The incredible away form of Everton came to the fore as they strolled across Stanley Park and strolled to victory on strikes from Richarlison and a coolly taken penalty from Gylfi Sigurdsson to end the long wait for a win at our original ground.
Tea-time on a Saturday back in the day was William Hartnell in Doctor Who or David Jacobs hosting Juke Box Jury, and waiting for the Football Pink to read the days match reports… but those days are long, long gone and this Saturday tea-time threw up the 238th Merseyside Derby as Everton took a stroll across Stanley Park to their old ground to face ‘them’.
The red side have stuttered of late losing their last three league games including two on our old ground but, recovered some momentum in midweek with a two-nil win over RB Leipzig in Hungary in which the German club conveniently contrived to gift them the two goals.
The home side had a number of injury and fitness concerns before hosting the Blues and manager Jurgen Klopp advised, “Naby (Keita) trained yesterday with the team, so we have to see what we make of it. Fab (Fabinho) was not in training, all the others not as well. Nothing new. They all get closer – Fab gets closer, Millie (Milner) gets closer and Diogo (Jota) gets closer, but not close enough for the weekend.”
In a barely, no poorly, concealed reference to the Goodison derby that ended in a 2-2 draw, Klopp remarked, “Nothing will be carried over until tomorrow. A week, two, three weeks later when we got the diagnosis [about Van Dijk’s injury] it was good that we didn’t play Everton immediately again. Now it is the right moment to play Everton. We will be ready. It is very emotional [playing a derby] but we always are emotional.”
Having stoked the fire Klippity named his starting line-up: Alisson, Alexander-Arnod, Kabak, Henderson (c), Robertson, Thiago, Wijnaldum, Jones, Salah, Firmino, and Mane.
Such is the topsy-turvy season Everton have endured, with 13 points from their last 15 available away from the Old Lady being in contrast to just one point gained from the last 15 available at home, the Blues might actually have been more relaxed about playing away from home. Certainly, we were in need of a fillip and a result at our former ground would be the ideal tonic to get Blues everywhere feeling better about the rest of the campaign.
With Yerry Mina unavailable having picked up a calf strain in the midweek loss to Man City, Blues were eager for some good news, and when it came, it was good as boss Carlo Ancelotti confirmed, “Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Allan are back. For the fact we have a lot of games in this period, it is important to have all the squad available. We are close to having all the players fit. This is important. We can rotate a little bit and keep the squad more fresh. Allan was out for two months. To have him back is really important for us. All the players available can start the game. If the players were not able to start, they would not be available [for selection in the squad].”
Ancelotti too referred in passing to the first derby when he politely commented, “It was a long time ago and what happened was an unfortunate contact and we were really sorry that Van Dijk couldn’t play in this period. But everything has gone now and tomorrow is another story. Gone as far as Liverpool are concerned? I don’t know. I think Liverpool are going to play a game, like us.”
Knowing exactly what a derby encounter means, Ancelotti said, “It is important to be focused on what we going to do in the game, the strategy of the game, to be brave and confident. You have to try to find a solution up front, you cannot only defend against them. You have to try to propose something [cause problems offensively] and we are going to try to do that. I am happy to have Allan back, it is really important for us in this period, the consistency of the team is going to improve [as a result]. Allan can add more intensity, more concentration defensively, but Tom Davies, who replaced him most of the time, did really well.”
With an almost complete squad to draw from, Carlo Ancelotti opted a starting eleven of: Pickford, Coleman (c), Holgate, Keane, Godfrey, Rodriguez, Doucoure, Gomes, Davies, Digne and Richarlison.
In charge of maintaining order in a fixture that has seen a record 22 red cards over the years, and with the sycophantic media and especially the insipid, nauseating Martin Tyler all endlessly referencing the VvD injury, a strong refereeing performance was likely required if tempers on either side looked like fraying, the man entrusted with this potentially onerous task was Chris Kavanagh.
Kabak conceded a corner inside ten seconds and the Digne set piece hit Ben Godfrey and span wide of the far post. And inside three minutes the Blues took the lead, Doucoure finding Rodriguez and a slide-rule through ball found Richarlison getting beyond Kabak to fire a low shot beyond the despairing dive of Alisson.
James Rodriguez took one in the ribs from the snide Robertson, typical off-the-ball RS tactics and a couple of minutes later Alexander-Arnold arrived late on Richarlison. Pickford at a stretch pawed a cross from the right to safety with the help of Digne as ‘they’ tried to get back to level terms.
A cross from Thiago brushed the head of Digne for a RS corner, Wijnaldum heading the set piece miles wide of the target. The strong wind was causing both sides problems in judging the strength of passing and whether to go long and high.
A quarter of an hour gone and Kabak was the next to foul Rodriguez, referee Cavanagh resisting the option of showing a yellow card, Rodriguez striking a low free kick shot that Alisson saw all the way and gathered easily. Mane into the Everton area and the ball fell to Firmino, his shot taking a deflection off Keane for a corner that wasn’t completely cleared and eventually fell to Henderson for a volley that Pickford dived full length to turn away for another corner that was defended well.
