A late offensive surge by the Blues saw DCL denied by a fine save and Tom Davies denied a winning goal by the goalpost as Everton held their neighbours to a goalless draw in an eerily quiet Goodison Park.
Goodison Park the venue for a 7pm Sunday evening kick-off time and not a fan in sight was a bizarre backdrop to the 236th Merseyside Derby as Everton hosted their nearest rivals as football, but not as we know it, returned to action.
With them from across the park needing just six points from their remaining nine fixtures, Everton went into the game hoping to put a sent in their seemingly inexorable stroll to the title. Everton haven’t won the second league derby of a season since back in the 87/88 campaign when a single goal sent the reds home with their tails between their legs.
Team news wasn’t great for our beloved boys in Royal Blue as the unfortunate J-P Gbamin was ruled out with yet another injury while Yerry Mina, Fabian Delph, Morgan Schneiderlin and Theo Walcott were also unavailable for selection. Pleasingly both Andre Gomes and Lucas Digne were declared fit to play and with the midfield ranks weakened Mo Besic, previously on loan at Sheffield United, was also available.
Speaking to the press via video link Carlo Ancelotti commented about how pleased his influential Portuguese midfielder was good to go, “Andre is really important for us, he came back before the lockdown. He needed time to perform at his best. But now he is fit, in good condition and he is comfortable on the pitch. We are really pleased that he is back.”
Everton resumed full contact training at USM Finch Farm three weeks ago and Ancelotti outlined the challenges in preparing his squad for nine matches in 35 days. “Usually when you come back from a long period [without competitive football] you have around five weeks to prepare the team,” Ancelotti continued before adding, “But I think the physical condition of the team is good enough to play a good game. We gave the players programmes to follow at home [during lockdown]. They came back to training well.”
And on selecting Anthony Gordon for his first Premier League start Carlo Ancelotti said, “He’s trained well, showed confidence, and it’s a good opportunity for him – he deserves to play.”
After weighing up all the options, our Italian maestro named his starting line-up: Pickford, Coleman (c), Holgate, Keane, Digne, Gordon, Gomes, Davies, Iwobi, Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin. The new socially distanced nine-man bench included Virginia, Stekelenburg, Baines, Sigurdsson, Bernard, Kean, Martina, Branthwaite and Beningime.
In the opposite dug-out, Klippity Klopp had significantly less injury concerns with number one goalie Alisson back after a hip strain although Roberton was rested and Salah on the visitors bench. The German manager commented, “I expect us to be in a good shape but we will see how good it is. I expect, like I always do, Everton to be in a very good shape and so it will be difficult for us and rightly so, it’s Premier League. We didn’t play for a while, so we should try to sort the problems in this game, we should give them some as well and then we will see.”
He named his starting eleven: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, van Dijk, Matip, Milner, Henderson (c), Fabinho, Keita, Minamino Firmino and Mane.
The referee, as in the first derby this season, was a bearded Mike Dean.
Sirens wailed, Z-Cars rolled around the Old Lady and the Blues attacked the Park End in the first half after both sides took a knee, despite Mane trying to get away early down the left flank. Pickford with an early nerve-settling save from Alexander-Arnold before Richarlison got on the end of Pickfords clearance to to show Fabinho a clean pair of heels and cross right across the face of goal but just to far ahead of DCL.
Early fouls by Fabinho and Firmino on DCL and Davies respectively suggested the visitors were taking the task very seriously before referee Dean called a hand ball against Alex Iwobi as he looked to burst into the penalty area.
Gordon was caught in midfield and Mane fed Minamino but he blazed a shot high and wide of the Gwladys Street goal. There might have been no crowd inside Goodison, but the opening ten minutes had been played at a decent level of pace and intensity from both sides. Alexander-Arnold wasted a free kick after an odd decision by Dean to penalise Richarlison when it looked more like a foul on him by Fabinho.
A fine through ball from Davies set Richarlison away and with Iwobi, Davies again and Gomes involved, the move broke down as a poor cross from Digne sailed harmlessly behind for a goal kick.
