Caislin Boyle tells Peter Phillips her thoughts on the “Romantic Reds” Derby victory
‘Most realistic possibility of winning a trophy this season’ – that was how Danny Murphy described the FA Cup and it’s hard to disagree. I’m optimistic about our Champions League progression too, but a run in the Cup feels essential if we’re to win our first silverware since 2012. The first obstacle to that was a derby date with an Everton side that had offered little opposition in the league game yet still left with a point. There were no points available for this particular game; it was progression for the winner or an unwanted replay.
Not that this game needs extra spice, but there was an extra dollop in the form of Virgil Van Dijk making his debut for the Reds. Prior to the game, I said Van Dijk’s debut could be positive for one of two reasons – boost morale in the face of Coutinho’s inevitable exit or boost morale by being the hero. It happened that Virgil’s debut was positive for both reasons, and as Liverpool fans we couldn’t be happier.
Bragging rights, potential silverware and a new marquee signing – the game had all the ingredients to be the perfect antidote for the Reds after a taxing week. I watched the behinds the scenes footage and it’s hard not to get caught up in the VVD hype – the man just has an aura. To see someone who we have coveted for so long be so immediately positive lifted me hugely. When VVD powered in that late header the euphoria around the ground was palpable; nobody mentioned the fee, nobody mentioned the other issues we have. Everything was absolutely right for Liverpool Football Club (just for a moment). There’s something to be said for what the perfect moment in football can do to you. I loved it. What a game – up the Reds!
Klopp avenged his previous mistake by picking the strongest possible lineup for this game. Virgil obviously came in for his debut alongside Matip. Karius also came into team, as did Robertson, Milner and Firmino. Out went Mignolet, unlikely heroic partners Lovren and Klavan, Alexander-Arnold, Wijnaldum and Solanke. Everton made four changes to their lineup, with Calvert-Lewin, Jagielka, Sigurdsson and McCarthy all coming in.
Due to rights restrictions, highlights of the game aren’t available on LFC TV until tonight. So, my recap won’t be as blow by blow as what it would normally. I did watch the game, but I was also playing a game of ‘snog, marry, avoid’ with my flatmates at the same time. The outcome of that game doesn’t matter, but the outcome of this game did matter. Liverpool won, and whisper it quietly but we didn’t even play that well. I felt like we were resolute defensively, but attacking wise we were turgid for the most part. It’s hard to say why, and detractors will cite the absences of Coutinho and Salah as being why we looked ordinary offensively at times. However, my counter argument would be – what team would their absences not hurt? They’re world class players and we still won without them. Trust the Klopp revolution – it’s happening.
The first half wasn’t short of drama. Rooney got booked for an early ‘reducer’ on Gomez which the MOTD crew eulogised as some kind of impassioned challenge only capable of being made by someone with Merseyside blood in their veins. Don’t be misguided by their bias – it was a terrible challenge and one which informed the rest of Rooney’s anonymity in the match before the ignominy of his early second half substation.
The second dramatic incident involved the penalty. From my sofa I wasn’t screaming for a penalty, but upon reflection I do believe that the decision wasn’t entirely without credit. Natural comparisons are drawn between this penalty and the fortuitous one given to Dominic Calvert-Lewin, but for me that’s just lazy. They’re different in terms of where they were on the pitch, the length of the contact and crucially, the position of the referee. One common strand they share is that neither offender had to make the contact, Lovren or Holgate. In my view, the fact that Holgate even has a hold of Lallana is stupid. Once again, it’s the idiom of ‘giving the ref a decision to make’. He did, and Madley made it. Milner made it 1-0 to the Reds with consummate ease, consigning recent misses to history as his near-impeccable record reared its head once again.
The next dramatic incident was unsavoury in the extreme. Firmino won possession following sloppy Everton play and Holgate elected to push him into the stand. It was a blatant push, one borne out of frustration at losing the ball and at conceding the penalty. Firmino could have been seriously injured, but like a jack in the box he sprung straight back up and powered toward Holgate. A confrontation ensued, with the players being separated only by Madley. Despite what everyone considered to be a clear booking for the Everton man, Madley proceeded to consult with John Moss for an excessive amount of time before still coming to the wrong decision. He didn’t book either player, and I entirely disagreed with that. Madley seemed to reinterpret the meaning of ‘letting the game flow’ by simply failing
to implement the rules. I won’t discuss anything else in this respect. Let the clubs do their investigations, I just want to discuss the game.
Liverpool went in at half time with a lead that felt marginally deserved. We hadn’t been peppering Pickford’s goal and looked short of our dynamic best. I, however, will take a lead however it comes.
The second half was an improvement. The first chance went to the increasingly impressive Robertson, who went past Martina with confidence before blasting at Pickford. Until the intervention of VVD, Robertson had been my man of the match. A goal may have pushed him just ahead again, but it wasn’t to be.
Then came two presentable header opportunities. The first went to Gomez, who should’ve made much better contact on a set piece which left him alone at the far post. Any meaningful contact results in a goal and Gomez knows it. Next up is the first chance for big Virgil to write himself into Anfield folklore – an excellent corner from Oxlade-Chamberlain is met by the head of Van Dijk. He forces Pickford into the save but could have done more. He knew it, and luckily later in the game he did do more.
Everton then scored an accomplished equaliser, a Liverpool corner resulted in the ball being won by Bolasie. He fed Lookman who cleverly switched the play to Jagielka on the right flank. He waited for his moment, pulled the ball back to Sigurdsson who finished with aplomb. Even as a diehard Red I couldn’t dispute the quality of the finish, but I did lament Can’s failure to track the Icelandic midfielder. This failure simply allowed Gylfi to maraud in uninterrupted, and with a right foot like his that is unacceptable. Still though, at least Can will thrive in Serie A.
Was the tale over? Were we going to get an unwanted replay? We were not. Cometh the hour, cometh the Virgil Van Dijk. We had been experiencing joy with our set pieces, owing to the excellent delivery from Oxlade-Chamberlain. The last few games have seen the former Arsenal man excel in this respect. As I said on the podcast last night, I believe he was brought in to fill Phil’s void in terms of set pieces. While he has a way to go, he is doing all the right things.
A teasing corner allowed Van Dijk to attack with purpose. From watching this goal approximately 43 times, I can say one thing – that ball is going in the net no matter where Pickford is. So long as VVD makes contact, it’s in. That being said, Pickford coming off his line was ludicrous as he ended up in limbo punching the air. An excellent goal made even better by the opposition keeper’s poor decision making. The MOTD crew said that once Pickford realised he couldn’t reach the ball he should have retreated back to his line. I actually agreed with their assessment (for once), but the pace of play was such that it looked impossible for him to do so.
Bedlam ensued. We got the narrative that everybody wanted (unless you’re a Blue). A winning goal on his debut which ensured Liverpool progressed into the fourth round. I mused at the time that it must have been the best feeling of his life, if not one of. I would love his thoughts on the matter, so if Virgil even wants to come round for a cuppa he’s most welcome.
I’m writing this recap from bed and I’m smiling at what unfolded less than 24 hours ago. I don’t think you can love football and not be a romantic. Last night was a victory for the romantics and for the Reds. Next up is Man City. I can’t wait to watch from my hotel in Marrakesh.
Up the romantic Reds!