Sunday afternoon’s Merseyside derby ended in a 1-1 draw, much to the frustration of the Anfield faithful. With both Arsenal and Chelsea dropping points in their own weekend fixtures, a win would have taken Jurgen Klopp’s men to third in the league. Instead, Wayne Rooney’s penalty cancelled out Mohamed Salah’s sumptuous opener, and come the end of the season, Liverpool may regret not punishing Everton for their not-so-fab performance, writes Maryam Naz.
Everton’s lacklustre showing was sniffed out by Klopp’s hounds from the onset, and the home side appeared to be the stronger side, despite fielding a team without their two Brazilian magicians, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho. The game took a little time to thaw amidst the sub-zero temperatures, and the collective pressure led by Liverpool’s attack added some much-needed intensity to the affair. Despite the Fab Four been separated, both Sadio Mane and Salah lit up parts of the first half with some individual brilliance.
In the 41st minute, Liverpool took the lead, as Salah broke away from Everton’s makeshift left-back Cuco Martina to curl a beautiful shot into the top corner, well out of Jordan Pickford’s reach. The absence of Coutinho and Firmino had put the Egyptian even further into the limelight; on the day, he stepped up to the plate and delivered, crushing the resistance of the Everton defence who had been steadfast up to then. Moments later, Mane had a superb chance to take the Reds into half-time with a 2-0 lead, yet despite having three potential teammates to square it to, he tried to wrongfoot Pickford on his own, but he sent the ball well wide, much to the frustration of Klopp and the vast majority of the crowd.
The half concluded with Liverpool leading by the thinnest of margins, despite Everton’s docile performance. Sam Allardyce’s men had parked the bus for the entirety, and they would surely need to come out from their shell if they were to make the home side rue their missed chances.
Instead, Everton waited. Allardyce brought on Aaron Lennon and Morgan Schneiderlin, but both struggled to stem the Liverpool flow, who resumed the second half like they had finished the first. Salah nearly added another goal to his tally after James Milner’s peach of a delivery, but his header went just wide. Mane then had a hat-trick of chances to give his team some breathing space, but in each instance he was unable to convert.
Then, in the 75th minute, Rooney played a hopeful ball from the right up to Dominic Calvert-Lewin; the defender was being marked by Dejan Lovren, who, instead of shepherding the the England youngster away from goal, decided to give him a push, which led Pawson to point to the spot. Klopp, gesticulating like a madman at the fourth official, was just as enraged as the Liverpool players who had surrounded the referee demanding he revoke his decision. Lovren himself appeared shell-shocked, but up stepped Rooney, who smashed the ball straight down the middle of Simon Mignolet’s goal.
Klopp brought on Coutinho, Danny Ings, and Firmino for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Dominic Solanke and Salah, but it wasn’t enough to get them a second goal. Despite Liverpool having scored four 90th minute goals against Everton in previous Premier League fixtures, they were unable to gain any real momentum in the dying moments of the derby, with the question of ‘what if’ lingering in their minds.
Sunday’s draw came after back-to-back wins for the reds, featuring a 5-1 clobbering of Brighton and a 3-0 whitewash against Stoke. Their blistering attack made them favourites to win against Everton, but Klopp’s resting of both Firmino and Coutinho had dulled that threat considerably. When asked about his rotations in a heated post-match interview, the Liverpool manager defended his tactics by suggesting that rotation of the squad – which he is king of after making 59 changes this season – was vital in protecting his players as they embarked on a brutal run-in of 7 games in 21 days over the Christmas period. That being said, Liverpool’s uninspiring midfield on the day, namely Jordan Henderson and James Milner, lacked the required craft to truly carve open their stubborn opposition.
Despite the draw, there are still some positives to take away from the weekend. Manchester City’s 2-1 victory over neighbours Manchester United means the gap between Liverpool and their friends at Old Trafford is only five points ahead of their respective games on Wednesday night. With the Anfield outfit’s next five games featuring West Bromwich Albion, Swansea and Bournemouth, one would expect Klopp’s men to win these games to solidify their spot in the top four, but if Sunday’s result proves anything, it’s that Liverpool’s strength is not in depth.