“My hand was made strong By the hand of the almighty We go forward in this generation triumphantly”
The victory yesterday was – in the abstract at least rather mundane, yet the wider context that surrounds the game gives it an enormous amount more significance. A small step for the players involved to win a match, but a giant leap for a club having to hold onto an unwanted record.
I am of an age where I have seen both sides of this. As I have written about previously, my first year watching the club consciously was late 1994. I’m sure I wore an Everton kit before that, but my first memories go back to that season. I was in infant school. It would only be the final year where I left junior school that I would see Liverpool defeat Everton. This soon felt a blip when in my 1st year of senior school we would win at Anfield again. It just reaffirmed to me, that though circumstances changed, certain things changed in life, what was consistent was that no matter how bad Everton were (and we were often very poor) we would always find a way to avoid defeat against Liverpool.
At the time I could never understand the nerves of particularly my dad, but also auntie and uncles/older cousins on both sides of my family who would approach the derby match with an unusual amount of nerves. They seemed to have open the possibility we could lose. That just didn’t exist to me. In lieu of any realistic prospect of winning a trophy, the derby fixture became the standout game I’d look out for when fixtures were announced. I’d almost count it down. “There’s only 3 weeks to the derby you know dad” etc. While I was a bit miffed nobody shared my confidence, I strongly suspect my arrogance was also extremely irritating.
It is obviously fine to point out it was only 5-6 years as an unbeaten run, while LIverpool’s unbeaten run sits 10 years, given the relative ages I had in both, the unbeaten run for Everton felt longer to me as it was seen through a young child’s eyes. When I was 10/11 it was all of my conscious life that we had never lost to Liverpool. The last drought has probably been about 40% of my conscious life. Time is relative, e=mc2. It’s worth noting those early years are also your most formative, they are the foundation that you take with you for the rest of your life. So not just from a relative time perspective, but also in terms of what forms your foundation the unbeaten run through the 90’s was extremely important my outlook.
In many ways I was an unfortunate generation of Evertonians. Born too late to have seen any of the 80’s glory, but probably born too early to have seen the relative tranquility of the Moyes era. In my first 9 years the club would be incredible relegation scraps on 6 occasions. This was true of 5 of the first 6 seasons. While the derbies were fun, they were light relief from what was a near constant barrage of anxiety which surrounded watching Everton. I also developed the notion that football was meant to be extremely stressful and disappointing. How the club didn’t get relegated I’ll never know. Go and toss a coin 5 times and see how often you get tails consecutively. In essence that is what Everton managed in the 90’s.
By some fait accompli by parents had also moved away from the city for work reasons so winning the derby really didn’t have the same symbolism that it does for reds or blues in the city. Most of my friends supported Manchester United-with them embarking on what would become an unprecedented domination- there really weren’t that many Liverpool fans. Those that were tended to be split into 2 camps- those with or without connection to the city. For those with a connection, there was almost a begrudging respect for Everton- like my parents many would leave during the Thatcher recessions and see the plight of Everton as a more severe representation of what had happened to their own club and indeed the city region as a whole. For those with little connection, in honesty most didn’t really care. They didn’t really care about the derby, or in truth in football in general as much as I did, or as a rule people from the city would. So while we won derbies, it didn’t really both me much. I could afford to be casual about it.
The two big games they won- were often the talked about 3-2 victory in Easter of 2001 (to end over a decade of dominance Everton had at Goodison) and another 3-2 win in 1999 (the game 6 months before Campbell scores the winning goal). Both were chaotic, at times shambolic affairs. Games where Liverpool seemingly had to win the game 3 or 4 times as they kept giving it away. In 1999 Olivier Dacourt scores after about 20 seconds before Fowler and Berger put Liverpool 3-1 in front (and Fowler famously chews the grass with his nose at the exact point where the white lines are- funny that) with around 5 minutes left. Everton still managed to get a goal back, and have time to have miss an open goal, have one cleared off the line, hit the post and have a clear penalty denied in the final few minutes. It’s chaos, and for a Liverpool fan must have felt like purgatory.
In the Easter of 2001, Liverpool again fall behind, again fight back to lead before Everton claw them back to 2-2. At 2-1 Robbie Fowler misses a penalty to make it 3-1 in a match they are fully in control of. I believe Igor Biscan gets sent off somewhere in this melee and a 2nd soft penalty is awarded to Everton which we convert. Liverpool score a late winning goal and frankly there is not enough time left for them to throw it away. There is 12 yellow cards and a red, 5 goals, 2 penalties, one missed, one converted. In truth the right result probably happens, but goodness me Liverpool made hard work of it.
I felt in winning this derby, it would end up being a chaotic affair. Eventually streaks get broken, and some sense of mean regression occurs but I felt it would be chaotic. Maybe Neil Ruddock comes back and heads one into his own net? Maybe David James punches one in? Or Reidle misses from about 2 yards. Yet the performance, and result was actually quite a sanguine one. If you were writing an objective match report, Everton would have taken an early lead, held onto it relatively comfortably, threatened on the break and eventually caught Liverpool on one of the counter attacks. While as an Evertonian (with 10-20 years of conditioning to erase the early conditioning I mentioned at the start) you are just waiting for something incredulous to happen, to the objective viewer- something crazy will prevent it happening.
