1) Jurgen Klopp might have “felt worse after a draw”, but even he cannot deny that the pendulum has swung. Liverpool are behind Manchester City in the Premier League after playing the same number of games for the first time since December 7.
As with the 0-0 draw against Manchester United last month, a goalless stalemate away at Everton is not a bad result in isolation. But the Reds have now dropped points in as many games since January 30 as they had in the entire first five months of the season.
Their grip on the title has been loosening since the turn of the year, and is finally broken. But they must not lose sight of reality: the gap is one point, nine games remain, and this was their last away fixture against a side in the top half. All is not lost – although it may feel like that right now.
2) Had it been anyone other than Everton, the aftertaste might not be so bitter. Liverpool spent much of the build-up to the game mocking their little brother for falling so far that the highlight of their season would be to prevent them winning the title. By the game’s end, Goodison Park was hardly a place of comfort or solace.
Everton earned their point – that is what will hurt. The Toffees battled for every ball and fought for each other: the fans for the players, the players for the fans, and the team for the manager. Marco Silva has not been a universally popular appointment in this half of Merseyside but this felt like a potential watershed moment in his tenure.
The hosts were not outclassed, outfought or out-thought by their illustrious rivals. They restored their dignity, honour and self-respect with a professional performance, and have conceded just one freakish stoppage-time goal in 180 minutes against one of the two best teams in the country this season. This was a leap forward in a season beset by steps back.
🔵 Everton – Michael Keane superb, the pick of his team. Seamus Coleman, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Lucas Digne tireless. Fantastic atmosphere, it could make a difference if it was like that all the time. A result that releases the pressure on Marco Silva
— Dominic King (@DominicKing_DM) March 3, 2019
3) Perhaps buoyed by the raucous atmosphere, Everton started the more confident of the two sides. They allowed themselves to be carried by the fervent Goodison wave as Liverpool looked uncharacteristically nervous early on.
First came a Bernard cross that narrowly missed Michael Keane, before Alisson raced out to collect a Theo Walcott delivery from the right. Then defensive confusion – with Virgil van Dijk momentarily pausing to turn around and gesticulate with the linesman – almost let the hosts in. The Dutchman returned to the task at hand just in time to cut out Gylfi Sigurdsson’s low cross.
It was an electric start from Everton, and it might have been designed to catch Liverpool off-guard. The earliest goal they have conceded in the Premier League this season was Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ 11th-minute opener for Arsenal in December, with the Gunners subsequently losing their footing and crashing to a 5-1 defeat soon after.
But Liverpool are not used to teams bursting out of the blocks and taking the game to them. It clearly unsettled the visitors as Everton boasted 54.8% possession in the opening ten minutes. Their failure to capitalise on surprise superiority felt like a missed opportunity.
4) That early Arsenal goal three months ago was the perfect alarm to rouse Liverpool from their slumber. They were level three minutes later, ahead two minutes after that, and 3-1 up by half-time.
They sprang into life after ambling out of the blocks against Everton, but it was nowhere near as devastating. From the tenth minute to the 20th they had 78.7% possession, with Jordan Henderson creating a chance for Georginio Wijnaldum before playing Mohamed Salah in on goal moments later, and the Egyptian then recorded the first shot on target after some clever footwork on the edge of the area.
But there was no impending sense of doom, no feeling that Everton had awoken a sleeping beast. Liverpool at their most dangerous still looked sloppy, and that 5-0 midweek win over Watford now feels like a happy exception to the worrying rule.
5) The most frustrating aspect of Liverpool’s entire performance was evident early on, as a Salah free-kick failed to even reach the area before Trent Alexander-Arnold’s corner soon after could not beat the first man.
“I love scoring from set-pieces, you have a lot of them in the game and you need to use them,” said Klopp on the eve of the game. Liverpool had scored four more than any other side in the Premier League this season (17), while Everton had conceded the most (13).
Yet the Toffees were never troubled by any of the seven corners they faced, and hardly had to break a sweat in defending numerous aimless free-kicks. One of Liverpool’s main strengths just happened to be Everton’s main weakness, but they still could not capitalise.
