Everton remained in the bottom three as the 242nd Merseyside ‘Derby’ went the way of the home side as two lightning fast counter attacked proved their undoing, Salah in the first half and Gakpo shortly after the restart proving the difference.
With his side miles off the Premier League title race and struggling in recent weeks for the kind of form that has seen them contenders more most of his reign as manager, RS boss Jurgen Klopp spoke defiantly on Friday in his pre-match press gathering.
“This is not a time we wanted to have or a time we are happy to be in or whatever,” the German said. “But I think this is a time where as well we can show, if we want to show, that the club is really special. The boys delivered a lot of great moments in the last few years. In the moment, for different reasons – not all of them are clear – it’s not possible or we didn’t do it. But we are fighting for it, to change the situation in a better direction.”
He continued, “I really believe the better you behave in your lower moments, the quicker you get in the better moments again and then the much more success you will have in the better moments because you are just still together. That’s, I think, in normal relationships like that and football relationships should be like that as well. And I thought so far we did really well all together, especially our supporters. And I’m really looking forward to a derby atmosphere, a proper atmosphere and to a proper, proper football game.”
Coming into the game, they had injury and fitness concerns over DvD, Firmino, Melo (who?) and Thiago with Klopp advising, “The players are back in training but, still in different stages. Diogo Jota is the closest, he trains now normal already for two days, so another three days of training is possible for him. I think he is in contention for the squad, I would say but, we have to wait a little bit.”
Klippity eventually named his startling line-up: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Gomes, Robertson, Henderson (c), Fabinho, Bajcetic, Salah, Nunez and Gakpo.
After a near perfect start to his tenure as manager of the Blue half of Merseyside with victory over the league leaders, the next hurdle for Sean Dyche was the walk across the park and a match-up against a RS side who have, shall we say, stuttered of late in the 242nd ‘derby’ and the new boss was clear on what he was expecting.
“We’re really looking for a performance,” he began with in his Friday press briefing. “Last weekend, it was fantastic to get a win but, I was really looking for a reaction and a performance, and I think we’re still laying that down. We need to give another good performance on the back of one last week. There’s plenty of belief in what we do but, it’s important to take action. When the whistle blows you’ve got to take action, and you’ve got to perform. The last one doesn’t guarantee the next one. I’ve been saying that for years.”
Asked about taking charge of his first Merseyside ‘derby’ the boss replied, “It’s a bigger version of all derbies but, I’m looking forward to it because of the size of it. I grew up during the ’70s and ’80s knowing about the game and knowing about historical games between the two teams. But my key marker is performance levels, and parking the noise around the game. That’s our job. We must focus on the performance and not letting anything affect our build-up and planning.”
Asked if there could be a better time to play Liverpool given their stuttering form of late, he countered, “You can’t guarantee that. It’s a derby game so we know the form goes out the window.”
With Dominic Calvert-Lewin still battling a troublesome hamstring strain, the boss wouldn’t be drawn on who might replace him if he’s noting, “We adapt to the players we work with. You defend as a team and score as a team, so it’s not about one player. He’s a good player but, it’s more about how the team adapts. It’s a great opportunity if someone else plays instead. What a game to step into if Calvert-Lewin isn’t right. So they have to be ready to take it on.”
Knowing a positive result would be an enormous fillip to the club and the legions of supporters, Sean Dyche named his second Everton starting eleven: Jordan Pickford, Seamus Coleman (c), Conor Coady, James Tarkowski, Vitalii Mykolenko, Alex Iwobi, Idrissa Gana Gueye, Amadou Onana, Abdoulaye Doucoure, Dwight McNeil, and Ellis Simms.
Charged with maintaining order in this historically highly-charged fixture was Simon Hooper.
Blues skipper Seamus Coleman was appearing in his 400th game for the Blues and won the toss to turn the sides around for the opening kick-off. And inside 90 seconds, Fabinho fouled Amadou Onana, the free kick lofted towards Tarkowski as he escaped the shirt-grabbing of Robertson but couldn’t direct his header on target. The opening minutes saw Everton pressing the home side making them play long ball tactics. Mistakes at the back by TAA and Matip gave Simms an early shooting chance but, his effort was blocked by Gomez and cleared, and Nunez tried to win a corner off Coleman, the veteran Irish international coming out on top as a goal kick was awarded.
They appealed for a penalty when Nunez went down just outside the area under a challenge from Tarkowski, the set piece taken by TAA who failed to beat the Everton wall. Coleman won another duel with Nunez as the RS went long for the Uruguayan and Robertson was called back for more shirt-pulling and unleashed a foul-mouthed tirade at the referee – charmless blert – and the first quarter hour slipped into the history books with neither goalkeeper tested.