Yet, if you can abstract yourself from such conditioning, the game played out in a fairly obvious manner. All week a Manchester City said on the forum would win. Liverpool are on a poor run of form, can’t buy a goal at home and Everton are very strong away and also very robust against the top teams. They’ve now beaten Spurs twice, picked 4 points up from Leicester and Liverpool and beaten Arsenal and Chelsea in the only fixture they’ve played them. In such games, Everton are able to set up like a bottom 6 team, but do so in an elite manager, with rare quality in key areas. Imagine Burnley have a world class player like James Rodriguez who can create out of nothing, and someone who can finish as astutely as Richarlison. For any top team, that must be the stuff of nightmares, particularly one who are bereft of confidence.
The initial goal is a piece of brilliance from James and why he is selecting in such games. Andre Gomes plays left wing to allow him to play his best positon. The centre halves are poor for Liverpool, Kabak is slow and unaware and Henderson gets nowhere near. In Hendersons defence he’s a midfield player, in Kabaks defence he’s 20 and looks out of his depth. The Schalke side he’s signed from had won 1 game all season and he had been hit for 6,7 & 8 so far. It’s not all his fault, but numbers are quite telling.
Richarlison has his best game in a while after that. The hold up play is better and he gets in another couple of times. The goals have helped him and there is a case now that we find a way to getting him down the middle with Calvert Lewin. I have said for some time, keeping Richarlinson, Calvert-Lewin and James fit, at their best and on the pitch for as long as possible will be key to our offensive output. That I’m sure will be what occupies Ancelotti’s thoughts moving forward.
Liverpool press without really carving out many opportunities, and Everton make the best chance of the half, for Coleman who has a free header from 6 yards out. He does well to get on the end of it (beating Robertson to the ball) and Alisson makes a wonderful save. When you reflect how the 2nd half goes, it probably stops the game becoming embarrassing in the 2nd half, such is the lack of confidence Liverpool feel.
I expect an onslaught (Leicester style at Goodison) for 15 minutes from Liverpool and while Liverpool have a lot of the ball it just doesn’t come. There’s one flashed ball across the face to nobody from Arnold and there’s a decent chance for Salah where Pickford does very well to close the angle but other than that there is not much coming from Liverpool. I also think, somewhere between 60-75 they are going to hit the wall. Klopp has not rotated his squad anywhere near enough- a more accurate phrase might be run them into the ground. You sense if we can get to the final 20, the game will be easier to manage, which it is.
Calvert-Lewins impact, for the younger readers amongst you is Ferguson-esque. There is a period in the mid 90’s- before injuries kick in that he is unplayable and strolls around Anfield like he owns the place. He is probably the single biggest reason for the record we had. You got a sense that there was a similar unease about Calvert Lewin when he comes on (with even die hard red Jamie Carragher making constant mention to when he might appear). He’s not fully fit- but what an impact he makes. The defenders of Liverpool cannot get near him when balls are tossed forward. There’s one example where he outjumps Phillips and is able to chest down a ball that Phillips is unable to head. There is another where Robertson tries to knock him off the ball, and just bounces about 3 yards off Calvert Lewin in the process. He just looks bigger- and stronger than the red opponents.
The best example is for the penalty though. Ancelotti is brave in that he leaves 2 up top. Richarlison has already got in on 2 or 3 occasions and in truth should do better (why he doesn’t shoot from 10 yards I will never know). Yet for the goal he does very well, teasing Kabak before eventually sliding a pass in. Calvert-Lewin’s run is eye catching though. Right back Arnold, who is not slow, has a 1-2 yard start on Calvert- Lewin and is going at full pelt. Calvert Lewin is essentially jogging and easily matching him (probably due to protecting a hamstring injury). Suddenly when Calvert-Lewin feels the time is right he just goes through the gears and races past Arnold like he’s not there. Alisson makes before inevitably Calvert Lewin will stroke home into an empty net.
I have seen some debate about what followed, and I am glad that former Liverpool player (as well as all other pundits) on Match of the Day had the honesty to acknowledge it is a penalty. Yes Calvert-Lewin is brought down in the follow through by Arnolds shoulder (which would still be a penalty) but what makes it clear cut is is trips him again, by lifting his right left and taking him down. The only controversy is that there is not a red card (I’m genuinely baffled at how this didn’t follow).
It was pleasing, for perhaps the 1st time this season to see a proper link up between the 2 strikers, and really the 2 playing together through the middle. While it won’t be easy, you do feel that will be the key to Everton’s season moving forward. If we can get the best of both through the middle, we stand every chance of finishing in the top 4-6 places.
There are of course other heroes on the day. Pickford has his best game for Everton. He looked composed, calm and fully in control of his emotions. The save from Henderson is a wonder save that he has no right to make. He adds 3 or 4 good saves on top and his kicking is good. If the previous Anfield debacle seemed to send him on a downward spiral the hope has to be this can have the opposite effect. It’s a game he’s won for Everton, without making any mistakes. If Pickford want to fulfil his potential, and become a world class goalkeeper, that is the level he needs to be at 30+ games a season.
Keane is also very good. He has had a slump recently, but looked far happier to be flanked by quick, agile players either side of him in a 3. We seem to have the personnel to play a back 3, yet have never made it work (though I’m not sure we have ever tried that 3 in question) yet today it worked. If we circle back to the Calvert-Lewin/Richarlison 2 up top question, finding a way of playing 3 at the back could help that. Godfrey is also outstanding to his left and has his best game at CB in a blue shirt.
The win keeps Everton in touch with the teams above them. They will need to find ways of winning against poorer teams. We now have a clearer run until the end of the season, and no European distractions. If this Everton turns up we stand every chance of finishing in the top 4. If the Everton that played Fulham turns up, we may struggle to finish in the top 10. So consistency is required. Yet for one day, all of that pales into insignificance, on a night where Everton showed that there are no demons to be held at Anfield, and a better record should now follow moving forward.