Jürgen Klopp turned on the referee, his assistants, the media and even a member of Everton’s press team over the penalty that cost Liverpool victory in the 229th Merseyside derby. Everyone appeared in the firing line for the Liverpool manager except those ultimately responsible for Sam Allardyce’s pre-Christmas miracle: himself and his team. Put simply, Liverpool gave […]
Jürgen Klopp turned on the referee, his assistants, the media and even a member of Everton’s press team over the penalty that cost Liverpool victory in the 229th Merseyside derby. Everyone appeared in the firing line for the Liverpool manager except those ultimately responsible for Sam Allardyce’s pre-Christmas miracle: himself and his team.
Put simply, Liverpool gave victory away. The home side dominated at Anfield but departed with only a point against an Everton team that came with only containment and a draw in mind. Klopp’s team missed gilt-edged chances, gifted Wayne Rooney an opportunity to equalise Mohamed Salah’s 20th goal of the season from the penalty spot and their manager made life easier for the local rivals by resting Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino on the bench until the second half.
Rotation resembles flawless management when it works, needless caution when it does not. Needless caution offered Everton hope of a reprieve that their performance did not deserve. Rooney seized it, emphatically converting only Everton’s second penalty at Anfield in 80 years, to the obvious fury of Klopp.
“The guy in the Everton jacket, are you happy about your game?” asked the Liverpool manager as he disputed Craig Pawson’s decision to penalise Dejan Lovren for a slight push on Dominic Calvert-Lewin. The guy in the Everton jacket said he was happy with the point. Klopp, bizarrely, replied: “That’s what my mother said when I came from school.”
Not even Allardyce could claim he was happy with Everton’s performance. The visitors’ lack of quality in possession “really did worry me”, he admitted, but he had no complaints about the gift-wrapped point or a defensive display that restricted Liverpool to three shots on target.
Until Salah illuminated a chilly Merseyside afternoon with his latest touch of class, the derby had been a relative non-event. Just how Allardyce wanted it. His team were set up with two banks of four purely to contain Liverpool and hit Calvert-Lewin and Oumar Niasse with first-time long balls. But even the long ball proved beyond Everton, who had all week to prepare while a makeshift team played Apollon Limassol in the Europa League and Liverpool routed Spartak Moscow in the Champions League.
Allardyce knew his team would have minimal possession – they managed only 20% in the first half – but was understandably alarmed by how careless Everton were when they had it. From the kick-off Mason Holgate swept an aimless ball out of play. By the sixth minute Jonjoe Kenny, with a free-kick, and the goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, with three clearances from his area, had also kicked straight into touch. Calvert-Lewin had a thankless task with such a pitiful supply, and Niasse struggled simply to hold up play in the 45 minutes he was involved.
Liverpool dominated, but for all their efforts and occasional success in getting behind the visiting full-backs, they rarely troubled Pickford before Salah struck. Allardyce’s stifling tactics were succeeding. Anfield was growing restless. Then their outstanding Egypt international changed the mood entirely.
Salah’s 13th Premier League goal of the campaign originated from a Liverpool free-kick deep in the Everton half, conceding by Idrissa Gana Gueye with a foul from behind on Sadio Mané for which he was booked. The ball was worked out to the impressive Joe Gomez, who found Salah on the edge of the penalty area. Spinning away from a weak challenge by Cuco Martina, the summer signing advanced into the box, cut inside Gueye and lofted a superb finish around Ashley Williams into the far, top corner. Pickford was left grasping at snow.
Having created little, Liverpool should have put the contest beyond their rivals by half-time. Klopp’s careful rotation policy has worked well throughout a hectic recent schedule but it was not hard to imagine the havoc his team could have wreaked with Firmino and Coutinho on from the start. Liverpool’s territorial dominance and Everton’s meekness would have suited them perfectly.
In fairness Dominic Solanke and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain worked tirelessly in their absence. They were left as bewildered as the Liverpool bench when Mané sprinted clear of Ashley Williams in first-half stoppage time and elected to shoot with the pair, and Salah, unmarked to his right. Mané dragged his effort wide and the second half followed the same pattern with Liverpool in control yet unable to find the comfort of a second goal. The misses lent an air of inevitability to Everton’s equaliser, although they had not altered their negative approach after falling behind.
Rooney, on a rare foray forward, swept a long ball into the path of Calvert-Lewin. The young striker brought it under control and was running away from goal when Lovren pushed him in the back with two raised hands. It was a soft but needless shove, and Pawson had a clear view of the incident before pointing to the spot. Everton’s captain for the day steadied himself and fired the spot-kick down the centre of Simon Mignolet’s goal as the Liverpool keeper dived left. Not scoring in a Merseyside derby had always been one of Rooney’s great regrets in football. No longer. In the 229th encounter, regret belonged firmly to Liverpool and Klopp.