Derbies are heated games no matter who is playing in them. The Merseyside Derby is one of the most hotly contested in the world, holding the record in the Premier League for the worst disciplinary record of any other fixture. Liverpool have ruled Everton for the past few years and it is well documented that the Toffees haven’t won at Anfield since September 1999. Every year this record is put under the microscope again. Every year the paranoia deepens among some Liverpool fans that they owe us one at Anfield. Every year they fail. It looked as if this year would probably be the same too, considering the form of the two sides going into this game. As the famous saying goes though, form usually goes out the window in derby games.
Jurgen Klopp rang his usual changes after the 7-0 thrashing of Spartak Moscow on Wednesday. Simon Mignolet returned in goal, as did Joe Gomez at right back. Andy Robertson also returned to the opposite side of the defence after an impressive display in Brighton last week. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was surprisingly chosen to join James Milner and Jordan Henderson in central midfield, as Philippe Coutinho and Emre Can were all left on the bench. The most surprising pick of the lot though came up front – Dom Solanke was chosen to start ahead of Roberto Firmino, Daniel Sturridge and Danny Ings who all made the bench.
Everton took a much weakened side to Cyprus in midweek but still managed to close their Europa League campaign with a 3-0 win. With Sam Allardyce back in the dugout the big names returned to the pitch, and the hero of Thursday night, Ademola Lookman, returned to the bench. Jordan Pickford came back between the sticks and had Jonjoe Kenny, Ashley Williams, Mason Holgate and Cuco Martina in front of him. Idrissa Gana Gueye and Tom Davies started in a two man midfield. Oumar Niasse was brought in up front and had Wayne Rooney, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Gylfi Sigurdsson behind him.
Liverpool immediately took the onus in the game and began to probe Everton. Allardyce set his team up to defend and to frustrate Liverpool. In his post-match interview following the 2-0 win against Huddersfield last week at Goodison Park, the Everton manager was emphatic in his approach to these type of games. He said he wouldn’t send his team out to attempt to outplay teams who were much obviously the better footballing sides as that would be foolish. It seemed that Liverpool was one of those games for him as he had clearly sent his team out to do everything in their power to stop Liverpool.
In a strange move from Allardyce, Wayne Rooney started on the Everton right. The tactic seemed to be for Rooney to provide cover for the inexperience Kenny, who would surely be torn apart by Andy Robertson and Sadio Mane is left exploited. However, Rooney’s lack of defensive instinct and pace saw him regularly being targeted by Robertson. The Scottish left back ran at Rooney time and again, and was getting some joy. He was able to sprint past Rooney and get some tasty balls into the box. Rooney was looking ineffective against Robertson but Everton had no other solution to the problem.
Going forward, Everton were virtually non-existent. Whenever Liverpool would put a ball into the box, Jordan Pickford would catch it, clear it, and it would invariably go out for a throw in. On the odd occasion that Oumar Niasse was able to bring the ball down, he was quickly crowded out by red shirts and dispossessed. It left our opposition with no outlet and we began to take a foothold in the game, creating chances in the process. Mohamed Salah got the better of Cuco Martin down the Liverpool right, not for the last time today, and put a fantastic ball in to the back post. James Milner ran onto it and volleyed towards goal, but Holgate had got back and blocked well.
With half time approaching and a goalless first half looking increasingly likely, it was going to take a spark of inspiration to break the deadlock. Luckily for us, we had Mo Salah.
Joe Gomez played a ball to Salah on the corner of the Everton box, which the Egyptian tussled for with Martina. Salah, the much shorter of the two, got the better of the two and knocked Martina to the floor. He sidestepped Gueye, who had come back to close down, and used Williams as guide to curl the ball towards goal. Pickford dived but was never getting anywhere near it, and the ball nestled in the top corner as the Liverpool fans erupted. It was no more than we deserved for our dominance and it came from the most predictable of sources. Moments later, it should’ve been 2-0.