6) It became apparent as early as the ninth minute that this would not be Salah’s afternoon. Henderson carried the ball out from defence as Liverpool finally looked to settle into a rhythm, and the captain released the ball to the forward on the right-hand side. The Egyptian controlled the ball fully 20 yards straight into Bernard’s watch, handing possession back over to Everton.
His reaction, to put his head down and sprint as fast as possible to try and win the ball back, said it all: the issue was not a lack of effort, rather that he was perhaps trying too hard to make an impression and prove a point. It would only continue to backfire throughout.
Salah, mate. Where’s your touch gone?
— Michael Timbs (@MichaelTimbs) March 3, 2019
7) Almost 20 minutes after that terrible first touch came a chance to atone for the mistake. Schneiderlin’s panic in his own half allowed Fabinho to make some sort of interception-tackle-key-pass hybrid with one touch to play Salah through on goal.
There was always a feeling of inevitability when Salah bore down on a keeper last season, like a predator hurtling towards its prey. But that is a distant memory, and that player has been temporarily lost somewhere in the ether. He took three touches but still failed to set himself before forcing a fairly routine save from Jordan Pickford with a tame and central effort. It was good goalkeeping from the England international to close down the angle, but it was far more of a poor miss than a good save.
For a player with 49 goals in 64 Premier League appearances for Liverpool, Salah does a phenomenal impression of someone completely devoid of confidence. He has failed to score in three consecutive Premier League games for the first time since his move, and he really did cost Liverpool here.
8) Everton reached half-time with a couple of scratches and bruises, but nothing particularly painful. Liverpool threatened at intervals that were fairly easy to predict and contain.
Their good work was almost undone by a simple cross from the left-hand side, however. It evaded everyone as Alexander-Arnold lurked at the back post, only for Lucas Digne to intervene and clear the ball to safety.
He reprised his role in the second half when Fabinho collected Van Dijk’s knockdown from no more than eight yards out. As he shaped to shoot, Digne took the bullet before it even left the chamber.
It was a commanding performance from the game’s best player. The left-back created twice as many chances (4) as any other player and had the most touches of anyone in Everton blue (69, lol), but allied that with a solid defensive performance. Poor Leighton Baines.
9) That hinted at part of the problem for Liverpool, who can probably count on their fingers (now then) the number of times the opposition have had more adventurous full-backs in any given game. Alexander-Arnold and Robertson struggled to establish themselves going forward, while Digne and Seamus Coleman were more influential at both ends.
With a midfield that remains as creative as shit smeared on a canvas and a forward line struggling with the supply, the demand or both, Liverpool were made to rely on individual mistakes from the opposition. For once, Everton did not oblige all that often.
Can't be many games when Liverpool's full-backs (AR, 26 and TAA, 66) fail to advance further than their counterparts (LD, 12 and SC, 23). pic.twitter.com/ExpX4kaRDX
— Football365 (@F365) March 3, 2019
10) They were failing to make much headway themselves, of course. Walcott’s wayward effort was their only attempt of a first half that became more about not making the sort of mistake that could bring the entire house of cards crashing down than building on those potentially shaky foundations.
The game plan of having Pickford launch the ball down the centre from any goal-kick or defensive situation bore little fruit. Van Dijk won all five of his aerial duels in the first half as Everton understandably looked to avoid the Liverpool press; their passing simply was not crisp or accurate enough to take any other option.
Pickford’s kicking is his main strength, but his clearances either found a Liverpool head or floated out for a throw-in time and again. He attempted more passes than any Everton player in the first half (27), with only eight finding their target. Eighteen of Alisson’s 19 first-half passes were accurate.
Calvert-Lewin was made to feed off scraps, but he was energetic and willing enough to chase down any lost cause that Pickford’s long kicks became a viable way of reliving pressure, if not creating chances. Liverpool were not sharp enough to take advantage, and Everton were not brave enough to alter their approach. The latter issue is far easier to rectify than the former.
11) Neither side made a change at half-time, seemingly content with what they had seen. At least someone was.
