In any other circumstances, a match against Everton would have been a major event regardless of form or table rankings, but when it’s set smack in the middle of a two-legged Champions League quarterfinal against Manchester City, Liverpool are bound to take another perspective.
The Derby is still important of course. Make no mistake, the Blues were ready to pounce on the opportunity to brag if they win. Their manager Sam Allardyce said they needed to take advantage of the situation, and “do to Liverpool what Liverpool did to City”. Maybe someone should’ve pointed out to Mr. Allardyce that not everyone can do what Liverpool can.
For their part, Liverpool were certainly keen on setting a few things straight after referee Craig Pawson stole two points from them in the reverse fixture with a wrongly given penalty.
Jurgen Klopp had some team-managing issues to consider when choosing his line-up. Some players needed rest ahead of the Etihad game on Tuesday, and some were injured. No Joel Matip, no Joe Gomez, no Adam Lallana, no Emre Can, and no Mohamed Salah. Jordan Henderson was a must because the captain cannot play on Tuesday as he is suspended. It was a nice opportunity for players like Nathaniel Clyne, Danny Ings and Dominic Solanke to start a game and leave an impression.
And then, just before the kick-off, some more bad news, as Alberto Moreno dropped out due to a thigh injury. Young Rafa Camacho took his place on the bench.
And this is the line-up Sam Allardyce chose:
It’s probably the best XI they have at the moment, without the injured Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Before the game started, everyone present showed their appreciation for Ray Wilkins, a legend of English football who had passed away three days earlier.
The First Half
The pitch at Goodinson wasn’t in a particularly great state due to heavy rain. The surface was wet and slippery, making life difficult for both sets of players.
Everton came into the game with intent, and the first couple of minutes passed in their pressure on Liverpool, but to no effect. In fact, it was Liverpool who first had a go through Wijnaldum after five minutes, but his shot from around 25 yards went sky-high.
A period of the Reds dictating the play followed, but throughout the game there was an overwhelming feeling that it could easily go either way. There was a decent chance for Solanke as Milner’s cross reached him in the box just outside six yards, but his 12th-minute header went slightly wide. Just a minute later there was a bit of head-tennis in Liverpool’s half ending with the ball dropping nicely for Cenk Tosun, but the Turkish striker whacked his volley from range high over the bar.
The best chance for Liverpool fell to Solanke in the 15th minute. Clyne whipped in a good cross from the right, Solanke missed a header, Seamus Coleman reacted clumsily and gave it back to Solanke who had quite enough space some 7-8 yards from the middle of the goal. Solanke shot away immediately, but Jordan Pickford in Everton’s goal produced an excellent reflex save.
Three minutes later, another game of head-tennis happened but this time it was inside Liverpool’s box. Klavan eventually cleared it somewhat clumsily, and it went maybe a yard or two outside the post of his own goal. As Everton attacked again. The ball was sent into the box towards Tosun, but instead of trying to make something happen with it, he threw himself down at a slight contact from Virgil van Dijk looking for a penalty, but referee Michael Oliver wasn’t interested.
Speaking of the referee, he conducted this game in a rather lenient manner. It was a rare case of a Merseyside Derby without any bookings, though there were a few occasions where he could have easily booked a player.
With 22 minutes gone, Everton had their best chance of the half. Yannick Bolasie cut inside from the left, two Liverpool players failed to closed him down, and he bent an excellent shot to the far top corner. It would have been a stunning goal but for Karius who had flown through the air, stretched his arm to full extent and diverted it around the post. A fantastic save.
Another period of Everton attacking followed, but similar to the start of the game, there was nothing they could do do put a dent into Liverpool’s finely organized defence. The Reds broke the siege after several minutes, when Henderson sent the ball wide to the left where Milner was making his run. Milner made a left-foot dummy and set himself up for a right-footed shot, and then took it, bending it towards the far post. But now it was Pickford’s turn to fly through the air and make a fine save again.
