Liverpool FC managed to scrape together a comprehensive if, typically, cagey win over Everton on Derby Day. The early kickoff, perhaps, having some say in a bit of the rustiness but my sense is it is really all to do with the nature of it being a derby. Even when Everton are involved, despite the continued downward decline of quality for the Toffees, the matches generally retain some flavor of a hard, back alley scrap.
It’s tough to call what we saw on Saturday that, exactly, though the scoreline would have something to say about that. Instead, we saw one side truly going for it with the other content to absorb pressure and hope that they might be able to pack the 18 with enough bodies to frustrate Liverpool into a draw. Sure, Sean Dyche’s charges might take a moment or two to play it out and try to get it to Dominic Calvert-Lewin. But any attack from Everton in the early going had the feel of a pastiche, something not true.
With the Ashley Young red card, any pretense of playing for anything but a draw was out the window. Everton came out at the half with a double substitution that only brought more defenders into the mix.
I didn’t get to watch the match at its originally scheduled time. Partially because I am an old man that is also a father and so I simply can’t bring myself to either stay up late enough nor to get up early enough for these abhorrent early kickoffs. But also my weekends have become incredibly busy with watching my kid grow and become this amazing human being in front of my eyes. So, I relied on the social media reports before finally setting down to watch it uninterrupted on Sunday night.
What I saw felt slightly dissonant from the major takeaways from the game. I heard a few folks indicate it was a terrible performance and, while I can’t say it was a banner day, I don’t know that it would even approach being dire. It was, maybe, a bit dull, credit to Dyche for finding a way to make the Derby a snoozer.
But even allowing for that caveat, I found myself enthralled at the controlled possession and the moments that allowed for some real expression - the little give-and-go that led to Jota’s penalty shout, for example. Or the way the boys in midfield seemed to have their way with progressive passes.
Yes, it took a penalty and then until stoppage time to bag the brace. To actually come good on all that possession. But owning the ball for 78% of the match against an opponent that basically surrendered at halftime didn’t come off as dire to me. It looked like utter domination, even if the scoreline didn’t reflect it.
Mo Salah’s contributions on the day are going to fade, I’m sure, given that it wasn’t a match that bears remembering. But while the records are important - Mo is further cementing his legacy as the best attacking player that Liverpool has had in the Premier League Era - watching his new evolution as the attacking hub has been a delight.
I’m not going to say he’s doing what another winger that ostensibly played off of the right did, but being the type of force that makes a defense collapse into you, pulling them out of position simply with your presence, and then being able to use your elite complement of skill and physicality to pick out passes or pop a shot is truly special.
When part of the attacking trip with Sadio and Bobby, it was easy for me to underrate Mo’s overall ability. After all, he was tasked to do the type of winger stuff that I’ve seen other wingers do. No, no other wingers were doing it as well as he, necessarily, but it felt something that was translatable. Something I could point to and identify.
What Mo’s doing now is rareified stuff. He’s pulling things out of the ether and manifesting them into goals. It is truly a thing to witness.
Coming to the end of the match, I was left with the resounding feeling that, at a time of deep uncertainty and bleak realities, what a gift it is to not only get to have this little diversion, but to have it be centered on such an unlikely and singular superstar as Mo Salah. Now, more than ever, I’m learning to appreciate the truth that there is only Mo Salah.