Ten minutes into the second half, Salah was again set free on the right flank. Joel Matip’s trademark accidental run from his own area into the opposition half gave the Egyptian enough time and space to check his run, collect the pass and race into the area, but Keane came across with a fantastic tackle.
The England international was not quite as impressive as Digne, but he was excellent nonetheless. He and the irrepressible Idrissa Gueye summed up a determined defensive performance from a side that have so often lacked anything resembling a backbone this season.
There will be plenty who praise Van Dijk after this match, and the Dutchman deserves the plaudits once more. But he silenced Calvert-Lewin, while Keane helped thwart Salah, Sadio Mane and Divock Origi. He was the game’s best centre-half.
12) The decision to start Walcott both looked and proved to be foolish. The 30-year-old had scored one goal in 19 Premier League starts since August, with his last assist coming in September. Ademola Lookman has made a far bigger impact in considerably less time, but could not even make the bench.
Liverpool struggled at times to cope with Calvert-Lewin, Sigurdsson and Bernard, but not Walcott. The slight opportunity he was gifted by a Robertson slip was spurned, and he completed two of seven attempted passes in the entirety of the first half. That increased to six of 12 by the time he was mercifully substituted on the hour mark. It is a damning indictment on Everton that he remains first choice.
— Everton Blue Army (@EvertonBlueArmy) March 3, 2019
13) Richarlison wasted little time in exemplifying the gulf in quality between him and the player he replaced. The Brazilian immediately provided a spark, an impetus that the home supporters and his teammates could simultaneously thrive off.
He won a corner within a minute of his introduction, the Liverpool defence stunned at the mere thought of an opposition forward who was willing to be proactive rather than reactive. Richarlison tried to make things happen, to disrupt the monotonous flow of the game, whereas Walcott became a symptom of it. The former had more shots, touches and passes in 31 minutes than the latter had in 59.
14) As the game wore on, only one side showed the sort of intent in their substitutions to suggest they wanted to turn a draw into a win. While Liverpool replaced a midfielder with a midfielder, a forward with a forward and a forward with a midfielder, Everton brought on two strikers and took off the defensive-minded Schneiderlin for the more attacking Andre Gomes.
Silva, galvanised by the performance and unity of his side, sought to turn one point into three. Klopp seemed to settle for one when only three was enough for them to regain their place at the summit.
The result was simple: an Everton side with little but pride left to fight for this season had more shots (5) in the final half an hour than a Liverpool team (4) battling to win the title. Silva made positive changes and earned a positive result. Klopp made slightly more negative ones and reaped what he had sown.
15) Naby Keita was surely the answer, not James Milner. Liverpool needed something different, but the vice-captain offered pretty much the same as Wijnaldum, Fabinho and Henderson before him. Who is the incisive, decisive passer or dribbler there?
Liverpool did not need three central midfielders beyond half-time. It was akin to donning a crash helmet and elbow and knee pads before crossing a quiet road: they showed far too much precaution, and Everton sensed the apprehension. Roberto Firmino slotted straight into the 4-3-3 formation when he came on, but a 4-2-3-1 system with Origi staying on and two midfielders trusted to shield the defence seemed more suitable.
Klopp, as he tends to in the heat of a disappointing result, simply doubled down over what felt like poor game-management. “Do you think we didn’t take enough risks today? ” he said. “Do you think it’s Playstation? Bring an extra attacker and everything changes?”
Perhaps not, but that is no defence for bringing on Adam Lallana, whose injury problems have reduced his effectiveness to a fraction. Xherdan Shaqiri watched on from the bench, having bizarrely played just 97 more minutes than the 30-year-old in the Premier League in 2019.
16) But Klopp saved a familiar refrain until last, blaming the inclement weather for a fifth draw in seven games. How Everton managed to circumvent the conditions is a mystery.
The wind could justifiably point out that it did not choose such a stodgy midfield, nor did it make ineffective and anxious changes or force Salah into one of the worst games of his career. God forbid that Klopp displays any sort of introspection after such a setback.