A quick throw-in by the RS saw the ball played out to Nunez who tried an acrobatic shot/cross that found the head of Gakpo to go wide of the target. An accidental collision by Onana on Alisson saw the Belgian get a talking to from the referee before Nunez escaped the attention of two Blues to fire in a low shot that Tarkowski cleared easily. The home side enjoyed a couple of minutes of possession and pressure but, the Blues were standing firm and not getting flustered into making mistakes at the back.
Salah got away from McNeil and Mykolenko but couldn’t find a red shirt with his cross and again, the Blues had men back in numbers to snuff out the partial threat. A foul by Iwobi on Robertson gave them a free kick wide on their left flank, Tarkowski again with an easy clearing header from a TAA centre. An arm into the face of Onana by TAA gave the Blues a free kick just inside their own half and it eventually led to McNeil winning a corner on the right off Gomez. Alex Iwobi sent it deep where Matip easily headed clear and a speculative volley from Gana Gueye cleared the crossbar.
The game was lacking any sign of real quality from either side and through the half hour, Alisson gathered a left wing cross from McNeil far too easily. But a good chase by McNeil saw him win a second corner off Matip and the deep set piece saw Tarkowski climb to beat Alisson with his header only for it to come back off the post and the RS countered at pace through Nunez and his centre found Salah in space and even an out of form Salah doesn’t miss chances like that , especially with Pickford out of position in no-mans land, and the Blues were cruelly punished on 36 minutes.
Into the last five minutes of the half and the home side were now playing with a bit more freedom, marvellous what a goal can do to the confidence and oh how Everton needed to find a goal to get back into the game and disrupt the hosts. Tarkowski caught the ankle of Henderson and got a lecture for his troubles before one added minute was announced and harsh call on Tarkowski gave them another free kick wide on the right that was sent deep to see a Gakpo shot blocked and Gomez blaze the follow-up shot high into the seats.
Half Time: 1-0
No changes by either manager for the start of the second half, a half that could prove critical for both sides, one looking to climb the table towards the European places, the other looking to stave off the threat of a deeper relegation fight.
Doucoure was caught by Fabinho to give the Blues an early free kick that McNeil swung too strongly to the back post area and out for a throw-in to them. And again, they countered from the throw-in at pace to double their lead, Salah finding TAA to cross low to the back post for Gakpo to score easily as Coady incorrectly opted to let the ball run, and Everton had a mountain to climb.
McNeil stuck to his task against Matip to win a corner, Alisson under pressure getting the deep cross away and winning a free kick for the robust challenge on him from Tarkowski. The former Burnley stalwart lost possession in midfield and Salah fed Henderson who saw his first time cross/shot go just too high but again, it was the speed of the counter that was proving a problem that Everton were struggling to cope with. Iwobi took a short pass from McNeil to try a curling shot that went straight into the arms of Alisson, having far too easy a night in the home goal.
They broke again at speed with Salah getting away on the right to then send Nunez in with Pickford denying him at the near post – The RS happy to play on the counter as they clearly had the pace to hurt the Blues who looked somewhat pedestrian in comparison. An hour gone and Everton needed something inspirational or downright lucky if they were to get back into this game and on 61 minutes, Demarai Gray came on to replace Ellis Simms to try and bring about a change of fortunes.
Another quick break saw Gakpo lead the charge before finding Nunez who bent his shot around both Pickford and the far post. Everton were caught in midfield again and were grateful that Salah didn’t get a good connection on his shot. Conor Coady was the first player to see a yellow card for impeding Bajcetic as he tried to force his way pas that Wolves loanee, the frustration on his face at the Blues inability to compete effectively all too clear to see.
Jota replaced Nunez on 69 minutes and Liverpool again looked to use pace as Robertson charged down the left flank only for his cross to go too deep for Salah to get on the end of. Fifteen minutes to play and sadly, Everton still didn’t look to have anything to overly trouble the hosts, so two more changes were prepared for the final stages of an all together disappointing affair. Tom Davies and Neal Maupay replacing Amadou Onana and Dwight McNeil respectively on 77 minutes.
Firmino and Milner then replaced Gakpo and Henderson on 79 minutes before Gray spread a ball wide right for Iwobi and his deep cross found Davies arriving but, he couldn’t find the target, his header going tamely high and wide. A good recovery by Tarkowksi, after he’d given the ball away cheaply in midfield, saw him get back to deflect a Salah shot behind for a corner that was eventually cleared with Milner appearing to foul Maupay, the referee naturally waved play on.
Time was ebbing away for the Blues and frustration again on display as Doucoure was booked for kicking the ball away after fouling Firmino, before some nonsense between Robertson and Pickford nearly boiled over with players from both benches getting unnecessarily involved, and both JP and Robertson yellow carded.
Salah drew a fine save from Pickford at the expense of a corner that led to another corner as Coleman blocked another Salah shot behind before he was substituted by Elliott and four added minutes were signalled.
A disappointing evening for Everton who never really caused the Liverpool defence any serious trouble – the inability to force a meaningful effort on target throughout the ninety minutes proving evermore costly as the weeks go by.