The new year has begun, and the time has come for this season’s FA Cup campaign to begin too. Entering the competition in the third round, Liverpool were drawn against their bitter foes Everton.
Unable to count on Daniel Sturridge, Nathaniel Clyne, Jordan Henderson, Mohamed Salah and Philippe Coutinho, Jurgen Klopp called upon the following men:
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) January 5, 2018
Sam Allardyce also went with a strong line-up:
— Everton (@Everton) January 5, 2018
The First Half
Liverpool’s formation looked like a 4-2-3-1 again, with Emre Can and James Milner sitting deep and Adam Lallana further up in the No.10 role, flanked by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sadio Mane. Roberto Firmino played his centre-forward role in his own inimitable way.
The Reds dominated possession throughout, while Everton relied mostly on physicality. They often went overboard with it, and Wayne Rooney earned a booking for a very late challenge on Lallana as early as six minutes in. When they went forward, which was perhaps more often than expected, they attacked mostly down the right flank through the newly recovered Yannick Bolasie. Andy Robertson had a lot of work to do, but he had plenty of help from Milner and Virgil van Dijk.
The Dutchman looked composed on his debut, Merseyside Derby though it was. He was completely dominant against Dominic Calvert-Lewin, just like Joel Matip next to him. Joe Gomez had a few duels with Gylfi Sigurdsson in defence, but he was mostly seen bombing up the pitch and making attacking contribution.
After 26 minutes, he sent in a long diagonal cross from deep, aiming for Milner on the left inside the box. Milner caught it on a half-volley that went wide.
Lallana and Mane both seemed rusty; they just weren’t linking well with Firmino.
However, in the 35th minute, Lallana displayed some good hold-up play as he stepped into the box, turned around and tried to go past Mason Holgate. The Everton defender put his arm around him and impeded him, Lallana went down and referee Robert Madley pointed to the spot.
Step up – James Milner.
From that moment on, Liverpool played with confidence, keeping possession and making very few mistakes that were easily corrected.
With 39 minutes gone, a moment of real controversy. Jordan Pickford received a back-pass and tried to hit it forward, but he miskicked the ball and it went out for a throw-in. Firmino was chasing the ball, and Holgate was chasing Firmino, and as the ball went over the line, he pushed the Brazilian with both hands in the back, causing him to topple over the commercial board and into the crowd. Firmino reacted strongly, yelling at Holgate. Madley came quickly, prevented any further disturbance, and spoke to both players. Surprisingly enough, the situation ended with Liverpool taking the throw-in, without any cards being brandished.
The Second Half
The game continued where it had left off at the break. The Reds controlled it, keeping possession, keeping their heads cool and occasionally threatening. Mane in particular looked much more lively, cutting inside in his style and playing smart one-twos with Firmino, Milner or Robertson.
After 52 minutes, Allardyce took out the nervous captain Rooney. Young winger Ademola Lookman came on, and Everton’s formation was now changed to resemble that of Liverpool, a variation of 4-2-3-1, with Lookman and Bolasie operating on either side of Sigurdsson, who was given freedom to roam as the No.10.
Two minutes later Gomez missed a glorious chance after a corner from Oxlade-Chamberlain found him free on the far post. His header from 3 or 4 yards went inexplicably wide. Then it was Lallana’s turn to mess things up. Firmino found his run with a lovely through pass, but Phil Jagielka caught up with him and forced him to a premature shot from 18 yards that went wide.
Next it was Roberson. The left-back suddenly dribbled past Bolasie inside Everton’s box on the left and shot from angle, but Pickford made a good save. A minute later Lallana stole the ball in Everton’s half with a superb tackle and engaged Firmino. Firmino extended the pass on to the run of Oxlade-Chamberlain who cut it back, but Jonjoe Kenny intervened in front of Mane right on the penalty spot. Three minutes later, a corner from Oxlade-Chamberlain was headed goalwards by van Dijk, but Pickford was again in the right place.
Liverpool were squeezing their neighbours tight, and in the 67th minute, Oxlade-Chamberlain took another corner, this time from the right. He took it low, and Everton cleared their box. The ball was picked up by Bolasie who was impeded by Matip deep in his own half, but he managed to poke it on for Lookman on the halfway line, slightly on the left. Lookman took it forward with pace, drawing the attention of the remaining defenders and then employed Jagielka who was making an unexpected run on the right side. Caught up by his opponents, Jagielka laid the ball off for the incoming Sigurdsson in the middle, and Icelander shot straight away, accurately hitting the bottom corner while catching Loris Karius on the wrong foot.
Once again, the game suddenly started going in a painfully familiar direction – out of Liverpool’s control.
Klopp responded in the 70th minute by introducing Georginio Wijnaldum for the still vulnerable Lallana and the game livened up again.
Three minutes later, Oxlade-Chamberlain took a free-kick, aiming a cross from deep. The Everton defence made a blunder and the ball fell kindly for van Dijk who wasn’t expecting it and couldn’t make anything of the gift.
Alive with confidence, Lookman was giving Gomez trouble, pressing him high and drawing fouls from him. With 13 minutes left on the clock, Klopp decided it was time for the young defender to step off the pitch, and he was joined by Milner. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Dominic Solanke entered the fray and Liverpool again started pushing forward.
Allardyce responded five minutes later by replacing Calvert-Lewin with Oumar Niasse.
Both teams showed a lot of energy towards the end, but also plenty of sloppiness. It was beginning to look as the encounter was destined for a replay at Goodison Park, as the capability to create a winner just couldn’t be seen. And then, six minutes from time, Everton gave away a sloppy corner.
Oxlade-Chamberlain whipped it in, Pickford came for it, but he was beaten to it by van Dijk who headed into the empty net. A perfect way to round up a very good debut display from the £75 million centre-back.
Tom Davies then came on for Everton, replacing James McCarthy.
In the 88th minute, Solanke committed a foul with his high pressing and was shown the yellow card for it.
In the last few minutes, Wijnaldum was excellent, popping up wherever he was needed. He was there to stop Bolasie on the wing, he was there to link up play in midfield, he was even there to create in attack.
The last moment in the game worth reporting happened around 60 seconds before the four minutes of injury time were up. Bolasie did some fine holding up and shot from range – comfortably over the bar. And that was it.
It wasn’t a particularly good display from Liverpool, but given the well-known antics of a Sam Allardyce team, it’s not to be wondered at. Be that as it may, the Reds have swept the Blues aside in their quest for the FA Cup, and that’s all that matters.
Now for Pep, now for City, and the Red dawn rising!
We walk on.