverpool shirt. He had already scored 13 goals and was instrumental in many of their strikes from other areas. This was his time. It’s not always known as ‘The Molby Final’ in the way Stanley Matthews earned that moniker back in the ’50s, but if you just watch the last 35 minutes of this game you’ll find out how he just dominates it.

Molby moved inside and then as the Everton defence began to push up, he saw Rush’s diagonal run. With pinpoint accuracy he laid on a ball into the path of the Liverpool striker and Rush went round the keeper and rolled the ball into the net. Johnston chased it in hoping to earn the goal but it was clearly Rush’s goal. The run was superb as he was never going to be offside, but Molby’s vision is what makes it. It’s made all the better when you watch the replays and discover his pass is through Mountfield’s legs. Liverpool were now toying with their opponents. 1-1

Ominously for Everton, it was Rush who had scored. Up to this point, Liverpool had never lost when he’d scored. In fact, the record would stand until the League Cup Final a year later.

Almost immediately Molby won a tackle in the centre-circle to send Dalglish on his way, but the ball out to Johnston on the right saw the chance evaporate as a result of the Australian’s profligacy with his distribution.

As the excitement was now overflowing, Everton went on the attack with Reid again playing a ball forward to Lineker. By now Hansen had worked out how to deal with the England striker and he got there first. But his ball across the area was pounced on by Sharp who headed it over Grobbelaar. The Liverpool keeper then desperately scampered back and manages to get a hand to it and tip it over the bar. It was an important save and further evidence of his ability to go from clown to genius in minutes.

As if to demonstrate things were now all good in the Liverpool goal, Steven’s corner was confidently caught by Grobbelaar. Beglin then played the ball down the left-wing where Rush went to collect it. He turned, looked inside and inevitably found Molby. The Dane shaped to pass the ball to his right then ran in a straight line into the Everton area. His left-footed ball across the area went all the way to Johnston at the far post and he scored.

There can have been fewer more delighted scorers of an FA Cup Final goal than Johnston. From tough beginnings, he’d made it through sheer hard work to find his way into this Liverpool team. Now his dream really had come true. He scored in an FA Cup Final. The momentum really had shifted. Liverpool led 2-1.

Two goals in six minutes and the game had been turned on its head. But there were still over 25 minutes to go.

Kendall then shuffled his pack, bringing Heath on for the right-back, Gary Stevens.

Molby then almost brought the house down as he jinked and dribbled in the area to create space for a shot but Mimms saved well. Then as the game was getting stretched, Everton’s attacks just weren’t breaking through.

Rush tracked back and won the ball in his own half. He found Molby in the centre-circle who brilliantly switched the play out to the left where Whelan was in acres of space. He surged forward before checking back as he reached the Everton area. Dalglish made a diagonal run to give the Irishman an option to his left, dragging Mountfield with him. But Whelan looked to his right and saw Rush had sprinted forward to join the attack Whelan’s ball found him, giving Rush time to control the ball and fire it past Mimms. With just seven minutes to go, it was 3-1 to Liverpool.

In the dying minutes Rush was put through by Molby, yet again. Strangely, though, he chose to try and chip the keeper from the edge of the area when you fancied him to take it round Mimms. Mimms caught the ball and Stan Mortensen’s record of an FA Cup Final hat-trick was safe.

Eventually, the final whistle blew and Liverpool had won the League and FA Cup Double. The first club since Arsenal in 1971, and only the third in that century, and the fifth club to achieve such a feat.

They were also the first team to field a line-up without an English capped player: Mark Lawrenson was born in Preston but capped by the Republic of Ireland; Kevin MacDonald was the only other English-born player and he hadn’t been picked to play for England; Craig Johnston had represented England at under-21 level. However, Steve McMahon would have ruined this record had he come on.

Kenny Dalglish remains the only ever player-manager to win the League. He was the first player-manager to win the FA Cup. Ruud Gullit then matched this achievement with Chelsea in 1997.

FA Cup Final

10th May 1986, Wembley, 98,000

LIVERPOOL   (0)   3   (Rush 56, 83, Johnston 62)

EVERTON   (1)   1   (Lineker 27)

LIVERPOOL: Grobbelaar; Nicol, Lawrenson, Hansen, Beglin; Johnston, MacDonald, Molby, Whelan; Dalglish, RushEVERTON: Mimms; Stevens, Mountfield, Ratcliffe, van den Hauwe; Steven, Bracewell, Reid, Sheedy; Lineker, Sharp.

What happened next?

Due to the ban on English clubs, Liverpool were unable to compete in Europe the following season, just as Everton had not been able to for that season. It is not beyond possibility that one of them would have won the European Cup.

Lineker, having ended the season top scorer in the First Division, went to the World Cup in Mexico and became a world star. He won the Golden Boot, moved to Barcelona and his career – and life – were never the same again.

Everton returned the following season and reclaimed the league title. Liverpool were second in the league and also losing finalists to Arsenal in the Littlewoods Cup (League Cup). Coventry City surprised everyone by coming from behind to beat Tottenham in the FA Cup Final.

Liverpool and Everton were able to complete the Screen Sport Super Cup by playing the final in 1986-87. Liverpool won it, the competition was disbanded and never seen again.

But that was it for the Everton challenge. Howard Kendall moved to Spain during the summer of 1987. Liverpool were stung into making significant changes to their squad. In came John Barnes, Peter Beardsley and John Aldridge and they became part of arguably the best Liverpool team of the lot. Liverpool won the league in 1988 and then again in 1990.

In the twelve seasons from 1979-1990, the title had been won ten times by either Merseyside club. Neither club has won it since.