This is one of the oddest derby games that I can remember in my adult lifetime. It would ordinarily be one of the biggest games of the season, yet neither sets of supporters are particularly excited about it. From Everton’s point of view, they haven’t beaten us in a derby since October 2010 when Roy Hodgson was our manager, meaning that this should be a time to be desperately hoping that they can end that miserable record. The problem that they’ve got is that they absolutely despise Sam Allardyce, and with good reason. He’s their version of Hodgson; someone that doesn’t understand the football club and should never ever have been appointed in the first place. A win for them would allow the former England manager to claim that he’s some sort of tactical genius and may even see his contract extended, when most supporters would want him sacked tomorrow if they could. It’s an odd thing to be worried about winning a derby because it would mean that the first manager to do so for seven and a half years would keep his job.
Gotta be one of the most bizarre build-ups to a derby, this. Half of our lot want some kids, the kit man and Janice from the canteen playing, and half of theirs would take a hammering to get rid of Allardyce.
— Grobbelrevell (@markbrucerevell) April 7, 2018
The build-up from Liverpool’s point of view has all been about the second-leg of our Champions League tie against Manchester City. Supporters were essentially split down the middle, with one half believing that the Merseyside derby is never not important enough to play your strongest side, whilst the others would happily have played the U23s in order to preserve all of our best players ahead of Tuesday night. I certainly didn’t envy Jürgen Klopp having to pick a side for today that could potentially win the match whilst also not taking any chances with all of our best players. I also feared that one or two Everton players might take the lead from Ramiro Funes Mori, who went into a disgusting tackle against Divock Origi when we played the Blues during our last run in a European competition and ruled him out for the best part of the season. That’s to say nothing of the way that Dominic Calvert-Lewin dived against us in the league derby at Anfield for the penalty. How, then, did everything pan out?
It’s Not A Game You Can Read Into
It’s tempting to reflect on pretty much every match that is played and to try to read into the performance and result and jump to conclusions. You see it from time to time when a player has one bad game and people then decide that they’re absolutely terrible and never accept decent performances from them in the future. It would be easy to look at today’s match and decide that we’d ‘never be able to win a title if we can’t handle matches on two fronts’, for example, but if you read too much into today’s game then you’re barking up the wrong tree. We could have scored two or three in the first half, with both Dominic Solanke and James Milner having gilt-edged opportunities.
That was a performance of a side half of whom have barely played any football this season and the rest coming off the back of the most intense game of the season. A point is perfectly fine.
— Joel Rabinowitz (@joel_archie) April 7, 2018
From our point of view, the team was made-up half of players that will have been absolutely knackered after their Herculean effort on Wednesday, whilst the other half featured players who are out of form, out of match fitness or out of both. We went to Goodison Park so shorn of options that Ragnar Klavan had to play left-back and the front two was made up of one player who hasn’t scored a senior goal for Liverpool and another who hasn’t scored for a year. That’s to say nothing of Nathaniel Clyne coming back in at right-back after so long out. It was a rag-tag team that was essentially thrown together according to which lads could make it onto the pitch. Given that Everton barely laid a glove on us, that really says something.
Everything For Us Was About Tuesday Night
It’s not unexpected for a manager to say that all he thinks about is the next game. It’s repeated so often to have basically become a cliché. I think that that line of thought is true of players, but there’s no way that managers actually only think about the upcoming game. If that were true then Roberto Firmino will have started today, yet he was on the bench. Even when he came on he was clearly under instruction to play within himself. I can’t remember a performance from him that was so disinterested in the outcome. I also think that Sadio Mané was told not too push himself too hard. They are, to me, clear signs of the manager thinking about Tuesday above everything else. The substitutions of James Milner and Mané prove it, too.
Looks like Wijnaldum has started as the 6 here. Henderson and Milner either side. Probably to give him so practice in that role ahead of Tuesday.
— Jack Sear (@JackSear) April 7, 2018
Both the selection of Gini Wijnaldum and the position that the manager asked him to play were signs that Jürgen Klopp had Tuesday very firmly in his mind. The booking of Jordan Henderson means that he won’t be on the pitch on Tuesday to play the number six, whilst James Milner probably doesn’t have the legs to do it and it would be a waste of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s talent to ask him to play there. That means that the honour rather naturally falls on Gini, so giving him time to get used to it is important ahead of the Champions League match. The good news is that he looked quite comfortable there and was probably our Man of the Match. There were a couple of passions when he looked like was going to be caught in possession only for him to glide free. More of that performance at The Etihad please.
