Liverpool: Origi 90+6’
You never quite know what to expect from these matches. We’ve seen drab affairs in the past where one side (usually Everton) tries to contain and frustrate their opponents. We’ve seen high-scoring, all-caution-to-the-wind silliness (usually Liverpool). Quite often, we’ve seen late, late, drama (see, for example, Messrs. Jagielka and Mané). It’s not clear, however, that we’ve seen this.
Sure, the match started out exhibiting all the signs of normalcy. Everton perhaps sensed that, given their new fluency under Marco Silva, this 232nd iteration of the Merseyside derby might be an opportunity to steal a win at Anfield, something they had not done in the league for almost two decades.
With Jordan Henderson absent due to suspension, Xherdan Shaqiri was summoned back into the starting XI, with Gini Wijnaldum and Fabinho cleaning up behind him. It was a lineup chosen for threat, and threaten they did, with Mané, Salah and Shaqiri all looking lively early. But Everton were inclined to show an edge of their own, and the visitors might have opened the scoring early in the match as a free kick conceded by Trent Alexander-Arnold found its way to Yerry Mina, who headed wide.
At the other end, Mané appeared to be Liverpool’s primary source of creativity in the opening phases. The Senegalese forward almost teed Salah up perfectly with a clever chip over the defenders, before (having been played in by Salah this time, returning the favor) blasting over the bar from close range with Jordan Pickford and two Everton defenders closing in.
More muted was Roberto Firmino’s performance. The Brazilian has not always seemed as fluid when Shaqiri is added to the mix, and despite his usual industry - dropping very deep to pick up the ball or backing up Salah and Mané in the press - he labored to make an impact. More often than not, there was a touch of imprecision in his passing, and Everton seized upon those instances gratefully.
Firmino was far from the only culprit when it came to slack possession. Everton’s best chance of the first half came after Salah lost the ball in midfield, leading to a well-executed Everton counter that saw the ball headed across the Liverpool goal, just waiting to be tapped in. When the effort came, Alisson was somehow in the right place to parry, and the ball was bundled off the line by Joe Gomez.
Fortunately, Everton were just as sloppy in possession. An alert Fabinho - who has a decent first half before fading somewhat in the second - nicked the ball and found Salah in space with the visitors struggling to recover. Salah in turn fed an onrushing Shaqiri who was now one-on-one with Pickford, but the shot was not well placed and the keeper saved well. The ensuing corner came to nought.
With the tempo of the match slowing, Everton defended deeper, ceding possession to Liverpool. The hosts did little of note with the ball, and the sides went into halftime all square at 0-0. There were no changes upon the restart, but Everton picked up the pace once again, and showed more willingness to test Liverpool in the second half.
Things quickly opened up for both sides. First, Salah had an attempt from a central position that was just wide. In the 53rd minute, a missed clearance from Michael Keane allowed Mané to sneak past and bear down on goal, but again Pickford was quick to close down and the eventual attempt was off the mark. Attempting to play the creator, Mané almost put Salah through moments later, but the Egyptian was judged to be just offside.
At the other end, Richarlison continued to be Everton’s most dangerous customer going forward, and he proved to be a handful for just about every defender in the Liverpool back four. To their credit, Van Dijk and Gomez keep making a case for being one of the league’s best - if not the best - central defensive partnerships this season, and their surprising closing speed became vital on more than occasion as Liverpool’s occasional sloppiness kept resurfacing.
Sensing a need to reverse some Everton momentum that had been building, Klopp made a number of changes, bringing on Naby Keïta and Daniel Sturridge in quick succession for Shaqiri and Salah respectively. That Firmino remained on the pitch was slightly surprising, and it was not clear what the reconfigured formation was intended to achieve.
Everton’s grasp on the match became slowly firmer. While there were opportunities for Liverpool on the break, the Reds didn’t seem to have the right people in the right place, as evidenced by Firmino being on the pointy end of a counter - which resulted in Everton’s defenders comfortably racing back in time to defuse the danger.
There was one last roll of the dice from Klopp, and by all appearances, it was a desperate one. Forgotten man Divock Origi came on for Firmino in the 84th minute. Shortly after coming on, the substitute had a golden opportunity to give Liverpool the lead when a corner saw the ball drop kindly for the Belgian. Alas, Origi could only guide the ball against the crossbar.
No matter. Deep into stoppage time (thanks to some attempts at killing time from Everton), a desperate cross-field pass from Alexander-Arnold found Van Dijk, whose volleyed attempt was horribly miscued. With the ball looking destined to fall behind Pickford’s goal, Everton’s defenders backed off, ignoring or not noticing Origi lurking menacingly. When the ball came back down to Earth, Pickford horribly bungled the attempt at palming it over the bar, and could only watch helplessly as Origi shepherded the ball into the net from point blank range. Cue bedlam, and the title race continues.