Sandwiched as it was for Liverpool between two legs of their Champions League quarter final against Manchester City, it was easy for the Merseyside Derby to feel an afterthought in the buildup. And it was clear what the priority was for Jürgen Klopp—keeping Liverpool’s stars fit for Tuesday’s second leg and the chance to push into the Champions League semis.
In the end, though, it was still a derby; still Everton, the local rival that had only won twice in 22 meetings in all competitions in the past decade and four times total since the turn of the millennium. It was still a game that mattered, so by kickoff it was impossible for it not to feel at least a little important, even if for Liverpool there remained more pressing concerns.
The lineup reflected that feeling of conflict. Dejan Lovren and Virgil van Dijk again starting at centre half but Nathaniel Clyne coming in for Trent Alexander-Arnold at right back. Ragnar Klavan also came back into the fold, unexpectedly starting at left back on a wet day at Goodison after Alberto Moreno picked up a knock in the buildup.
James Milner—so key in mid-week—started in midfield alongside Jordan Henderson with the captain ineligible to play in the Champions League second leg, but Gini Wijnaldum came in to give Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain a rest. Meanwhile in attack there was only Sadio Mané of Liverpool’s usual attacking trio, with Danny Ings and Dominic Solanke both given starts.
When it did kick off, the 231st Merseyside Derby saw Everton, who made just one change from their previous match—a 3-1 loss to Manchester City—on the front foot in the opening minutes, the lineup changes and perhaps a slight hangover from mid-week showing for a visiting Liverpool side that struggled to work themselves into the game.
Everton looking more fired up for it and having more of the ball in the early going, though, didn’t amount to much of note. And it didn’t last for long, as the first real chance of the match fell to Liverpool’s Solanke 12 minutes in when Milner checked the ball back to him from the left wing. The big striker, though, could only send ensuing the header wide.
Solanke had another chance minutes later and just yards from the goal when Clyne’s cross fell to him, but he put it straight at Jordan Pickford. It should have been the opening goal of the game and his first as a Liverpool player. Liverpool had found their legs, and would look the better side for most of the rest of the half even if Everton did have a few moments.
The best of those moments for the Blues resulted in a Karius fingertip stop on Yannick Bolasie, as the Everton forward cut to the middle and curled a shot that was heading into the corner. But for every good moment for Everton, it felt like Liverpool had a handful, and they were unlucky to go to the half with the scores still level.
The second began as the first ended, with Liverpool the better side and Everton turning the ball over far too easily any time they did get possession. The Reds didn’t look at their most dangerous—no surprise given the changes made—but they were the only side pressing, pushing, fighting to win every second ball and faster to ping it around once they won it.
At times it felt as though Sam Allardyce’s side was happy to see out a draw if they could, an indictment of Everton’s manager and players given the circumstances—about the most lively they looked until near the end was when Seamus Coleman took offence at Ings calling him a diver when the Blues fullback went down easily under challenge near the hour mark.
Finally, though, with the clock nearing the eighty minute mark, Everton began a late push to find themselves something of a famous victory against a weakened Liverpool side, and if Solanke will be upset at his first half miss, incensed Blue Coleman will be just as put out at having passed up a chance to tap the ball into an open goal on the 87 minute mark.
Just as Liverpool’s earlier chances and half-chances hadn’t been enough, though, in the end Everton failed alter the scoreline and the nil-nil draw feels a reasonable result. Liverpool looked better for much of the match but lacked attacking edge; Everton failed to turn early and late advantages into goals; and the Reds now turn their attention back to Europe.