Robertson took a throw in on the Liverpool left by the halfway line and delivered it to Solanke. With a neat touch, he dragged it towards Sadio Mane who was not favourite to reach the ball with Williams nearby. However, he nipped in front of Williams and Liverpool now had a three on one situation as Mane sprinted towards the area. With options aplenty Mane simply had to square it across the box for Salah to tap in, or pull it back for Oxlade-Chamberlain to convert the simplest of finishes. Instead he took the shot on himself and dragged it wide of goal. It was a massive opportunity which had the potential to come back an bite Liverpool on the behind. When the half time whistle was blown a minute or two later, Jurgen Klopp will have been the happier of the two managers. His side had been dominant but needed another goal to put daylight between the two sides. Big Sam will have been looking for much better from his team. They had been derisory in the first period, offering nothing going forward and being easily picked off at the back.
Allardyce responded to his sides poor display with two changes. Morgan Schneiderlin entered the fray in play of Tom Davies, in the hope he would give Everton more solidity in midfield. Aaron Lennon also came on in place of Oumar Niasse. Calvert-Lewin was moved up front to provide pace and Wayne Rooney in behind him to provide him some service. Lennon was now tasked with combating the lethal partnership of Mane and Robertson.
Liverpool reassumed their control of the game, looking to run at Everton and get the all important goal. However, the intensity was lacking and the it looked as if we had taken our foot off the gas a little. It didn’t mean we didn’t create chances though. Mo Salah was tying Cuco Martina in knots and the full back looked as if he couldn’t deal with his Egyptian tormentor. Salah put a cross to the edge of the box at one point, which Mane chested into the air before unleashing a spectacular overhead kick towards goal. Jordan Pickford positioned himself well though and caught the ball easily.
As the game wore on, Everton started to see a little more of the ball. They managed to gain a corner on one occasion which Liverpool dealt with well. That was their only real threat of the game though and it looked as if it would be a matter of time before Liverpool got another. Another goal would come – it wouldn’t be for Liverpool though.
Wayne Rooney picked up the ball in centre circle and chipped a delightful ball behind Dejan Lovren for Dominic Calvert-Lewin. The young striker chested it into the box and got his body between the ball and Lovren. As he decelerated to get to the ball first, Lovren didn’t follow suit and barged into his back. Calvert-Lewin hit the deck. The referee looked towards his linesman and blew his whistle, pointing to the spot. It was a needless foul in a game Liverpool were completely in control of. Now, from a governing position, Liverpool were about to give away two points. Wayne Rooney was given the job of pulling Everton out of the mire and smashed the ball down the middle of Simon Mignolet’s goal, sending the Belgian diving low to his left. He sprinted off towards the away fans behind the goal in delirium, joining them in their over-zealous celebrations. They now had something to defend and Liverpool had to regroup.
Jurgen Klopp sent on Danny Ings and Philippe Coutinho, in the hope that movement and hard work would pay off. Coutinho had a good free kick responsibly by Pickford while Ings worked hard but offered little. Liverpool continued to have most of the play but couldn’t find a way through the blue wall in front of the Kop. Jordan Henderson had one last chance which he ballooned into the Kop with the last kick of the game, before the Craig Pawson blew for full time.
The sense of frustration at the final whistle was palpable. There were individual performances which should rightly be called into question following this result. Sadio Mane didn’t have the best of games and his poor decision to take on the shot instead of laying off for a team-mate at the end of the first half has now proved costly. Dejan Lovren’s foul is another error on his long list which goes in his detractors favour. Jordan Henderson was again devoid of the leadership a Liverpool captain needs and his passing again left a lot to be desired. However, the biggest questions need to be asked of the manager. Jurgen Klopp’s team selection was questionable and his team’s attitude screamed complacency, especially in the second half.
This will go down as two points dropped as opposed to one gained. That being said, we didn’t create enough to deserve to the win the game and our attitude supports that. Everton didn’t deserve anything themselves but there is a lot to be disappointed about for Liverpool fans. Let’s hope this changes before Alan Pardew brings his West Brom side to Anfield on Wednesday night.