Liverpool hosted their eternal rivals Everton for the 230th Merseyside Derby, this time being contested as a third-round FA Cup tie. The Reds have climbed to fourth spot in the Premier League table at this stage of the season, and boast one of the most fearsome strike forces in Europe. The Toffees meanwhile have been much improved under new manager Sam Allardyce, but headed into this clash off the back of a 0-2 defeat to Manchester United.
A cagey start on Merseyside
The atmosphere inside Anfield was unsurprisingly electric right from kick-off, and the tempo of the play matched the zealous noise that echoed around the famous stadium. Liverpool settled straight in to the lion’s share of possession, while the visitors clearly planned to play on the counter as often as possible. Yannick Bolasie looked incredibly bright down the right hand side for Everton, while the pace of Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino looked a constant threat at the other end of the pitch.
While the home side were in possession Everton looked like a typical Sam Allardyce side, rigid in their defensive structure and limiting the space that the Liverpool forwards had to work with. Both sides struggled to create anything clear-cut in the opening 20 minutes, and much of the play was focussed around the central third of the pitch. The Toffees did well to neutralise the usually high-velocity attacks of their opponents, and it was little surprise that neither side had registered a shot on target at the 20-minute mark.
Reliable Milner converts from the spot
The best chance of the early exchanges fell to Adam Lallana, who couldn’t quite stretch to convert James Milner’s low driven cross. As the clock ticked on past the half hour mark however the home side took more of a hold on the game, and it took a moment of brilliance from Lallana to inject some excitement into the crowd again. A brilliant flick from the midfielder forced Mason Holgate into an awkward position, and the young defender pulled Lallana down, prompting the referee Bobby Madley to point straight to the spot.
It was the reliable James Milner who stepped up and drilled the spot kick straight down the middle, handing Jurgen Klopp’s side the lead in what had been a tense first half. Tempers seemed to flare after the goal, and Holgate elected to stupidly push Firmino straight into the advertising board and over into the crowd. Somehow the defender escaped without even a booking, but the incident added an edge to an already hugely entertaining game. Sadly half time came far too quickly, and the Reds went into the break with a deserved narrow lead.
Liverpool press for a goal to kill the game
The second half continued in much the same fashion of the first, with the home side holding the majority of the possession without creating much penetration through the Everton back line. To their credit the visitors did seem to be pushing more vigorously for an equaliser than they had in the first period, but that allowed more room for Klopp’s men to run into. Their second goal almost came from a set piece however, with Joe Gomez connecting with an open header at the back post. Somehow the defender directed the ball into the floor and wide of the goal, squandering a golden opportunity.
The extra space behind the Everton defence allowed the Reds to lift the Anfield crowd, and Robertson had a great chance down the left channel after getting forward from defence. The left back slammed his shot straight into the palms of Jordan Pickford, and the Toffees clung on once again. With every dispossession the Reds bombed forward, and the tempo of the game increased to an intense level. Virgil van Dijk almost had completed his dream debut on the hour mark when he rose for a towering header, but his effort was matched too by the Everton shot stopper.
Sigurdsson strikes level, but Van Dijk grabs the winner
To the surprise of almost everybody in the stadium it was actually Everton who managed to bag an incredible fast-paced goal on the counter. Ademola Lookman was the man who thundered forward, and found the unlikeliest of teammates, Phil Jagielka, in the opposing box. With remarkable composure for a centre half, the big man cut a smart pass back to Gylfi Sigurdsson. The Icelandic international caressed the ball beautifully into the far corner, past Loris Karius in the Liverpool net, who was rooted to the spot. It was a stunningly orchestrated goal from a lightning counterattack, and brought the Toffees deservedly level.
It was a much more open game following the equaliser, and Allardyce’s men looked as interested in finding a winner as settling for a draw. Big Sam had said before the game that a replay wasn’t what either side wanted, and the two teams seemed fully aware of that in their exhaustive search for a second goal. Right on cue Van Dijk finally connected with another header, but this time it handed his new team a remarkable late lead. The Dutchman leapt high at the near post, beating Pickford to the ball and guiding it into the subsequently empty net. That was to be the goal that sealed it, and Anfield erupted upon the final whistle as the Reds emerged victorious once again.
At the end of a remarkable game of football it was Liverpool who came out on top. On the balance of play they probably deserved it, but Klopp’s men certainly didn’t look at their best going forward. It took a late winner from debutant Van Dijk to send the Reds through, and once Mohamed Salah returns they will likely be back at their best.
Everton were a tad unfortunate to lose this game, having defended so gallantly for the majority, but their Anfield win drought continued tonight. Sam Allardyce has unsurprisingly turned the Toffees into a solid defensive unit, but their attacking exploits still look strained, despite a brilliant counter attacking conversion to bring them level.
Liverpool: Karius, Gomez (Solanke, 77’), Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson, Can, Milner (Alexander-Arnold, 77’), Mane, Lallana (Wijnaldum, 70’), Oxlade-Chamberlain, Firmino
Everton: Pickford, Kenny, Holgate, Jagielka, Martina, McCarthy (Davies, 86’), Schneiderlin, Sigurdsson, Rooney (Lookman, 52’), Bolasie, Calvert-Lewin (Niasse, 82’)
Goals: Milner (1-0, 35’), Sigurdsson (1-1, 67’)
Referee: Robert Madley
Yellow Cards: Rooney (7’), McCarthy (60’), Solanke (88’)
Red Cards: None
Liverpool: Karius 6, Gomez 7 (Solanke n/a), Matip 7, Van Dijk 9, Robertson 8, Can 7, Milner 8 (Alexander-Arnold n/a), Mane 7, Lallana 7 (Wijnaldum n/a), Oxlade-Chamberlain 7, Firmino 7
Everton: Pickford 6, Kenny 6, Holgate 5, Jagielka 7.5, Martina 6.5, McCarthy 6 (Davies n/a), Schneiderlin 6.5, Sigurdsson 7.5, Rooney 5.5 (Lookman n/a), Bolasie 7.5, Calvert-Lewin 7 (Niasse n/a)
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