Rafael Benitez should go but Everton have far bigger problems. Jurgen Klopp managed Liverpool brilliantly, both during and before the game.
1) The margin and manner of defeat was the same, and so may be the consequences. Almost two years to the day since Everton suffered a 5-2 Merseyside derby mauling, the Blues fell to Liverpool in a stark 4-1 surrender. Marco Silva was sacked in the immediate aftermath of that 2019 humbling; Rafael Benitez might be expecting a similar call.
Goodison Park has never truly felt like home for the 61-year-old and that has never been more true than on Wednesday evening. Everton played like lower-league opposition away at a Premier League juggernaut and were treated and dispatched precisely as such.
Benitez had previously famously suggested Everton had played like a “small club” after a goalless draw at Anfield in February 2007. The Toffees had nine shots that day. They managed eight in being thrashed under his guidance 14 years later, which is where his methods belong on the basis of these last few months.
After going through October and November without a win of any kind, starting December in this fashion makes the situation almost untenable. Arsenal, Chelsea and Leicester await before Christmas but it is difficult to see Benitez making it that far. At least Silva had the decency to be embarrassed at Anfield before being sent packing.
2) Everton’s problems stretch far, far beyond Benitez. That does not mean they should persist with him because he is patently doing a poor job, even with less than ideal resources and those crushing injury problems. But four of the players that started that 5-2 defeat to Liverpool two years ago were in the XI on Wednesday, with one more on the bench and four of the others still contracted to the club.
This is a mess of hierarchical design, transfer market headless chickens coming home to roost as the supposed Grand Old Team succumbs to delusions of grandeur. A starting XI that cost £170.86m was exposed in the harshest of lights, particularly when Benitez was still crowing post-match that “the other team have spent a lot of money”. Cenk Tosun, Fabian Delph and Anthony Gordon as the three substitute lambs thrown to the slaughter was a damning indictment on a team without direction on the pitch or in the boardroom. A couple of times the cameras cut to a shot of Marcel Brands and Bill Kenwright looking suitably glum in the stands and while Benitez might find himself out of work soon, questions must be asked of who the absent Farhad Moshiri is trusting to steer this ship and make the decisions.
Everton have spent more than £500m and employed six different managers since Moshiri became a significant shareholder in February 2016. They are five points above the relegation zone after more than a third of the season. It is a laughable, preposterous return on such investment and Benitez alone cannot absorb the flak.
3) The funny thing is that this does not even rank in Liverpool’s five most resounding victories of the season. Watford, Manchester United, Arsenal and Southampton have fared worse against the Reds in the Premier League, while Porto were treated to a customary Champions League paddling in September.
Only once this campaign have Liverpool failed to score at least two goals. That 1-1 draw against Chelsea is the solitary blot on their prolific copybook in that regard. They have three of the Premier League’s top four scorers so far and Mo Salah has at least as many goals as seven top-flight teams.
It’s like the 2017/18 vintage of premium attacking and end-to-end football, only with almost exactly the same players having trained and excelled together for another few years, thus being even sharper going forward and more refined at the back. Finish above them and the league is yours.
4) The basic expectation of a limited modern Benitez team against this standard of opposition is that the midfield and back line will remain compact, disciplined and coordinated, providing solid foundations for incisive counter-attacks as the other side becomes increasingly frustrated. The reality was that Liverpool had four shots in the opening ten minutes as Joel Matip missed a free header from a corner, Salah inexplicably skied an effort from six yards before testing Jordan Pickford from a similar distance after Sadio Mane’s cutback, and Jordan Henderson finished an exquisite move with absolute assurance.
It was striking to see Abdoulaye Doucoure awkwardly clambering over Diogo Jota in the penalty area to win a header, only for Andros Townsend to immediately surrender possession as he failed to find a teammate with a five-yard pass back towards his own goal. This all followed Liverpool’s first attack when, after 33 seconds, Seamus Coleman was left ranting at Pickford for refusing to come and collect a ball he was shielding from the lurking Mane. It turns out that your captain giving both barrels to the keeper a few moments after kick-off tends to spread panic and anxiety pretty quickly. It certainly set the tone.
