Liverpool 1-0 Everton: 16 Conclusions

Date published: Sunday 2nd December 2018 7:51

1) There was surely no way this match could live up to Sunday’s earlier, utterly pulsating north London derby. Surely?

Not a jot of it. There may only have been a single goal, but Liverpool and Everton did not disappoint in what we had suspected – hoped – would be the most competitive and exciting Merseyside derby for years.

Had it not been for the utter madness of the final seconds, this would have been the best nil-nil of the season: both sides had chances, and both sides kept each other out through a combination of good goalkeeping, good defending and good luck, rather than one side smothering the other to the point that we wished we ourselves could also be smothered, as happened last year.

And then there was a final, horrible, ridiculous, exhilarating twist: a goal from the unlikeliest source, in the strangest circumstances, in the 96th minute. Who needs six goals when you get that one?

 

2) Strange as it may seem given Liverpool’s unbeaten start to the season, Everton came into this game with less to fear than Liverpool.

A combination of having gone eight years without a derby win, their recent good run of form – five wins in their last seven – and Liverpool’s deflating midweek loss to Paris Saint-Germain made it feel like the Toffees had a lot less to lose than their cross-park counterparts, allowing their talented side to play under paradoxically little pressure. Isn’t psychology weird?

 

3) With Jordan Henderson Jordan Suspendersoned for that stupid red card against Watford, Jurgen Klopp restored Xherdan Shaqiri to the starting line-up and continued his on-again, off-again love affair with 4-2-3-1, abandoning the 4-3-3 that had served him so well last season, but produced so little and cost so much in Paris and Belgrade.

It’s still difficult to tell whether this is Klopp’s long-term plan for Liverpool or simply his tactic of choice for certain games. He has used the 4-3-3 in every clash against Top Five opposition and every Champions League game, but now deployed 4-2-3-1 in each of the last six other matches.

Everton’s current standing somewhere between the Big Five and the rest of the league means the wait for a definitive answer as to the German’s intentions will go on.

 

4) Everton, meanwhile, remained unchanged from last week’s win over Cardiff, and that in itself is a kind of victory for Marco Silva after a disrupted start to the season.

Everton did not make our list of transfer window winners, and in hindsight that was a huge error on our part. Richarlison, Lucas Digne, Bernard, Yerry Mina and Andre Gomes are all now key players after the latter two missed the start of the season through injury and Bernard took a while to warm up.

The combination of a natural bedding-in period, those injuries, and Richarlison’s early-season suspension may explain Everton’s slow start, in which they drew with Wolves, Bournemouth and Huddersfield and lost to West Ham.

With that newly-signed quintet now all fit and playing, Everton have begun to find their feet in some style; throw in Gylfi Sigurdsson and – as knowingly as we now have to shrug as we say this – Jordan Pickford, and you suddenly have a very impressive-looking side. They were desperately unlucky not to get at least a point.

 

5) That’s not least because Liverpool got away with it a number of times in the first half. Everton had four fantastic chances in the first 35 minutes that left the adjacent Kop holding its collective breath.

Yerry Mina headed just wide from a crossed free-kick after three minutes; Richarlison tripped over his own feet in the box when he would have been one-on-one with Alisson off Gomes’s wonderful through-ball; Gomes himself had a diving header denied by the double-whammy of an Alisson save and a Joe Gomez goal-line clearance; and the slightest of Alisson touches at Theo Walcott’s feet stopped the winger from rounding him and slotting into the empty net from Sigurdsson’s pass.

For all the inevitable frustration of being unable to take advantage of so many great chances, Silva will take enormous heart from seeing his side get through the best defence in the division so many times.

 

6) There are two ways of looking at that from a Liverpool perspective. You could choose to see it as a little bit worrying; that they were lucky not to be punished on this occasion, and that perhaps things aren’t quite as tight as their goals conceded column would suggest. This was the second game in a row that Liverpool were opened up by a combination of speed and well-timed through balls, perhaps revealing a weakness that more clinical sides could exploit down the line.

But it is still a positive that they aren’t conceding as freely as last season even after giving up those chances. It is certainly harder to identify individual errors, and the fact that Alisson played such a huge part in keeping out two of those opportunities shows why he was worth such an enormous amount of money.

 

7) Not that Liverpool didn’t have chances of their own: Sadio Mane shot over the bar from a lovely Salah dink in the 14th minute, and 20 minutes later another great Salah pass released Shaqiri, only for the Swiss to struggle to get the ball onto his stronger left foot and end up poking it straight at Pickford on his right when putting it anywhere else would surely have meant a goal.

Having escaped those Everton chances in the first half, Liverpool came out after the break determined to punish them for it, but remained frustrated. Pickford saved well low down to his right to keep out Salah, and soon after came off his line superbly to put Mane under pressure after yet another Salah through ball, forcing the Senegalese to rush into a left-footed shot that he put wide.

 

8) Given the criticism that will come his way after Liverpool’s weird late winner, it is worth noting Pickford’s role in keeping out those efforts, either through making good saves or by putting off his opponent. It’s also worth remembering that he is still only 24 – rather tender for a goalkeeper – and that just three years ago he was playing for Bradford City and Preston North End. He will bounce back from this like a Virgil van Dijk shank off a crossbar.

