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On Big Sam’s Anfield Masterclass and Failures of Punditry

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Sam Allardyce is a tactical genius and Jürgen Klopp made a blunder if you believe the pundits. You shouldn’t.

Liverpool v Everton - Premier League Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

Sunday’s draw between Liverpool and Everton was a Sam Allardyce masterclass. At least if you listened to some of the punditry vometed out in its wake, the talking heads on Sky and Match of the Day and elsewhere. Everton had come to Anfield with a plan, it said. Had defended stoutly and taken their lone chance to steal a point.

Meanwhile, Jürgen Klopp had made a mistake resting some of his key starters and a frail Liverpool had shown their propensity, as on too many occasions, for being, well, the same old frail Liverpool. Nonsense, all of it; results-based punditry fitting the narrative to a scoreline without the slightest interest in what had come before.

From Alan Shearer, who generally has very little nice to say about Klopp or Liverpool, to Jamie Carragher, who rather trends to the opposite end of the spectrum, and on and on the cry was loud and clear. Liverpool had screwed up, Everton had pulled off something of note, and the managers were each ultimately to blame or praise.

But the actual match didn’t line up with the post-facto fitting of narrative. Outside a controversial penalty, Everton had two shots. One on target. Neither from within Liverpool’s penalty area. They earned one corner. They had 21% of the possession. Their top passing combination was their goalkeeper kicking it up to their striker.

It’s one thing for a team to sit deep, soak up pressure, and look to create something, anything, on the counter. Everton didn’t even do that, though—or weren’t allowed to thanks to Liverpool’s heavy press. And they didn’t actually defend especially well, either, counting more on Liverpool’s finishing running cold than their own stoutness.

Liverpool had nearly four passes for every one Everton completed, and the majority of the match—43% of it, in fact—was played out deep in the Everton’s defensive third. Liverpool had 23 shots, 79% possession, and created enough chances to comfortably win the game 99 times out of 100 if it was played out again and again.

This was not an Everton masterclass. By the numbers, it was one of the worst Everton performances—perhaps the single worst Everton performance—against Liverpool in recent memory. And it wasn’t a performance by Liverpool where they failed to click, failed to create, or gifted their opponent a few chances against the run of play.

Jürgen Klopp’s tactics and team selection worked, and if Sadio Mané had squared to an open man near the end of the first half, Liverpool win it. If Mohamed Salah or Joe Gomez convert high quality headed chances in the second half, Liverpool win it. If an exceptionally soft penalty isn’t gifted to Everton, Liverpool win it.

Everton neither defended nor attacked well, and they counted on a penalty that was at best generous—and at worst for Liverpool and culprit Dejan Lovren a case of the player shouldn’t have given the referee a decision to make. It was, by any measure and metric, an extreme outlier result. Or, more simply: sometimes, shit happens.

It’s frustrating and annoying for a Liverpool fan, and for Everton there is joy in stealing an unearned point from a local rival. For professional pundits to turn it into a Blue masterclass for Allardyce or a blunder by Klopp’s Reds really just shows them up as poor pundits, more focused on creating narrative then helping people to understand.

It’s fitting a narrative to the result, even if it doesn’t fit—Everton stole a point and Liverpool didn’t score as many as they usually do, therefore it must be because Everton did something brilliant or Liverpool did something daft. The reality is Everton were awful and very, very luck while Liverpool played well and were very unlucky.

These results happen, inevitably if occasionally, and as such extreme outliers mean very little—about the teams, players, and managers. There is nothing much in the larger picture, good or bad, for Liverpool fans to take from it. For Everton, there’s a point and that if they consistently play as poorly as on Sunday they may yet be relegated.