The next time Pickford tells Seamus Coleman to calm down might be his last
— Ronan Mullen (@RonanReigns) December 1, 2021
5) As predictable as the goal itself was, it was a little more surprising in its conception. After swarming and suffocating Everton with lightning quick attacks, Liverpool built from a deeper base and it paid the ultimate dividends. Henderson played Mane in down the left and implored the Senegalese to return possession as he lurked unmarked on the edge of the area. The forward chose the alternative option, slipping Andy Robertson in on the overlap. Henderson had held his position and was found this time, caressing the ball into the corner to finish what he started. It was a glorious move but the first-time assist and finish to match crowned it beautifully. A left-back and a nominally defensive central midfielder should not typically be capable of such a masterful collaboration on the training ground, never mind at high speed against elite professionals. Liverpool being that good and rendering their opponents that obsolete should never be normalised.
6) Virgil van Dijk was booed in the build-up to that goal – presumably for having knee ligaments – as the Liverpool defence absent-mindedly traded the ball between them. It was a bit ‘Aaron Ramsey at Stoke’ in its weird, unsavoury nature. Although it was funny to note that when the Dutchman next had possession a few minutes later, there was no pantomime heckling to be heard. Humans learn quickly not to keep tempting fate.
7) Not that it would have mattered; Liverpool were scoring again whether Benitez and his players avoided black cats and broken mirrors for the next decade. No amount of luck can salvage amateurish positioning and an apparent lack of preparation.
Everton must have known that Liverpool would press high and attempt to force quick turnovers, yet Ben Godfrey meandered towards the halfway line and found himself severely out of depth when surrounded by Thiago and Diogo Jota. The latter retrieved the ball, the former worked it to Henderson and the captain slipped Salah in with a sumptuous ball down the right, where Lucas Digne had temporarily left his post. That was enough to condemn Everton to a two-goal deficit, and while it was trademark incision from Liverpool, their bitter rivals had opened the door for them to stroll through.
8) Henderson was absolutely sublime throughout. His goal and assist was one-touch football at its finest, a confident technician operating at the highest level. But he was tireless in the press and those interchanges down the right with Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold have become mechanically deadly. The closest Digne got to him all game was when the Everton left-back was booked for a late challenge, which Henderson avenged by nutmegging the Frenchman in the second half before delivering a blistering low cross that was barely cleared for a corner.
For someone with a problematic gait who only passes sideways, it was a display of effortless class and quality. Jurgen Klopp’s decision to take Henderson off with seven minutes and stoppage-time remaining was praise enough. It is amusing to think that the futures of both were questioned in the summer, so crucial are they still to Liverpool’s development.
9) The best moment of the entire game? When Everton were 1-0 down and had knitted a couple of decent but ultimately futile moves together involving Demarai Gray, Allan, Abdoulaye Doucoure and Salomon Rondon. In the 13th minute, Gray had worked himself into a solid position and unleashed a wild shot, sliced to the extent that it ended closer to the corner flag than Alisson’s goal. All that did was encourage Richarlison to attempt to divert a pretty powerful and skewed effort with a diving header from about 18 yards.
God loves a trier but the xG would not have been forgiving had the Brazilian connected. Richarlison remains one of the Premier League’s most captivating players, for his brilliant best and really quite hilarious worst.
10) So comfortable were Liverpool that Thiago resorted to karate-kicking corners clear, the Spaniard later auditioning for the Carry On films by touching two balls in the same move when one was returned to the pitch from the stands. With Joel Matip trying backheels in the Everton penalty area at one point, the dominance was underlined far more than the eventual scoreline could manage. These two teams might share a city but they don’t even exist in the same stratosphere right now, and the chasm is only growing.
11) One bright spark scurried around at the end of the tunnel for Everton. Gray spent the first half trying to conjure something from nothing, actually running at a defence that did not look completely settled and trying to force the issue. He squirmed out of the corner and away from the attention of two Liverpool players around the half-hour mark, but his shot was blocked. There was an undeniable sense that if Everton were to somehow produce anything to sate their supporters, Gray would be responsible.
He did indeed apply the finishing touch to a rather Liverpool-like move for Everton’s goal. Godfrey pushed high again, this time winning his tackle and playing Richarlison in. Salomon Rondon dragged Matip away with a clever run as the Brazilian spun, slid Gray in with the outside of his foot and the winger did the rest, slotting the ball between Alisson’s legs.
Four goals for £1.8m is worth reiterating as proof that Everton can actually do transfers; that four of the five hapless defenders and forlorn goalkeeper cost at least £18m undermines that somewhat. But whatever happens to Everton this season and beyond, Gray is precisely the sort of player they have to focus on. He never let his head drop and it was notable that when Coleman erred for Liverpool’s third goal, Gray was first on hand to rally his captain.