It Was More Like A Training Match Than A Derby
In the introduction I mentioned the fact that I was concerned ahead of kick-off that some of Everton’s players might be keen to leave a foot in on one of our more important players, or go heavy into a challenge if the opportunity arose. Though there were a few tasty moments that Michael Oliver could’ve justifiably shown a yellow card over, the game was mostly played out at a pedestrian pace. I think the problems that Blues supporters have with their manager, combined with the issues some players seem to have with him, meant that they just weren’t as partisan as they’d ordinarily be. Wayne Rooney’s refusal to even shake Sam Allardyce’s hand summed up the entire thing for me. It seemed to demonstrate a disdain for the former England manager that most people in the stadium were probably feeling.
No yellow cards in a Merseyside derby for only the second time in Premier League history (also Dec 1992) #eveliv
— Jonny Blain (@jonoblain) April 7, 2018
That was exactly what Klopp will have been hoping for, of course. The Everton players will have wanted to win today, of course they will have. They’ll be just as aware as both sets of supporters that the Blues haven’t beaten us in a derby at either ground for more than seven years. Yet only Rooney in that squad has that deep-seated hatred of Liverpool that will have made them want to go crashing into tackles or trying to prove a point. It was great to see the entire ninety minutes played out in a manner that suggested both sides just wanted it over and done with. Yes, they had chances towards the end of the second-half, but they came out of our fatigue rather than particularly brilliant play from them. Liverpool very much have bigger fish to fry this season and whilst it would’ve been lovely to nick the win, that played out pretty perfectly as far as I’m concerned.
Karius Is Starting To Look The Real Deal
The current Liverpool squad feels as though it’s made up of players that have a selection of the fanbase waiting for them to fail. No player sums that up better than Jordan Henderson, who will be a massive miss on Tuesday night but who scores of our supporters believe is average and are delighted won’t be at The Etihad. If not Henderson then see Dejan Lovren. If not Lovren then Alberto Moreno, who might’ve started this match but felt a twinge in his thigh during the warm-up. Then, of course, there’s the goalkeeper. I would be the first to say that Loris Karius had a rough start to his Anfield career. He looked good in pre-season, only to break a finger in a clash with Lovren and be out for the first few months. Simon Mignolet then went through one of his purple patches and everyone forgot that he’s really rather average.
23: Stunning save, @LorisKarius! Bolasie feints in from the left and curls a strike towards goal, but Karius does excellently and his fingertips turn it behind.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) April 7, 2018
When Karius finally came back into the team few supporters had any time for him. They bought into the hype from the likes of Gary Neville and other members of the Sky Sports team that he wasn’t good enough and should be dropped. When Mignolet came back in too many people were willing to ignore his poorer displays because they thought the option of the German was too weak. Performances of Karius were viewed with confirmation bias, with good saves or decisions being ignored and goals being pinned firmly on his door. It was ridiculous, quite frankly, with some people giving him daft nicknames like ‘smoke hands’. Yet since he’s been confirmed as our number one, after a decent amount of time to settle on Merseyside, get to know his defence and begin to understand what Klopp wants from him, he’s looking like the goalkeeper we thought we were signing.
His improvement can be seen most clearly in the save he made from Yannick Bolasie in the first-half today. Bolasie always seems to turn into Lionel Messi against us and his shot looked as though it was heading for the top corner before the German got his fingertips to it. It was the sort of save that if David de Gea had made it everyone would be saying that’s why he’s the best in the world. Even now, praise of Karius is met by skeptical responses. ‘It’s down to van Dijk’, some will say. ‘Even Mignolet had purple patches’, will be the response of others. Yet the German arrived with a reputation of being the second-best goalkeeper in the Bundesliga behind Manuel Neuer, so it’s far more likely that he’s reverted to his talented mean now that he’s settled. He’ll face sterner tests on Tuesday, but even if he concedes it’s time for us to admit that he’s deserving of the praise he’s been getting. Today was just another example of the clear talent he’s got.