Everton v Liverpool was a bona-fide thriller. We could have written many more conclusions…
1) That was an outrageous game that could spark 116 Conclusions but we are stuck with just 16. Before we get onto the dull, dull talk about VAR and referees and decisions – EVARton, anyone? – can we just acknowledge that we have watched some astonishingly good entertainment. Yes, it would have been better with a crowd. Yes, the players at times look fatigued in this batsh*t season that will astonish at every turn. But that was fun. Proper fun. This was two really good football teams being extremely good at some elements of football and spectacularly bad at others, with some wonderful needle added to the mix. After the long, long torture of international fortnight, this was a wonderful tonic.
2) Let’s talk about those two extraordinary decisions, both of which left Jordan Pickford feeling like the luckiest darn boy in the world. In between, we must acknowledge that he made some excellent saves, but nobody ever doubted that Pickford can make some excellent saves. So no, he doesn’t “answer his critics” by denying Joel Matip with a marvellous reaction stop; his critics will only truly be answered when he does not look like a massive puppy capable of making silly massive puppy mistakes. It would be tantamount to negligence if Carlo Ancelotti just merrily kept playing him in the Premier League.
3) At first we were led to believe that the law was an ass, deciding that Pickford could poleaxe Virgil van Dijk because the Dutchman was offside and of course you can basically do exactly what you like to a man once he has strayed a cock-hair offside. Up to and including this:
“He could have easily been sent off.”
“I’m very surprised it’s just been forgotten about?”
Jordan Pickford’s challenge on Virgil van Dijk did not look good 😬
Should VAR have stepped in after this? pic.twitter.com/wTcW6CHcIf
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) October 17, 2020
The theory was that this was ‘serious foul play’ and so very different from ‘violent conduct’ and so not punishable once offside has been established. In short, you can break somebody’s leg with a ‘tackle’ but you could not – for example – punch them in the face. Unless you are a goalkeeper, for whom different rules so often apply that we think they might actually be allowed to gather in groups of eight, inside, with no masks.
And then it emerged that actually, it was not that the law was an ass, but rather the man looking at the video in Stockley Park was an ass. Imagine watching that clip and deciding to spend minutes deciding that Van Dijk was offside (he was) and absolutely no minutes deciding whether Pickford should have been allowed to actually destroy him.
Clarification on Pickford/Van Dijk…. we all get one wrong now and then.
Pickford could have been sent off (probably should have been).
Had it confirmed that the VAR, David Coote, did NOT check for a red card. Appears he was too concerned with the offside. #EVELIV
— Dale Johnson (@DaleJohnsonESPN) October 17, 2020
4) The second contentious VAR decision almost massively benefited the Everton puppy as he really did make an utter hash of trying to save Jordan Henderson’s late ‘winner’. Such a hash. So whoop-whoop for Pickford, who can keep his reputation as consummate shot-stopper but incompetent decision-maker as the internet instead spends hours staring at blue lines and red lines and armpits and feet in an effort to work out whether Sadio Mane was offside in the build-up.
This Jordan Henderson goal didn’t count in the end after a controversial offside call…
But the no-look pass from Thiago to Mané deserved some love 👏 pic.twitter.com/b1kQaf4E9Q
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) October 17, 2020
And the whole debate – with talk of millimetres and freeze-frames and the like – solves absolutely nothing because it was offside according to the guidelines and the protocols currently being followed by those making those decisions. It’s a shame – particularly for Thiago – but do not let that distract you from the absolute sh*t-show that was leaving Pickford on the pitch after his assault on Van Dijk.
5) So now let’s talk football and there was so much glorious football, much of it played by two of the newest additions to the Premier League. One theme of this summer transfer window was that genuine, inarguable talent was brought to England this season with no regard to sell-on values or squad-building but simply because those players would make their new teams instantly better. It feels bizarrely refreshing.
In James Rodriguez and Thiago, Everton and Liverpool have bought two of the most gifted footballers of the last decade who just happened to have either lost their way or needed a new challenge. They were both exemplary in their first Merseyside derby, making a mockery of the notion that all players need to adjust or that nobody ‘gets’ a derby unless they are Lee Carsley or Steven Gerrard. They got it and they brought the fire, the ice and all of the vision.
6) And yet it was Sadio Mane who probably had the greatest influence on the game, showing why he is likely Liverpool’s most important player. Everything missing from Liverpool against Aston Villa was there from the first moment at Everton – the pressing, the movement, the energy, the slickness of passing – and Mane was at the centre of it all.
The very first switch of play with a long ball to the left showed exactly where Liverpool thought they would get joy, assuming Rodriguez would leave Seamus Coleman to defend against both Andy Robertson and Mane. They were right. Within minutes, Liverpool had worked the ball from right to left with no real opposition, culminating in the Robertson-Mane combination that made it 1-0.
7) Within four minutes, the BT co-commentator Martin Keown was suggesting that Liverpool “could run away with it” as Everton looked shellshocked. Obviously, he foolishly did not bargain for the Everton goalkeeper’s two-footed lunge leaving Liverpool without their centre-half colossus and then without that momentum that had threatened to overwhelm the Toffees.
