Even without the added spark of the title race currently unfolding between Liverpool and Manchester City, a Merseyside Derby is always a big deal, a thing of pride with bragging rights across Stanley Park up for grabs.
This one was a part of the 29th round of the 2018/19 Premier League season, and a part of a derby weekend which stretched across Europe. On Saturday, Arsenal went over to Wembley and drew with Tottenham Hotspur, Barcelona beat Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu for the second time this week, Benfica took all the points from Porto’s Estadio Dragao, and even in Serbia Red Star Belgrade shared the points at Rajko Mitić with their fierce rivals Partizan.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is now very close to returning and he will play for U23s either on Monday in the mini-derby, or later in the week against Derby County, but his first-team return will have to wait a bit longer. Rhian Brewster is in a similar situation. Roberto Firmino, who missed the thrashing of Watford in midweek, wasn’t yet ready to start and was named on the bench with Divock Origi starting once more in his place. Joe Gomez is still recovering from surgery after suffering a broken leg in December, and Dejan Lovren had returned to training following his hamstring problem but wasn’t fit to play yet.
CONFIRMED#LFC team to face the Ev
Virgil van Dijk
— Fields Of Anfield Road (@FOARsite) March 3, 2019
Everton boss Marco Silva was without Leighton Baines due to rib injury, and centre-back Yerry Mina was recovering from a foot issue. However, Kurt Zouma was ready to return after his suspension.
⚠ MERSEYSIDE DERBY TEAM NEWS ⚠
— Everton (@Everton) March 3, 2019
The First Half
Everton started the game with the intention of attacking from the start, but they quickly learned that trying to play the Reds openly wouldn’t get them far. The best they could do was to cross the halfway line before surrendering possession and being forced back.
Liverpool went for a direct approach, aiming to win space and move forward quickly, but their passes lacked accuracy early on.
The Blues did, however, create a promising moment in the seventh minute when a good combination between Digne and Bernard on the left enabled the winger to swing in a cross that caused a bit of a scramble. Eventually Origi won the ball off Walcott and got fouled from behind, which prompted referee Martin Atkinson to book the former Arsenal man.
Three minutes later, it got really dangerous as Calvert-Lewin found Walcott in the box and Sigurdsson tried to square it for Walcott again, but van Dijk was in the right place. A few minutes of Liverpool pressure followed, ending with a Henderson cross which Origi and Wijnaldum failed to take advantage of on the edge of six yards. Minute 15 was just starting when the captain delivered a fabulous long pass for Salah but his attempt of a lob was blocked. Then the Egyptian bamboozled Digne inside Everton’s box and took a shot, but it was too tame to trouble Pickford.
The Blues tried to gain some advantage by pressing high and causing a few questionable passes by Alisson, but the Reds somehow bailed themselves out and pushed forward.
Having shown a lot of nerves early on, Everton players grew into the contest as time went on and the game was picking up in both dynamics and quality. The Reds had to be on full alert when defending and patient in looking for a hole in the home team’s back line.
On the stroke of 28 minutes, Schneiderlin lost the ball in the middle of the park and Fabinho released the run of Salah with his first touch. Salah burst into the box and went for the far corner, but Pickford made a great save. Henderson tried to put it in the net on the rebound, but several Blue shirts dove in front of him and blocked his shot. It was a great chance and a poor finish by anybody’s standards, let alone that of Mo Salah.
Should really be burying that Mo
— Farrell Keeling (@farrellkeeling) March 3, 2019
Six minutes later, Salah once again made mince-meat of Digne out wide and entered the box before finding Wijnaldum on the edge of six yards, but the Dutchman was crowded out.
It was strange to see how many times Everton tried to go long from the back towards Calvert-Lewin who just couldn’t get a sniff of the ball next to Virgil van Dijk. But in the 39th minute a long pass went wider towards Walcott, and Robertson misjudged its flight. Walcott picked it up and had a shot off from a tight angle, but he failed to control it properly and sent it into the stands. Three minutes later, Digne did well to intercept a Robertson cross for the incoming Trent on the far post.
Liverpool attacked trying to use the width of the pitch for the rest of the half, but to no avail.
The Second Half
It was Liverpool who came out from the break with more determination, while Everton looked to hit on a counterattack. But before too long, the hosts shook the pressure off and brought the game back into balance.
In the 52nd minute, a loose pass by Fabinho gave Walcott a chance to do something, but all he and his teammates could do was win a corner with van Dijk clearing the box. They did, however, threaten more seriously as Calvert-Lewin jumped highest and hit the target, forcing a fine save from Alisson.
A minute later, Gana brought Mane down around 35 yards out and Trent tried to surprise Pickford, but the England ‘keeper was alert. Then it was Origi’s turn, and the Belgian, having been played on by Wijnaldum, tried to repeat his goal against Watford but this time he missed the target.
