The first Merseyside Derby of the Premier League season, played on Saturday at Goodison Park, was certainly an interesting affair as the team from either side of Stanley Park in Liverpool presented plenty of threat for the other. But in the end, the nets at both ends of the pitch remained untouched and neither the Blues nor the Reds will be feeling too happy with the outcome.
The game of goalkeepers
As expected, Liverpool entered the contest as the dominant side and kept the ball mostly in Everton’s half for the first 15 minutes. After that, however, the home side broke 62the siege and gradually push the line of the battle away from Jordan Pickford’s goal. Liverpool still managed to control the ball for 61% of the time and take a total of 23 shots, eight on target, while Everton fired at Alisson Becker 14 times in total, hitting within the frame just three.
Obviously, both goalkeepers put in outstanding performances to keep a clean sheet. Pickford managed a fine save after a fine save, denying Roberto Firmino, Darwin Nunez and Fabinho in particular, and Alisson dealt easily with a particularly nasty situation when Everton forward Neal Maupay had a clear view of him from very close range. Both goalkeepers could easily be named as the best individuals within their respective teams on the day.
Still, there were a couple of moments when even their brilliance wasn’t enough, and it was the woodwork that prevented Tom Davies scoring for Everton, as well as Darwin Nunez, Luis Diaz and Mohamed Salah for Liverpool.
Both managers arranged their men in a 4-3-3 shape.
For Everton, it was former Liverpool centre-back Conor Coady alongside James Tarkowski, flanked by Vytalii Mykolenko and Nathan Patterson. Picked ahead of returnee Idrissa Gana Gueye, Amadou Onana anchored the midfield where he was joined by Tom Davies and Alex Iwobi. Maupay was flanked by Demarai Gray and Anthony Gordon upfront.
Frank Lampard made just two changes during the game, both devised to introduce fresh legs in the place of the players replaced, with no change to the system. Gueye came on after 62 minutes to replace Davies, and Gordon made way for Dwight McNeil 20 minutes later.
As for Liverpool, Klopp chose to start Kostas Tsimikas on the left defensive flank instead of Andy Robertson, Fabio Carvalho took the place of the injured captain Jordan Henderson in the middle of the park, and Darwin Nunez, freshly returned from his three-game ban, got the nod ahead of Roberto Firmino, but as for the rest of the line-up, it was as expected. Nunez was flanked by Mohamed Salah and Luis Diaz, Carvalho had Harvey Elliott and Fabinho close by in the middle, and at the back, Trent Alexander-Arnold was on the right with the duo of Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk as the last defence in front of Alisson.
With Carvalho kept mostly quiet in the first half, Klopp threw Firmino into the fray at halftime and switched to a 4-2-3-1. The change provided some much needed spark for his team, but that’s the period when Pickford chose to be at his best and there was simply no way for the ball to get past the England No.1. Later on, veteran James Milner replaced Alexander-Arnold at right-back, and then Joel Matip came on instead of Harvey Elliott. That change prompted Gomez to take the right defensive flank as Milner went to his favourite role in midfield, and Matip stepped in beside Van Dijk. Robertson also made a second-half cameo for Tsimikas on the left.
You’re hardly likely to ever see a Merseyside Derby go smoothly, without any calls from the officials sparking debate, and it wasn’t the case this time either. Small wonder, given that this particular fixture has seen the most red cards shown in the history of the English top flight. There were two particular moments, both of which the Blue half of Liverpool are now looking back on with a pang of disappointment, even though both were undoubtedly called correctly.
In the 69th minute, everybody at the stadium though Everton had taken the lead. Gray sent in a cross from the right flank towards the other side, and there it was picked up by Maupay who whipped in low and dangerous across the face of the goal. It found Coady in the far post and the defender diverted it into the net from close range, then celebrated madly despite scoring, as he thought, against his former club. But it was clear to see that Coady was a foot or two offside when Maupay hit it across, and the only question that needs answering here is why the linesman didn’t raise the flag. The goal was eventually ruled out, and even though some outlets in England have labelled Liverpool as ‘saved by the VAR’, it was actually the integrity of the sport that was saved by the technology, as well as the linesman from extreme embarrassment.
The other situation was a bit more tricky. It happened five minutes after the first one. Van Dijk made a very late tackle on Onana and had his studs on the ankle of the Everton midfielder, for which some believe a red card was due. But though it was a late tackle, and a bit reckless one as well, there was no malicious intent from the Dutch defender and he immediately went to see of Onana was alright, and to apologize. It happened directly in front of referee Anthony Taylor, who saw the whole situation quite clearly and deemed a yellow card for Van Dijk was punishment enough. There was no call from the VAR room for him to review it on the pitch-side screen.
Lampard naturally disagreed openly with this decision after the game, but that was only to be expected.
There was no winner from this match, and not just in terms of the final scoreline, but in terms of at least one of the teams being happy with avoiding defeat. With plenty of chances at both ends, both teams will feel that they’ve missed an opportunity to run away with all three points in the bag, though for some Everton fans it probably feels like a victory, given that the gap in quality and reputation between the two Merseyside rivals is still great in favour of Liverpool.
Be that as it may, Liverpool are in sixth place with nine points from six games, and they’ll remain there past the end of the round if league leaders Arsenal manage to maintain their 100% record this term by beating Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon. If not, Liverpool will drop to seventh, overtaken by United.
Everton, meanwhile, are currently in a cluster of four teams on four points, sharing places 16 to 19 with West Ham, Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest. Only Leicester City have a tally lower than this group, sitting at the bottom with one point from six matches.
Looking ahead, Everton will now take a week’s break and travel to face Arsenal next. Liverpool will play away to Wolverhampton Wanderers the previous day, but before that, there’s a small matter of travelling to Italy to take on Napoli in the opening round of the Champions League in midweek.
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