Liverpool 1 Mané 90+4'
In the derbiest of derbies, containing more combat than quality, Liverpool left it until late to force their way through and secure victory over their local rivals.
With injuries still an issue and plenty of time between matches before the start of the busy holiday schedule, it was no surprise that Jürgen Klopp presented an unchanged eleven from the one that beat Middlesbrough on Wednesday night, which meant another start for the recently reinstated Simon Mignolet behind a backline of Nathaniel Clyne, Dejan Lovren, Ragnar Klavan and James Milner. Captain Jordan Henderson sat deep in the single pivot, with shuttlers Georginio Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana on either side, while Divock Origi, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané made up the attacking trident.
Make no bones about it, that first half was a mess. Each team were in the ascension for one half of it each, Everton looking fresher early and Liverpool rallying late, but the theme throughout was running, pressing, tackling, and sloppy passing. Only seven shots were taken in all, none on target, and only two were what could've been generously referred to as chances. The first such opportunity came in the 37th minute, when Clyne's cross was hooked wide by Origi from ten yards, and while the Belgian striker should've gotten his shot on target, he had to reach back for a ball that was well behind him. Two minutes from the break, Ramiro Funes Mori headed wide after a set piece, said a bad word in Spanish, and that was that.
The second half started better for the Reds, without that ever amounting to the kind of scintillating play they've displayed earlier in the season. Five minutes after the restart, a Milner through ball fell to Firmino, but his chipped effort was deflected by Maarten Stekelenburg in the Everton goal. The Brazilian made it to the rebound and hooked the ball back across goal, but Mané whiffed on an overhead effort and Clyne's follow-up was blocked.
Five minutes later, Mané ran onto a through ball from Firmino, but Leighton Baines got there first, clearing the ball and taking out his goalkeeper in one fell swoop. The Dutchman was substituted for Joel Robles, coming on for his third Merseyside derby. in the 67th minute, Ross Barkley committed his fourth foul of the night and was finally penalised, but the 23-year old was lucky not to receive a straight red for his nasty studs-up challenge on Henderson's ankle.
The pace picked up as the game drew to an end, with the hosts looking to secure their one point and Liverpool pressing for a win. Ashley Williams headed straight at Mignolet from a set piece, while Origi's near post touch was deflected for a corner at the other end. A corner five minutes later was nearly converted by Firmino, but Robles was quick down to his left to save the Brazilian's volley. Emre Can and Daniel Sturridge came on for Lallana and Origi with ten minutes to go, before Barkley again escaped eviction when he kicked a ball away after the whistle had gone.
Frustration crept into the visitors as time ticked away, and it seemed that would be thwarted in their effort to keep up with league leaders Chelsea, but four minutes into injury time, Sturridge carried the ball across the top of the box and struck a bobbled effort that somehow found its way to the post. Sadio Mané showed terrific reactions, athleticism and desire to beat two defenders to the rebound and smashed the ball home. Firmino nearly doubled the score seven minutes into injury time, but a Seamus Coleman sliding clearance denied the Brazilian.
This was about as ugly a game as the Reds have played all year. Everton were competitive in the first half, but ceded initiative and seemed happy to rough up their opponents as the second half wore on. Mike Dean -- refereeing his first ever Liverpool game — failed to evict Barkley for repeated infractions and a horror tackle, but otherwise had a passable performance.
The Reds front three struggled to put together passages of fluid attacking play in the chaotic environment of the Goodison pitch, and were often let down by their touch and technique, with Roberto Firmino the player most reliably finding some sort of success. At the back, Mignolet looked solid when called upon, while Lovren and Klavan were in full control of Romelu Lukaku throughout. A special word is to be had about the team's offensive set pieces, which were particularly abysmal on the night, and is perhaps the area in which the Reds are most clearly missing the presence of Philippe Coutinho.
Mirroring Chelsea's result and bettering Arsenal's means that the Reds are now in second place with a point to spare, but still sit six points back of Conte's men. Liverpool will now rest on Boxing Day, before welcoming Stoke City and Joe Allen to Anfield on Tuesday the 27th.