Liverpool turned the volume up and in the 56th minute, Matip’s pass caught a deflection off Zouma and reached Salah in behind, but Keane produced a fantastic last-ditch tackle to dispossess him on the edge of six yards.
A minute before the hour-mark, Silva shook his line-up a bit as he introduced Richarlison for Walcott.
Everton appeared to have shaken the pressure off at that point and they gradually pegged Liverpool back. They kept the ball far up the pitch for longer spells and won a couple of throw-ins and a corner, before Klopp withdrew Wijnaldum and Origi to make way for James Milner and Roberto Firmino.
Firmino was immediately involved in a dangerous attack as he combined with Salah, got the ball back on the right flank and found Mane on the far post with a superb cross, but Mane couldn’t direct his header on target.
A few minutes of Everton pressure followed, ending with a deep cross by Digne finding Richarlison whose tame header was easily collected by Alisson.
A proper football show developed with both teams now looking to force the opposition into submission, and Fabinho had a good chance after Robertson’s long punt found van Dijk on the far post and the Dutchman squared it across for the Brazilian, but Digne cleared it at the last possible moment.
Twenty minutes from time Salah wasted another great opportunity. Firmino won the ball in the middle and sent the Egyptian running down the right flank. Salah then ignored a great underlap run from Trent and opted for Milner on the far post instead, and his cross was poor enough to allow Pickford to claim it.
Four minutes later, Silva introduced Cenk Tosun for Calvert-Lewin, and he followed that up with sending Andre Gomes on for Schneiderlin.
The game exploded into life, and Everton came very close with Richarlison escaping down the right and squaring into the six yards for Bernard who just couldn’t get there. Richarlison tried to escape once more after a few minutes but he was caught by Robertson this time, and the Liverpool left-back picked up a yellow card. The set-piece was defended rather questionably and Sigurdsson found Tosun onside and unmarked, but the Turk scuffed his volley.
The Blues were now successfully pushing the line of battle towards Alisson and Klopp’s men forced to stay focused at the back. But the second they went forward in numbers, Fabinho got booked as he took out Gomes to prevent a counterattack.
Milner wasn’t playing a good game. The experienced versatile midfielder was caught in possession several times and misplaced a few passes, giving the opposition the drive they needed to go forward and attack. Liverpool’s counterattacks seemed stunningly unorganized. Salah repeatedly drifted into offside, Mane’s decisions mostly weren’t the right ones, and Firmino wasn’t making the runs his teammates expected from him.
In the 84th minute, Matip tried with a header from a corner but couldn’t hit the target. Then Mane made way for Adam Lallana.
The former Southampton man won a free-kick off Coleman straight away, and Henderson eventually whipped in a cross which caused a desperate scramble in Everton’s box, but Firmino couldn’t score through a forest of blue shirts.
With four minutes remaining, Trent tood Digne down on the very edge of the box, wide on the left. Digne swung it in himself but failed to find anybody. But Everton were pressing hard now. They had another chance straight away with Alisson’s clearance picked up by Gomes in the middle of the park, and the Barcelona loanee tried to send Tosun through, but Matip defended well.
Against all odds, Liverpool managed to compose themselves and play through Everton’s press a few times late on, but the final passes always lacked a few inches of precision. They switched to long diagonals in the last of the three-minute stoppage time, but their first touch was poor ad they simply couldn’t force a way through.
Once again, Everton played a Merseyside Derby punching well above their weight. Just like the last time, they gave their all and even though the difference in quality was still there to be seen, they certainly deserved their point with Liverpool unable to snatch a late winner this time.
It's those performances that hurt the most.
Klopp must despair when he sees the lack of movement, the lack of invention, composure and drive from players that he knows are capable.
Still a long way to go though.
— Fields Of Anfield Road (@FOARsite) March 3, 2019
The Reds seemed unable to recognize that increased motivation moment from their city rivals and collectively they failed to raise their game to a level sufficient to overcome it. It’s not a case of one player or another underperforming, but rather of being slowed down by the energy of the opposition and their own lack of on-the-ball focus. Hesitation in a few moments, poor decision-making (again), and Salah’s lack of a cool head in the best chance of the game – therein lie the reasons for the two points dropped and a chance to return to the top of the table missed.
It’s still not the end of the world. There’s a lot to be played still, and remaining undefeated at both Old Trafford and Goodison in a week isn’t to be sniffed at. But better performances are required, and soon. Have the Reds bottled the league? No. But they certainly bottled this game.
It’s Burnley at Anfield next, and let’s hope the attacking section of the team will have got their edge back by then.
We walk on.