 

9) In case you didn’t gather from Jamie Carragher repeating it ad infinitum on commentary, Roberto Firmino was not at his best in this game. With Klopp’s tactical switching, the Brazilian has been asked to switch between centre-forward and number 10 over the past few weeks, and thus he has not excelled in either role.

By drawing another blank in this game, Firmino has scored just five goals in 20 games this season; that scoring rate is only half as good as he managed last season (27 in 54).

So it was a bit odd that it was Salah who departed the field when Sturridge came on in the 75th minute. Positionally, it was a straight swap, but the Egyptian didn’t seem to be carrying a knock or suffering from excessive fatigue. That decision only seemed all the stranger when Origi came on for Firmino just nine minutes later. But it all worked out in the end.

 

10) The timing of the chances described above should tell you – accurately – that the longer the game went on, the more it seemed to favour Liverpool. What had been an open, exciting game became a war of attrition, with both sides looking for either a moment of individual genius, a set piece, or some bizarre mistake they could capitalise on.

Divock Origi appeared to have wasted the best chance on 87 minutes, turning a Van Dijk flick-on from a corner onto the bar. The Belgian must have been gutted; we’re guessing he’s not giving it too much thought now…

 

11) …and that’s entirely down to one of the strangest moments of the season: the kind of goal that will go down alongside the Pepe Reina beachball goal, Olof Mellberg’s throw-in to Peter Enckelman, and Dion Dublin pickpocketing Shay Given as one of the more memorably bizarre Premier League strikes.

Alisson took a free-kick on the halfway line that was cleared to Van Dijk just outside the box, and the Dutchman shinned it badly into the air, turning away from his own miskick in disgust.

But the spinning ball dropped towards Pickford’s goal, and the scrambling goalkeeper failed to punch it away from danger, instead allowing it to drop onto his own crossbar, possibly via his fingertips. It bounced across the bar, hitting it again before falling onto Origi’s alert header and into the net.

It was an unfortunate misreading of the game, to say the least – particularly given Pickford’s assertion earlier in the season that he would not make the kind of risky mistakes that Alisson made against Leicester in September. When will footballers learn about the dangers of poetic justice?

 

12) Hands up if you had Origi on your goalscorer coupon?

What an incredible way to return to the side after 15 months away, and the effect it could have on the Belgian’s confidence is potentially enormous.

With Sturridge, Shaqiri and Origi to call on, Liverpool now have genuine variety in their attacking back-up options, albeit a cut below the level of last season’s front three of Mane, Firmino and Salah.

With the Brazilian somewhat out of sorts, that is vital for Klopp – especially with the congested Christmas calendar comings up, and doubly so if they somehow get past Napoli to proceed into the Champions League group stages and/or manage to put together a lengthy run in the FA Cup, which begins in mere weeks.

 

13) We should probably mention Klopp’s conduct after the goal went in, if only to stop tomorrow’s mailbox from being full of “if Mourinho had done that you’d never hear the end of it.”

Fair point. So let’s acknowledge that managers running onto the pitch at any point is not great, particularly in a derby game, where tempers are most likely to fray and spill over into crowd trouble. His claims after the game that he “didn’t want to run onto the pitch” are also completely contradicted by the fact that he did, in fact, run onto the pitch.

However, if we’re going to go down the route of “if X did that, you’d slam him”, then allow us this rejoinder: if your manager did that, you’d relish the sight of it, and Klopp is all about developing that cult of personality. In an ideal world, we’d all smile wryly at such reactions to a 96th-minute derby winner, regardless of which manager were the perpetrator; if we can’t, then why are we even bothering with football in the first place?

 

14) It’s worth remembering, too, how vital those extra two points are to Liverpool.

When Liverpool were briefly two points ahead of Manchester City at the end of October – Liverpool beat Cardiff on the Saturday, with City not playing until the Monday night – Klopp claimed that gap felt like it was worth 20 points.

City’s win on Saturday meant Liverpool would have been four points adrift with a draw, both sides having played 14 games. If a two-point lead with your opposition holding a game in hand feels like 20 points, then what must a four-point deficit after the same number of games have felt like – especially when the leaders won the title so convincingly last season and show no signs of slowing down despite the absence of their best player?

 

15) Luckily for Everton fans, their next game offers them the possibility of a victory they can relish, as Rafael Benitez’s Newcastle come to town on Wednesday. We’re sure they’ll extend the warmest of welcomes to the former Liverpool manager.

If they do want to keep up some semblance of pressure on the top five – though their eight-point gap to Tottenham is something of a gulf – it’s important they take advantage of both that and another winnable game against their manager’s former club, Watford, next Monday, also at Goodison Park: their following two pre-Christmas games are away to Manchester City and at home to Spurs.

 

16) For Liverpool, it is a confidence-boosting victory to carry them into successive away trips to Burnley and Bournemouth, before a big week in which they host both Napoli – with their continued progress in the Champions League at stake – and Manchester United.

It’s worth noting that in that same period, City will visit Watford and, more intriguingly, Chelsea. So it’s entirely possible that Liverpool’s next home league game, against their fiercest enemies, could give them a chance to go top of the table; it’s also entirely possible they will go into Christmas out of the Champions League and with the title race all but dead.

It’s all getting very exciting, isn’t it?

Steven Chicken is on Twitter

 

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