Liverpool 2 – Everton 1: Match Review & Analysis

From listening to him talk in press conferences, I get the impression that Jürgen Klopp is now thoroughly bored by ‘The Coutinho Question’. There are almost certain to be numerous reasons for this, not least of which is the fact that the manager expects a certain amount of buy-in from his players. If they’ve turned up for pre-season then he wants them to be there for the year; a fact that is especially true if they’re still there once the transfer window shuts. This week he and his team should have been basking in the glory of two hard-fought wins against Leicester City and Burnley; matches that showed the character that this Liverpool side has to offer when it needs to. Instead, he’s been fielding questions about the future of his Brazilian superstar and whether or not he’s likely to end up at Barcelona before January comes to a close.

It was inevitable that talk about Philippe Coutinho would overshadow the build-up to tonight, but it was another signing whose name most Liverpool supporters were keen to talk about. The £75 million signing of Virgil van Dijk was designed to put an end to our defensive woes, though that wouldn’t happen immediately of course. As kick-off drew closer most Reds wanted to know if the Dutchman would be starting the game. For the manager the question was simple: would Everton show enough ambition to trouble the Liverpool defence, or would it be similar to the league game before Christmas when our neighbours needed a penalty earned from a dive to get themselves on the score sheet? If it was the latter then it wouldn’t matter that van Dijk hadn’t trained with his new teammates, whilst if it was the former it would be a surprise to everyone. How, then, did the game pan out?

He Played van Dijk And He’ll Be Glad He Did

If Jürgen Klopp was unsure whether to play Virgil van Dijk or not he’ll certainly be glad that he did now. The manager explained before kick-off that both Ragnar Klavan and Dejan Lovren had slight knocks, which is why he gave his new £75 million man a run out. If he had any doubts over his choices to throw the world’s most expensive defender in at the deep end then those doubts will be well and truly squashed now. The big man has given Reds a taste of what to expect from him moving forward, shouting and talking to his teammates on more than one occasion. He was quick to tell the goalkeeper when to come out and deal with a deep ball and was commanding in and around the penalty area. He’s exactly what Liverpool have been missing at the back ever since Jamie Carragher retired, at least on first sight. Players have flattered to deceive before, of course, but as debuts go that’s about as good as you’ll see.

He is, primarily, a defender. That’s why I was delighted to see him commanding the backline with such authority despite only having been at the club for a few days. Klopp said before the game that Liverpool fans needed to be patient, that ‘the best things will come’. I’m confident he’s right, but in terms of ‘things to come’ I’m not sure there’s much that will outweigh scoring a header in the Merseyside derby to give your team a win in the FA Cup. That’s the sort of things that dreams are made of and there’ll be a fair few bookies who’ve taken a bit of a hit tonight because of it. Liverpool supporters are naturally dreamers. We always imagine the best and sometimes it results in being unfairly disappointed when they don’t go our way. Tonight, though, that went about as well as it could have done. A four or five nil thrashing would have been delightful, but guts, character and a late winner will do just fine.

The Referee’s Had A Shocker

Any time I write about a referee I normally get people saying ‘We shouldn’t need the referee to beat X’. It’s a bizarre attitude, in my opinion, considering that the referee is literally on the pitch to ensure that the match plays out fairly. Simply to prove the point that I don’t only talk about officials when things don’t go our way, it would be remiss of me not to mention Bobby Madley. Wayne Rooney deserved the yellow card that came his way in the first-half, but make no mistake – Sam Allardyce took him off early in the second because he knew he’d be getting sent otherwise. The former Manchester United striker essentially jumped on Emre Can’s back and kicked his legs in a move that would’ve been a yellow card if the referee had any idea how to control and keep up with a football match.

That, though, was nothing compared to the Lilly-livered manner in which he dealt with Mason Holgate towards the end of the first forty-five minutes. The Everton defender deliberately pushed Roberto Firmino into the advertising hoarding when the ball was already out of play, knowing full well that it could injure him badly. He then reacted when Firmino swore at him in Portuguese and manhandled the referee. Madley was even told by the fourth official that it was more than just a booking, yet the man in the middle didn’t even show him a yellow card. Everton fans can be aggrieved at his performance, too. The referee gave some fouls that weren’t, ignored some that were and generally got his decisions dead wrong. The penalty was a soft one, though no less soft than the one Dominic Calvert-Lewin won at Anfield in the league game. If both sets of supporters think you’ve been dreadful, that probably tells you something.

Can And Milner Don’t Work Together

If you believe the press speculation that did the rounds this morning, Emre Can is off to Juventus at the end of the season. There are some Liverpool supporters that a deeply upset about that, believing as they do that he’s one of the finest midfielders that’s ever worn a Red shirt. Personally I’m a bit more circumspect about the whole thing. When the German arrived at the club he clearly had bags of potential but could throw in as many mediocre games as he did exceptional ones. For me personally, that’s also the description I’d use for him now. There’s no question that he’s got talent and it’s a shame that we’re likely to lose him for free, but I’m not sure he’s this absolutely world-class player that other people think. I’m certainly not sure that he’s quick or strong enough to control the middle of the field when played alongside the likes of James Milner in a game such as tonight.

The Liverpool number seven knows how to take a penalty and for that I’m massively grateful that he was on the pitch when the moment came. Yet his movement is also slower than the passage of time, with the thirty-two-year-old nowhere near the thrust of the play when Everton broke though the middle. The pair of them together didn’t offer enough control over the midfield, though I would also say that neither of their midfield teammates helped them out particularly. I thought Adam Lallana looked really good against Burnley, but tonight he looked like a man who hadn’t played football for the best part of six months. He was rusty, to be polite, whilst Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain ran hard but couldn’t pull anything off. He was sloppy in possession a couple of times and we might have been punished if we’d been up against a team who had some actual ability. It’s poor form to talk about bad points when you’ve won, I realise, but with Manchester City up next Jürgen Klopp will be having some thoughts about his midfield.

Robertson Is Getting Into The Swing Of Things

Some people are so obsessed with being ‘right’ that they refused to acknowledge what a good season Alberto Moreno was having before he got injured. He literally had one poor game, which came against his former club just days after his son had been born. That that didn’t arrive until months into the season didn’t bother his critics, who jumped on the performance to say that Andrew Robertson should’ve been drafted in immediately and his Spanish counterpart not allowed to play for us again. Robertson remained benched, Moreno kept playing. His injury gave the Scot a chance to prove his worth and to begin with all he did was show people exactly what it is that his fellow left-back had been bringing to the side up until that point. Moreno was far more quick to get involved with the attack and picked out more intelligent passes than the former Hull man.

Left with no choice but to continue playing him, I imagine that the manager will be really pleased with his development during the Christmas period. He’s starting to look settled now and was really impressive tonight. It was clear from the off that Sam Allardyce had put a target on his back, constantly getting his players to give the ball to Yannick Bolase in order to ask him to run at the left-back and see what he could create. Instead of wilting, Robertson rose to the challenge. That’s not to be under-estimated when you remember that Bolase regularly turns into Lionel Messi when he comes up against us. Yes he’s still coming back from injury, but the winger got absolutely no change from the left-back, who did exactly what his manager would have wanted him to do. He’s not a tall player, yet he won the vast majority of his headers and also had more touches than anyone else on the pitch. If Allardyce had hoped that the youngster would be a weak link then he was left disappointed. Perhaps he should have told his players to make van Dijk instead?

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