Relegation-haunted Everton gave Quad-chasing Liverpool more of a game than might have been expected at Anfield, but ultimately it’s as you were at the top of the table while things have take a distinct turn for the bleak at the bottom for the Toffees…
1. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of football knows that the first thing that happens in any derby match is that the formbook takes a short, sharp flight straight out of the nearest window. It’s an overplayed trope, of course, but not without a kernel of truth. Derby games are different. Derby games do feel different. If they felt like other matches they wouldn’t be a thing, and they are. The deeply concerning thing for Everton, though, is that the rapidly diverging current statuses of these two rivals mean that only losing 2-0 in a game where they posed the Quad-chasers really serious problems for a good hour probably does constitute the formbook going out the window. Liverpool had won their last 11 home games in the Premier League, including two 4-0 wins against Big Six opposition, another against Southampton and a 6-0 against Leeds. Everton came here with comfortably the worst away record in the division and a run of seven straight defeats on the road including a 5-0 stomping at Spurs and a 4-0 FA Cup shellacking at Crystal Palace. The Toffees avoided humiliation and that was far from certain at 4.30pm.
2. One similarity for these two teams on different trajectories coming into this match, though: their situations had got worse through no fault of their own since they last played. For Liverpool, two Manchester City wins turning a two-point lead at the top into a four-point deficit. For Everton, two Burnley wins plunging them into the bottom three. Even here, though, it’s far more damaging for Everton. Those Burnley wins were far less predictable than City’s, for one thing, and Liverpool are able to respond in a way Everton right now simply cannot. You’ll hear plenty of talk from precisely the sort of people who like to tell you about defenestrated formbooks that if Everton can play like this every week they’ll be fine. But they can’t and they might well not be. For all today’s endeavour, it’s another away defeat. So, so much now rides on their three remaining games at Goodison – and the first of those is against Chelsea next week.
3. But that’s not to say Everton’s performance was without merit or credit. Losing Ben Godfrey to a quad injury in the warm-up made an already mountainous task even tougher, a reshuffle forcing Lampard to bring Michael Keane back into the starting line-up as a struggling defence had to cope with more changes. That the rejigged backline helped deliver the first-half gameplan pretty much faultlessly was a definite tick in the book for players and coach, while in Anthony Gordon Everton also possessed the most influential player on the pitch for the first hour.
4. For the first 10 minutes, Everton predictably flew into everything, flying around the pitch and trying to get stuck into Liverpool. It worked after a fashion, denying Liverpool the wide open spaces they exploited to such deadly effect in the early stages against Manchester United but the 10-minute passing stats told a story. Everton completed seven passes in that frantic opening. Liverpool 98.
5. The next 10 minutes offered some actual encouragement for Everton, whose high tempo, high energy was showing signs of genuinely unsettling Liverpool. Midfield passes went astray, Trent Alexander-Arnold endured a couple of notably awkward moments, first fortunate to escape punishment for what appeared a clear push in the back on Gordon in a dangerous spot before giving away a less threatening free-kick moments later. Small victories for Everton, but the first 20 minutes went about as well as the Toffees could possibly have dared to hope. A long-range Sadio Mane effort that whistled over Jordan Pickford’s bar on 21 minutes represented Liverpool’s first shot of any kind.
6. Gordon was giving Liverpool problems and providing a much-needed outlet for Everton to launch their occasional counter-attacks. But his first half was tarnished slightly by a yellow card for simulation. It looked a fairly harsh call. While he no doubt went looking for the dangled leg and initiated contact, there have been far more egregious acts of mischief go unpunished and even rewarded. Would VAR even have overturned it had Stuart Attwell given a penalty? Perhaps more important than such unknowable counterfactuals is another imponderable: did it in any way influence the decision not to award Gordon a pretty clear-cut spot kick early in the second half when the game was still goalless?
7. As the first half drew to a close, we were treated to the fable of the The Richarlison Who Cried Wolf. Having hit the ground ‘injured’ for the third time in the half, this time neither referee nor Liverpool were minded to stop play. This time, replays suggested he actually was hurt having gone over on his ankle. But you could totally understand Liverpool’s response given his own formbook, which very much had not gone out of the traditional derby window. Abdoulaye Doucoure in the end had to take a yellow for a transparent hack just to halt play as Richarlison remained prone and Liverpool threatened to pick a route through the suddenly depleted Everton ranks. Mane then also got booked for getting needlessly involved. Richarlison’s most significant contribution to the first half coming from spending 30 seconds lying on the floor holding his leg.
8. Everton’s successful first-half sh*thousery ended with a little wink from Jordan Pickford to the Liverpool fans as, not for the first or last time, he conspicuously and almost comically ate up precious seconds with some nakedly transparent time-wasting. It really was a fine first half for the visitors, with that late Mane booking the perfect microcosm of how successfully they had dragged Liverpool away from a football match and into a fractious derby rumble. This is entirely a compliment to Everton and their manager Frank Lampard who may not be as overtly objectionable as Jose Mourinho but still learned an awful lot from the great man.
Half time team talks will probably consist of Klopp coming up with some tweaks and Lampard telling his players to carry on as they are with the time wasting, the feigning of injuries, the dives and everything else that any self respecting fan should be embarrassed about.