Pickford with another fingertip save to a shot from Alexander-Arnold saw ‘them’ waste another corner. Everton were defending competently, closing down well but still needed to be constantly alert for long balls over the top in the windy conditions. Henderson went down with what looked a hamstring pull but after treatment played on for a minute, before being replaced by Nat Phillips.
Holgate was harshly adjudged to have fouled Mane having clearly played the ball, the free kick in a dangerous position but, Alexander-Arnold put his effort over the bar. Tom Davies, anchoring the midfield, was having another good game and a ball to Gomes saw him lay it back for Digne to cross and find the diving head of Seamus Coleman, Alisson making a fine save to deny the Blues skipper at the expense of a corner that saw Digne fire a shot just wide.
A loose ball from Gomes saw him get a lecture from referee Cavanagh for an unpunished foul on Thiago, moments later Phillips put a header from a free kick wide of the target and into the side netting. Davies halted Salah and better work from Gomes saw him clear a cross from Mane. The first yellow card of the game was shown to Andre Gomes for a poor challenge on Salah as Everton continued to allow ‘them’ more possession, Pickford claiming a cross from Salah confidently in the final five minutes of the half.
Four added minutes were signalled as Kabak fouled Seamus Coleman and was rightly booked for his indiscretion. For all the possession they’d allowed ‘them’ to have, Everton were certainly capable of moving the ball around well themselves with Davies, Gomes and Rodriguez all contributing, Gomes much more effective going forward than defending. Wijnaldum moaned at being called for a foul on Coleman and the half ended with the Blues ahead on the third minute strike.
Half Time: 0-1
No more changes to open the second half, with Everton to attack the other end and Pickford with another comfortable save on a Mane header from a Robertson cross. For those not watching via Sky, rest assured, the sycophant Martin Tyler was spouting his usual unbalanced bile.
Salah played Alexander-Arnold into the Everton area, Holgate with the clearance before a cross from the right found Mane and he headed high and wide, but a better start to the second half by ‘them’. An excellent last ditch tackle by Michael Keane on Mane saw the ball fall nicely for Pickford but, Everton needed to settle down and get back to what had worked so well in the first half.
Gomes, defending, was caught in possession by Firmino, his shot on the turn not strong enough to concern Jordan Pickford. Salah went down theatrically and should have been booked for a blatant dive ahead of Everton making their first change on 58 minutes, Gylfi Sigurdsson replacing Andre Gomes.
Holgate was fortunate when being caught in possession and fouled by Thiago, Everton still not back to the pace of the game looking to introduce Calvert-Lewin to give them an outlet. A ball through from Coleman found Richarlison in the box, his shot blocked and the second change was made on 62 minutes, Dominic Calvert-Lewin coming on for James Rodriguez. ‘They’ replaced Jones with Shaqiri as a counter measure.
A Richarlison cross for DCL was headed out to Doucoure who found Sigurdsson, Alisson saving his low shot easily but, better from the Blues. Godfrey with a full-blooded tackle on Shaqiri saw ‘them’ hit back with a ball out wide left to Alexander-Arnold, his cross going all the way out for a throw-in on the other side of the pitch.
Mane was booked for dissent on 67 minutes having been penalised for fouling Holgate who, by and large, had played the Senegalese striker really well to this point at least. ‘They’ worked the ball well to get into the box with Salah and Shaqiri, Jordan Pickford with an excellent stop to deny the Egyptian at close range.
Into the final twenty minutes with the Blues still a goal to the good, Salah running into Digne and appealing for a foul that it certainly was not. DCL took a high ball well and getting into the RS area, couldn’t get a cross in before the ball ran out of play. Firmino blazed a shot high and wide after a burst through the middle by Alexander-Arnold.
Keane again excellent in seeing a through ball by Shaqiri got the ball away as the home side kept coming forward. Keane again with a block on a shot from Alexander-Arnold before two Blues, Richarlison and Lucas Digne went down but, were okay to continue. Coleman blocked a Robertson cross at the expense of a corner, that ‘they’ played poorly and Keane was able to clear easily.
Keane and Davies defended well to release Richarlison to feed DCL, his shot was saved but he was brought down by Alexander-Arnold going for the loose ball and the referee had no hesitation awarding the penalty. VAR reared its ugly head but the referee was adamant after an extremely quick look at the replay, and Gylfi Sigurdsson coolly slotted low to the right of Alisson for nil-two.
Mane saw a shot go wide as ‘they’ tried to hit back straight away and the Blues made a third change as Alex Iwobi came on to replace Richarlison with a little over four minutes left in normal time. The divvie Origi came on a minute later for the grossly over-rated and ineffective Thiago. Mane went down claiming a foul by Michael Keane who had been absolutely superb all game, and Pickford gathered a cross from Firmino with ease.
Five added minutes were indicated with the Blues still happy to allow ‘them’ the ball and defending excellently with Pickford producing another fine save to deny Wijnaldum a late consolation, Phillips heading the resulting corner high over the bar. Digne suffered a late knock and needed treatment before carrying on.
This was a great showing from the Blues, rock solid in defence with Pickford and Keane outstanding, Tom Davies and Abdoulaye Doucoure tireless in midfield and when we needed a goal, it was Richarlison the provider and creator.