It’s important to remember here that Van Dijk was very much on the pitch throughout Liverpool’s 7-2 defecation against Aston Villa so there is no guarantee that his presence would have seen the Reds serenely glide towards an easy victory and a clean sheet – this is 2020 – but there is no doubt that the long delay, the confusion and Van Dijk’s eventual loss contributed to the first half becoming a far more even contest than looked possible after five minutes.
8) Everton did look a little lost until Rodriguez realised that he was still one of the better players on the pitch and all he really needed to do was drop a little deeper, take a touch and then hit a three-iron/four-wood/who the f*** knows of a left foot through or over Liverpool’s ludicrously high line and either Richarlison or Dominic Calvert-Lewin could test both that defence and that goalkeeper. It was through such a ball that Everton won a corner. And Everton winning a corner is no longer worth a shrug of the shoulders but a move to the edge of the seat because they have a wonderful dead-ball specialist in Rodriguez, who has arrived with gifts aplenty for Michael Keane and anyone else who looks a tad awkward but leaps deceptively high.
9) It was a fantastic delivery and a fantastic header, with Keane jumping much higher than the grounded Fabinho to power the ball through the hands of Adrian. Scorn was immediately poured on the head of the Spaniard – because what else would you pour on his head right now? Once a goalkeeper enters this particular place, every single goal becomes his fault regardless of reality – but his only real crime was to get his hands close enough to the ball to make it seem like he could have saved it. Had he stood rooted to the spot, we would have been talking about an unstoppable header. And no, we are having no truck with the notion that Van Dijk would have magically stopped that or any other goal. We remember Villa.
It’s obviously impossible to know either way (and his absence has surely harmed Liverpool) but “Van Dijk would have stopped that goal” seems a bit simplistic. Versus Villa he was defending towards the back post zone rather than the area Keane scored from. pic.twitter.com/BIh4xhkmjZ
— Michael Cox (@Zonal_Marking) October 17, 2020
10) After the equaliser, the match settled into a pattern – Liverpool dominated the midfield, with Thiago demonstrating his ability to slow down time with the ball at his feet. He already clearly loves playing with Trent Alexander-Arnold, looking for that switch in play at every opportunity, already instinctively knowing where the young full-back will be standing. He really is a joy to watch and a wonderful addition to the Premier League. Everton might have just parked Allan on his toes, but then that would have left too much space for Roberto Firmino, Mane and Mo Salah to drop into those troublesome (to the opposition) spaces.
Everton’s midfield feels a little stodgy at times, but then we used to describe the Liverpool midfield in the same way, and that worked out really quite well in the end. They can probably afford to be a little stodgy when they have that delicious front three. And no other Premier League side has a Thiago.
11) Everton looked in trouble when Coleman went off and Ben Godfrey came on to replace him at right-back. Godfrey is not a right-back and it immediately showed in his positioning, naturally gravitating towards the centre of the pitch and then finding himself befuddled by the combination of Sane and Robertson. Many genuine right-backs have struggled against that combination so you worried for the novice.
But both he and his teammates adjusted, Abdoulaye Doucoure shifting towards that flank to protect him, and then Richarlison and Rodriguez taking turns to track back. A potential weak point was successfully swaddled.
12) Everton probably had the better of the second half right until the moment that Salah put Liverpool ahead. Twice they fashioned excellent chances and twice they were fluffed. First, the trademark Everton move of the Rodriguez ball out to Lucas Digne, whose delivery was exceptional while Calvert-Lewin’s timing was not.
Then came the other trademark Everton move of Rodriguez making space to switch the ball onto his left foot to hit an arcing ball into the far post for Richarlison, who on this occasion found the post a more stubborn opponent than Adrian.
13) The Salah goal basically came out of nowhere. He was having one of those games, where he drifts in and out of the action and then shoots weakly and meekly when given the opportunity. This one he did not have to think about. It was a thwack. A punch. No thought, no decision, just instinct. It was beautiful and Pickford really could do nothing. And it felt rather cruel, until you remembered that Pickford assault on Van Dijk and it actually felt like justice.
14) And then came that trademark Everton move again. The Rodriguez ball out to Digne, the absolutely wonderful cross and the stunning leap from Calvert-Lewin. Robertson did not even try to match him, ceding victory to the Englishman without even a vague attempt to challenge him. It was poetry. That is seven goals in five Premier League games and this is truly a player transformed. You never doubted for a millisecond that he would finish that move. He is now one of the most accomplished strikers in the Premier League. He might lack the physique but there is something close to Didier Drogba in the perfection of his chest control and something close to Ronaldo in his leap. It’s a wonderful combination.
15) Richarlison is a lovely footballer but he has always had that kind of challenge in his locker. It really should have been punished not just with a red card but with defeat.
16) So we return to where we began – an exhilarating football match that displayed so many fantastic facets of both sides, but also demonstrated the flaws within. This is a Liverpool side that had lost its invincibility, certainly, and no squealing about VAR and offsides should mask that. But this is still a Liverpool side that is still likely to win the title despite those armour chinks. And finally, this is an Everton side that is absolutely on the right trajectory. They have already restored pride and entertainment; it feels like only a matter of time before they also restore the consistency that will keep them among the elite. Nothing we saw at Goodison Park – barring the goalkeeper – changed that view.