12) Liverpool took that hammer blow on the chin but they did stumble. Thiago was booked straight from kick-off and the half ended with Allan and Digne combining well before Doucoure was found in space at the back post from a deflected cross. His effort was hacked clear. The midfielder then had the first effort of the second half, heading softly into Alisson’s arms from Rondon’s delivery.
By the 51st minute, Matip was stretching to divert a sumptuous Gray cross after more good hold-up play from Rondon. Everton were trounced in the end but it is worth remembering that they were one opening or a Liverpool misstep away from equalising. Credit to the visitors for weathering that relative storm because the Reds do feel a little susceptible to waves of opposition momentum at times. This sort of result emphasises just how well West Ham did to beat them last month, because even a vulnerable Liverpool against a team in the temporary ascendancy is likely to score a couple.
Demarai Gray on whether 4-1 was fair reflection: “Probably not. After we got a goal back we were in the game, the whole team felt that & the fans but in the end we gave away goals by our own mistakes and Liverpool punished us. It was disappointing.” #EFC
— Emma Sanders (@em_sandy) December 1, 2021
13) Things might have been different had Everton’s forwards not seemingly independently decided to squander promising positions. When 1-0 down, Doucoure capitalised on a poor Matip pass to put Townsend in down the right-hand side. The winger could have stepped past Robertson and ran into the box with support but instead he tried to win the free-kick and was booked for simulation.
Later, at 2-1 and on the stroke of half-time, Gray once again stood an agitated Liverpool defence up as he dribbled towards them, only to collapse under apparent pressure from Fabinho. The replays again showed no contact and another yellow was handed out to the Everton player.
Two situations in which better decision-making might have produced something far more satisfying. The irony is that when substitute Anthony Gordon completed the hat-trick by going down when barely touched just outside the Liverpool area, it led to the clinching goal – just not as Everton might have expected.
14) That free-kick was slammed into the wall by Townsend, who took the subsequent corner. Van Dijk cleared, Gray played an awkward ball to Coleman and the Irishman crumpled under pressure from Salah, who robbed him and raced through to score past Pickford, whose positioning for at least two of the goals was questionable.
Earlier in the game, an Everton attack collapsed to the extent that the ball was played back to Digne on the halfway line and the Frenchman barely fumbled it in the direction of Pickford as Salah closed him down. The Toffees failed to heed that and many similar warnings that came before the fateful third strike.
As for Salah, he must have scored a version of that goal ten or so times for Liverpool. It seems like a weirdly specific thing to excel at but the Egyptian has netted in similar fashion against Arsenal and Manchester United before, galloping one full half of the pitch with a despondent defender in tow, then finishing calmly past an onrushing goalkeeper. Given the time it leaves him to second-guess himself, it’s genuinely impressive that Salah never seems to falter in that position.
15) There were two utterances of “dear me” from the exemplary Ally McCoist on co-commentary. The first came when a Liverpool corner almost rebounded in off Michael Keane at 2-0, when it felt as though a massacre might have been unfolding. The second was an instinctive response to the fourth goal from the visitors – and it was entirely justified.
James Milner acclimatised to the game predictably well and it was his pass that found Robertson on the left. The Scot zipped a ball into Jota’s feet and Allan was left for dead; so, too, Pickford by a spectacular finish.
The second and third goals were symbolic of Liverpool at their most lethal, forcing and exploiting opposition mistakes through concentrated pressure, scoring within seconds of retrieving the ball. The first and fourth were emblematic of how Liverpool have grown into a phenomenal team away from that, with players who can construct flowing moves to unpick a defence.
16) Klopp deserves immense praise for his management of this game, especially during but also before. Many simply ignored his eagerness to downplay the occasion and treat this like another game but his players heeded that advice and were all the better for it. The only time they were dragged into the derby mindset was when Thiago was booked straight after Everton’s goal – and that was only for barging Allan rather than anything rash.
Van Dijk even received a late yellow for a clumsy challenge on Gordon as the two players who fell victim to a fixture that was allowed to get out of hand last season prospered.
“We are a very emotional football team but first of all, we need the right mindset and emotion is good but not the all the important thing,” Klopp said after the win. “The two derbies for us against Everton and United are big games and we have to learn to keep ourselves calm and together if you like. I wanted us to be really mature today. Aggressive? Yes, but in a football way. Angry as well, but in a football way.”
Liverpool left Goodison Park battered and bloodied last October. They depart a year later having thoroughly bruised the egos of their rivals without ever losing control.