There were no real words to speak at the end of the Derby. No grand phrase that might capture the conflicted morass of emotions and the quagmire of questions that arose out of that result. Liverpool are no longer top of the table and the result that brought that sobering reality to bare was a lackluster and stilted performance against their cross-town rivals, Everton.
To be brought down a peg was one thing. Painful, sure. Especially given the number of chances this squad has had to put Manchester City’s title hopes away. But to finally cede the lead in the title race, this close to the end, on a draw to Everton? That’s just another kind of pain.
But what undoubtedly caught the attention of most fans was another uneven offensive performance. True, the squad was without talisman Roberto Firmino to start, but it wasn’t as though the Reds did not have their chances. Still, the xG map from that day really points to a club that does not seem to be firing on all cylinders at the moment.
xG map for the Merseyside Derby.— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) March 3, 2019
Liverpool had real chances to score but were far from dominant. pic.twitter.com/uORJLuZe1v
So the frustration lies in Liverpool seemingly doing enough on both ends of the pitch - built up enough chances to “expect” a goal and denied Everton any real chances on goal. It is a performance that, on the face, is could be argued as having been a good one. A performance that is typical of soccer in general: that despite all of the industry and graft, absent a piece of magic, one might end up with a result like this often.
And that’s probably the deepest source of frustration in all of this: that even the revelations or meaning of this match feels so slippery and impossible to in down. Is Liverpool’s season over? The math creates a challenging and fearful obstacle to be sure: Liverpool will essentially have to stay close to perfect by taking nearly maximum points here on out provided City also remain consistent in their winning ways. It’s a big ask for a squad that is both younger and thin on title experience in comparison to Manchester City.
But there’s also the truth that the run-in was always likely to be this tight. It doesn’t, of course, undo the angst nor answer the questions surrounding some of Klopp’s rather quizzical decisions (more on that momentarily), but it does feel likely. And given that City also saw a bit of a swoon - a swoon that was what allowed Liverpool to make up ground and claim that spot at the top of the table to begin with - it feels inevitable that the race would contain more twists and turns.
Especially when one reflects on the fact that Liverpool and City, despite being the closest to each other among Premier League sides in terms of quality, are not quite an even pairing. This isn’t an attempt to draw a moral victory, but it is an attempt to provide context. And what that context says is that it was always a bit of an ask to believe this squad of running away with the league without the massive investment and depth that the blue half of Manchester have in their arsenal.
Liverpool’s path to the title was always a narrow one and as such required both a bit of help from other teams catching Pep Guardiola’s side a bit flat-footed, while also turning out performances worthy of earning a result. If that is the metric by which we’re to measure each individual match, the xG and what I saw on the field at Goodison tells me the squad wouldn’t have seen it as an exaggeration to claim a victory. That the ball didn’t end up in the back of the net is just another part of the frustration.
The final part of the knotty rumination on this last result and the attendant fallout in terms of table placement is that the result seemed to hang in the balance with opportunities to try and craft a gilt-edged chance. Klopp brought in Firmino in the second half but also brought in both James Milner and Adam Lallana. Neither of those latter subs seemed to inspire hope in terms of crafting a moment of magic, which is troubling considering there were at least two other options who seemed capable of providing both that extra cutting edge and a bit of grit in the midfield: Xherdan Shaqiri and our very own Admiral Navy Keith aka Naby Keita. Yet, when the match came to a close, both of those options remained on the bench.
And that’s really it, isn’t it? Even allowing for the fact that Jurgen Klopp is much more talented at this than we are. And even allowing that he sees things that we don’t, it’s a bit perplexing to try and understand the calculus on display this weekend. Frustrating because the result was 2 points dropped and the loss of first place. Perhaps most pressing is that it now takes our destiny in the quest for the title out of our hands as we must rely on City to drop points.
Yes, there are still 9 matches left and there is still a lot of season yet to write. But the upsetting math isn’t so much new odds or enigmatic formulations that lead to perplexing coaching decisions. The upsetting math is that while there is undoubtedly still all of it left to play for, a reality exists in which we can, like in this match, do everything we need to do, earn the points required between now and the end of the season, but it still not adding up to us holding that coveted trophy.