Liverpool then took control of the game, patiently passing the ball around, evading pressure and frustrating their opponents a bit. This naturally caused some heavy fouls, mostly by Wayne Rooney, but as has already been said, there were no bookings in this game.
In the 35th minute, Sadio Mane was fouled by Tom Davies some 35 yards out. Instead of going up front to be a target for a cross, van Dijk set the ball up and took aim. His shot went over the wall and down towards the bottom corner, but Pickford had no trouble dealing with it.
There was a dangerous moment three minutes later when Lovren, under pressure from Davies, gave the ball away to Bolasie, but the winger’s cross was an easy catch for Karius.
Three minutes before the break, Bolasie stamped on the ankle of Danny Ings, but Oliver somehow completely missed it and gave nothing. It might be interesting to submit this moment to the FA for retrospective consideration, but I suppose it would be filed under “accidental”.
A 44th-minute shot by Mane from range that went high over the bar was all that happened between then and the halftime whistle.
The Second Half
It was Liverpool’s turn to start a half by putting their opponents under several minutes of siege, though they couldn’t create anything that would cause Everton any serious concern. The best they did was Milner and Ings combining nicely to set Solanke up in the 54th minute, but the final pass – from Ings towards Solanke – was intercepted.
Two minutes later, Rooney was replaced by Idrissa Gueye, and the Everton captain threw a little tantrum when he left the pitch.
There was very little play going on for a long spell of the second half, almost nothing worth reporting at all. The most interesting moments up until the 70th minute were substitutions, and a light tussle between Ings and Coleman that ended with the referee having a word with both players and their captains.
In the 61st minute, Bolasie was replaced by Dominic Calvert-Lewin. In the 68th, Milner made way for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Both newcomers quickly made their mark in the game, Oxlade-Chamberlain first but Calvert-Lewin more.
In the 70th minute, Oxlade-Chamberlain burst forward from the halfway line, came into range and tried to repeat his strike against Manchester City on Wednesday, but it went just over the bar.
Four minutes later, Coleman blocked the shot of Solanke from the edge of the box twice in two seconds, and then Mane left the pitch to make way for Roberto Firmino.
Two minutes later it was Calver-Lewin’s turn to have a shot blocked.
At this point Everton, whose overall performance up to that point had been very bleak, suddenly sprang into life. This surprising change of pace from them succeeded in catching Liverpool somewhat off guard, and the Reds were hard put to it to save their net.
In the 77th minute, a nice one-two between Baines and Calvert-Lewin got the left-back free on the flank, and he whipped in a good cross into the six-yard box, but Tosun was a split-second too late to connect with it at the far post.
With 11 minutes to go, Davies was replaced by the 19-year-old Beni Baningime.
Then the Blues put the pedal to the floor and created three very big chances. In the 82nd minute, Tosun went wide to the left, where he got past Clyne and squared a low cross for Theo Walcott who slipped on the wet surface and fell down. Five minutes later, Walcott beat Klavan on the right and sent a good cross into the six yards towards the far post, from where Tosun headed back across, and Coleman failed to reach it two yards from the goal. A minute after that, Coleman’s cross grazed van Dijk and fell kindly for the unmarked Calvert-Lewin, who inexplicably shot wide from inside the box.
With a minute remaining, Klopp took off Ings and sent in Trent Alexander-Arnold.
There were three minutes of injury time, during which Liverpool had a go through Firmino’s pass in behind for Alexander-Arnold, but Pickford read the danger well and came out in time. With ten seconds remaining, Everton had a free-kick on the halfway line. Phil Jagielka lobbed it forwards, but several players were caught offside.
It was a poor game by all standards, but neither team will be overly sad about the result. A point each seems fair. Everton are far from Liverpool’s level, and a point against the Reds is always an achievement for them. On the other hand, Liverpool have more important business to attend to and will be happy to have escaped new injury issues. Their top-four chances are looking good at the moment, and now, the Etihad awaits. It will be a fiery business on Tuesday.
We walk on.