Liverpool 1 Salah, 42’
Everton 1 Rooney 77’ (pen)
Things started off well enough. Liverpool began the 229th Merseyside derby as many expected they would - in control and aggressive. It wasn’t an uncontrolled, unstable aggression that once in a while becomes the defining characteristic of this fixture, but rather the determination of a side that was resolved not to let their hosts establish a foothold in this contest.
For most of the first half, Liverpool were able to do exactly this. Missing Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho due to rotation (and no doubt with the fixture schedule casting a long shadow), Jürgen Klopp’s starting XI were nonetheless able to starve Everton of meaningful possession for long spells in the first 45 minutes. As always, the question was whether or not Liverpool would be able to translate that control into a scoreline advantage.
Unlike some other visitors who have retreated into their shell, aiming to frustrate the hosts first and foremost, Sam Allardyce’s side did not appear to come out completely in shutdown mode. Instead, they were simply a step behind. On those occasions where there were opportunities to break forward from a blunted Liverpool attack, the Reds’ midfield and forwards were quick to harry and smother.
Cuco Martina’s assignment was clearly to do the same to Mohamed Salah, and the defender did so with modest results in the opening exchanges, using his size advantage to slow down the mercurial Egyptian. The threat would have to come from elsewhere, it seemed, and so it did. The rarely used Andrew Robertson, filling in for an injured Alberto Moreno, did what he likes to do - range forward and loft crosses into the box from the left. Joe Gomez, looking like he’s been doing this for ages, was charged with doing the same from the right.
The approach yielded mixed results. You could see why Klopp is a fan of Dominic Solanke. The young striker was active, eager, got into decent positions, and worked hard off the ball, but occasionally needed one more touch than the options on the bench might have, and was also a split second off the pace with his decisionmaking. He was far from completely neutralized, but one sensed the breakthrough would have to come from somewhere else.
And it did, from a not-unexpected source, shortly before halftime. Receiving the ball on the right side of the penalty box from Gomez, and with his back to the goal, Salah outmuscled Martina, eluded the collapsing defenders, and casually curled the ball into the corner past Jordan Pickford. It was a brilliant individual effort, and about as much as Liverpool deserved. It might have been a two-goal advantage moments later, but finding himself in a three-on-one situation with Pickford stranded, Mané elected to go for goal rather than lay it off for a teammate. If you thought that might have consequences later, you’d be right.
For the restart, Big Sam (tm) made two changes, bringing on Morgan “French Dempsey” Schneiderlin and Aaron “Not John” Lennon for Davies and Niasse. The changes didn’t do much to erode Liverpool’s control of the match, but they did encourage a more open encounter, with Klopp’s side enjoying a number of chances and corners at the outset, and Everton also showing significantly more menace on the occasions where they could counter.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, thrown into his first Merseyside derby, acquitted himself reasonably well in the middle, and looked comfortable in the role during the second half. The England midfielder was tidy in possession and quick to harass opponents, forcing Everton into a series of bad passes in transition. If there were complaints about his play in the second half, it would be about consistency in his crosses and balls into the box, particularly as Lennon was minimizing Robertson’s threat from the flank.
Eventually, though, the unconverted chances and wasted corners began to pose a worry. Klopp, somewhat surprisingly, brought Firmino on in place of Salah with a bit more than 20 minutes to go. The Brazilian was his usual elusive self, but needed time to catch up to the rhythm of the match. Unfortunately, just as Firmino was starting to settle, Everton found their equalizer.
A quick ball forward in the 77th minute found Calvert-Lewin in space, but with Dejan Lovren close by in attendance and in a better position. Feeling the Liverpool defenders hand on his back, Calvert-Lewin tumbled to the ground. The contact was minimal, but it was just enough to convince Craig Pawson to point to the spot. Wayne Rooney stepped up to convert and blasted the ball straight down the middle past a diving Simon Mignolet.
With a little over 10 minutes remaining, the match found a higher gear as Liverpool stormed forward to find a winner. Coutinho, and the long-lost Danny Ings, both made appearances as Klopp played his final two cards. The former had an opportunity to make a dramatic statement when Liverpool had a free kick well within Coutinho’s typical range, but Pickford did very well to stop an effort that was directed at the corner.
There were a couple of other attempts on the Everton goal in the dying minutes, but none were close to being on target, the blend of frustration, fatigue, and adrenalin proving to be too strong of a cocktail. It won’t be the first time Liverpool have dropped points to an Allardyce side, but this one stings slightly more than usual. Klopp and company will have to regroup quickly, as there’s more work to be done in not a lot of time.