Just before the 20-minute mark, Milner was rightly booked for a poorly timed and crude challenge on Richarlison as the Brazilian tried to get away on the Everton right flank. The visitors had had more possession but the Blues were looking pretty sold and compact at the back while needing a bit more composure on the ball when looking to get forward.
A harsh free kick against Digne gave Alexander-Arnold the chance to cross from the set piece and he found the head of Matip, but he headed wide of the target. A minute later, a free kick to the Blues saw Richarlison find space to get on the end of a cross from Gordon and just clear the crossbar with his header.
Minamino dispossessed Gomes to set the visitors going forward but the move came to nothing as Firmino saw his weak scuffed shot go wide with Jordan Pickford untroubled. On the counter, Gordon with a nice lay-off set up a shooting chance for Richarlison only for Alexander-Arnold to block his effort. Digne sent Gordon away only for his through ball for Richarlison to be cleared by van Dijk.
Mane span away from Coleman and Michael Keane was booked for the resulting foul as he stopped what could have been a dangerous breakaway by the Senegalese; Pickford with a good save from the Alexander-Arnold effort from the free kick.
Four minutes before the break, Milner went down and was immediately replaced by Gomez.
Two added minutes saw neither side able to break the deadlock and they returned to their respective dressing rooms and portakabins level at nil-nil
Half Time: 0-0
Klippity Klopp made a change for the second half as Minamino was replaced by Oxlade-Chamberlain, and the Blues kicked off to attack the Gwladys Street End.
Coleman with a good challenge conceded the games first corner preventing Gomez from getting on the end of a long ball, Pickford with a good punch cleared the corner kick to safety. Keita played a one-two with Firmino to shoot wide with Pickford again untested, but Everton needed to be wary of the visitors getting forward in numbers.
Coleman again did well to get back and challenge Mane, the ball going off the Senegalese for a Blues goal kick as the visitors were began to get the upper hand early in the second half, the opening ten minutes being played largely in the Everton half of the field.
The visitors won a second corner as Gylfi Sigurdsson prepared to enter the fray, the header from van Dijk easily dealt with by Pickford. Gomes with a raking cross field ball found Digne to cross the halfway line only for his long cross aimed at DCL to fall far too close to Alisson. Sigurdsson duly replaced Anthony Gordon just before the hour mark.
A header from Holgatge fell nicely for DCL to get a quick ball away for Richarlison to latch onto but he blazed his shot high and wide. Mane again went down and despite Lucas Digne having clearly and cleanly won the ball, referee Dean gave the visitors a free kick just outside the Blues penalty area. The curling shot from Alexander-Arnold hit the wall and ballooned over the bar for a corner that Iwobi got away to safety.
Klopp made two further changes on 65 minutes with Wijnaldum and Origi replacing Keita and Firmino respectively.
The second drinks break was taken with twenty minutes to go, the Blues probably appreciating the quick breather as the visitors had been much the more dominant side since the half time interval. Matip went down after an innocuous challenge by Richarlison and that saw Lovren replace him two minutes later, as the visitors final change.
DCL was unlucky to be called offside getting onto a ball from Sigurdsson as the Blues finally began to try and force their way forward in the latter stages of the game. Gomes fed Richarlison out wide and his cross saw a deft flick from DCL parried by Alisson and Tom Davies on the follow-up beat the keeper only to see his close range effort come back off the post and put behind.
From the corner, the ball was flicked on for DCL at the back post but he couldn’t direct his header on target. Everton were now growing in confidence and Richarlison tested Alisson at his near post with a low shot the was hurriedly cleared to keep the game scoreless.
Origi was booked for a foul on Seamus Coleman as he tried to break clear and we entered the final five minutes of normal time with the game still delicately poised. The visitors won a late corner and Michael Keane stayed calm to clear.
Bernard came on for Alex Iwobi on 87 minutes, the former Arsenal player having been limping for the previous five minutes or more. A rash challenge by Richarlison brought down Oxlade-Chamberlain for another free kick in a dangerous area as we entered three minutes of added on time. Fabinho curled it and Pickford took no chances in tipping the ball away for another corner.
Moise Kean made a cameo appearance replacing DCL after the corner was wasted and that was that, a very creditable draw for the Blues with Tom Davies having had the best chance only to be denied by the woodwork.