Liverpool limp from title race as Jurgen Klopp and Mohamed Salah run out of road

Will Ford
Salah Liverpool
Mohamed Salah didn't show up against Everton.

Jurgen Klopp can now focus on his Mallorca renovations and Mohamed Salah can look forward to the sands of Saudi Arabia. Liverpool’s title chances ended with a knowing smile after a Dominic Calvert-Lewin header.

It doesn’t take much for the Goodison Park crowd to turn on their own, and the name of the game for Liverpool, as always at the home of their Merseyside rivals, was to win duels, pass the ball quickly and to not give fouls away. Klopp’s side did the opposite of all of that.

The Reds boss said he issued the typical warning to his players about the Everton set pieces ahead of kick-off, and presumably selected Ibrahima Konate over Jarell Qansah in a bid to combat the home side’s prowess from corners and free-kicks. Those cautionary measures had no effect.

It didn’t matter which Everton player was on the end of a ball into the box – James Tarkowski, Jarrad Branthwaite, Ben Godfrey, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Abdoulaye Doucoure – they won every header.

Now, we’re aware that we’ve essentially listed giants there, but Liverpool have Konate, Van Dijk and Darwin Nunez, and anyone else should be able to block or prevent physically superior players from getting to the ball.

The deliveries from Dwight McNeil were decent, but nothing particularly special; it appeared to come down to the Everton players wanting it more, which in a must-win game in a title race is hardly mentality monster confirmation.

“Daniel. Calvert. Lewin.” as he will now forever be known after Gary Neville’s Man of the Match announcement, was consistently outmuscling and outmanoeuvring Konate while Liverpool’s midfielders were either beaten to second balls or caught in possession. Liverpool also gave daft free-kicks away: often 50/50 calls that went in Everton’s favour.

Curtis Jones was among the Liverpool players to vent his frustration on the pitch having conceded the free-kick for Everton’s opener, as Klopp chewed the fourth official’s ear off over the soft fouls on the touchline. But it was all so naive.

Branthwaite won the first header from McNeil’s deep delivery and Everton again got to the ball first when it was recycled, before some penalty box pinball ended with an assist for Konate and a goal for Branthwaite, whose shot slipped under Alisson.

Everton had by that point already had a penalty overturned for offside and had missed a couple of very presentable chances from further set plays. They were all over Liverpool in every metric other than possession, and Sean Dyche quite reasonably puts very little value on keeping the ball for keeping the ball’s sake.

Liverpool don’t do that either, and had more than enough chances having gone behind to win this game and keep their title hopes alive. Barn doors and banjos spring to mind.

Mohamed Salah sliced, shanked and miscontrolled his way through 90 minutes, Darwin Nunez opted to blast one shot from about six yards out straight at Jordan Pickford, who could hardly have looked smaller with the goal gaping around him, and Luis Diaz hit the post with a lovely effort in the second half but missed a far easier chance in the first.

Had Diogo Jota not been injured and Cody Gakpo’s wife not been in labour, Liverpool probably win this game. Given their displays against Fulham (Jota and Gakpo’s, not Jota and Gakpo’s wife), they would surely have been starting ahead of Nunez and Salah, who have scored three goals between them in the last seven Premier League games and looked either knackered, out of form, or both, and in Salah’s case, seemingly halfway to Saudi Arabia.

Liverpool have collected an incredible 27 points from losing positions this season, and for a while – at the end of the first half and start of the second – it felt as though the first goal was coming before the inevitable second. But Everton got a corner, Calvert-Lewin headed in unchallenged, Klopp smiled, and that was that.

The best Klopp could muster from his bench to turn the game on its head was Harvey Elliott, Wataru Endo, Qansah, Joe Gomez and Kostas Tsimikas. Having watched his starters toil for an hour, and lacking in substitute firepower, Klopp knew the game was over and – barring something miraculous – so too are Liverpool’s title hopes.

They’ve surpassed expectations this season by staying in the race this long. We’ll save the full lionising of Klopp at Liverpool for now, but the work he’s done to rebuild his team and have them challenging is remarkable.

But they are quite clearly the third best team in the Premier League, and will finish in the position they deserve. Everton will finish lower than their football has merited this season after the points deductions; but they will still be a top flight team next season, and what a way to (all-but) confirm it.