— Jim Boardman (@JimBoardman) April 24, 2022
9. That said. this sort of take from Liverpool fans is absurd. Jurgen Klopp is not above such sh*thousery out of some kind of philosophical purity, but instead because of the fact his Liverpool team are nearly always better at football than their opponents so would stand to gain little from turning a football match into a scrap. But let’s not pretend there are no dark arts in Liverpool’s play or anyone’s for that matter. More to the point, put him in charge of this Everton against this Liverpool and he’d have done exactly what Lampard did and been just as happy to see the half-time whistle blow without a single shot on target for either side.
10. Everton’s first-half strategy was one of hard-earned survival, but having achieved that they showed more willingness to attack Liverpool’s high defensive line after the break. Again, Gordon was the catalyst for all Everton’s good work. Twice he got in behind in the first 10 minutes of the second half. The first should probably have earned him a penalty that really could have been not just game-changing but season-changing for both teams, the second should have produced more than a dragged effort across the face of goal that ultimately was neither cross nor shot.
11. The third time Gordon got away he streaked past Naby Keita and was hacked down by Alexander-Arnold for another booking. As Gordon recovered, Seamus Coleman came over and started excitedly, almost angrily, prodding the badge on Gordon’s chest. This was for Everton. This, dare we say it, meant more. Gordon is already Everton’s biggest (only?) positive of this season horribilis and did much to burnish that reputation here. Getting the better of Alexander-Arnold as he did so consistently and thrillingly is no mean feat.
12. And so, finally, to Liverpool and a decisive final half-hour. It’s deliberate that we’ve spent most of this discussing Everton because curiously they spent most of the game as the more significant team. The game was being played on their terms not Liverpool’s. It was a ragged, slow-slow-quick sort of game where Everton’s counter-attacks were starting to look at least as threatening as Liverpool’s often unusually anodyne domination of possession and territory. That all changed after an hour with a Klopp double-substitution and from there it really felt like when and how many rather than if. Off went Mane – disappointing today after some fine recent form – and Naby Keita and on came Luis Diaz and Divock Origi. Liverpool switched to a genuine 4-2-4 and within a couple of minutes had the lead. Origi was – quite literally – central to it as he offered the kind of target and passing option Mo Salah had craved all afternoon and helped create the crossing opportunity from which Andrew Robertson would arrive like a true wing-back to head back across Jordan Pickford and break the deadlock just as Everton were growing in confidence and nerves were starting to fray around Anfield. The relief was palpable, the joyous chants of “Going down, going down, going down” instant.
13. Having got the goal, Liverpool turned on the style for the next 15 minutes in a way few other teams can. A switch was flicked and suddenly Liverpool were zipping forward and swarming over the Everton defence. The Toffees somehow held out and again began to find some sort of foothold. Klopp decided with around 10 minutes remaining to revert to a 4-3-3 with Jordan Henderson replacing Diogo Jota. Without wishing to patronise Everton, both Liverpool’s formation changes reflect well on the visitors. They made Liverpool work and they made them try something different. Klopp clearly gets the most credit because both his changes worked so dramatically, but far better teams than Everton have asked far fewer questions of this magnificent Liverpool team.
14. As if to highlight the potency of Klopp’s second-half tinkering, all three substitutes combined for the clinching second goal. Henderson’s cross was sent back across goal – probably intended to be sent at goal in truth – by Diaz and Origi was there to head home. Here, finally, was a proper objective failure of Everton’s shape and plan as Michael Keane and sub Dele Alli in particular were slow to react. Origi and Fabinho were both quicker off the mark to react to the ball coming back across the six-yard line and either could have scored. That it was Origi was no shock. Liverpool looked far better for his introduction and his 22nd Premier League goal for Liverpool was his sixth against Everton. The role he is asked to play is far harder than most credit, and he is a truly clutch player. There can be few bit-part players so widely adored at a club of Liverpool’s size and current quality. Origi has been so key to so many of their very greatest moments. Given how much playing time he actually gets, it’s a remarkable and rather wonderful thing. There are so few comparable players.
15. A word here for Alisson’s response to Pickford’s first-half antics. Claiming a tame Richarlison shot in injury time, he immediately fell to the floor with the ball and wasted half a dozen of the few remaining seconds. It wasn’t quite the biggest cheer heard at Anfield – they really were quite relieved to get that first goal and fair enough too – but it was still sizeable. It is at least definitely the best thing Alisson has ever done in injury time of a crucial Premier League match.
16. So it’s as you were at the top of the table, Liverpool having done all they could in response to City’s response to the marker Klopp’s men laid down against Manchester United. Liverpool get to make the first move next weekend, though, taking on Newcastle on Saturday lunchtime with top spot there’s for the taking at least until City take on Leeds five hours later. A significant change at the bottom of the table, though, and a strong case to be made that by far the more significant and damaging result for Everton came not at Anfield but two hours earlier and 45 miles away at Turf Moor. Losing to Liverpool was an overwhelming likelihood; Burnley defeating Wolves was not. Frank Lampard is right to talk about Everton taking care of their own business and not worrying about anyone else, but that’s far easier to say than do in the midst of a relegation battle. Especially when you find yourself in the bottom three and your next game is against Chelsea and the in-form team just above you have a trip to a Watford side that has lost every home game since November. For all their worthy effort and endeavour in a futile cause here, things really could get worse for Everton before they get better, if they ever do.