Those Nine Months – Everton (A)

The two most difficult remaining fixtures are done and dusted and only a hair’s breadth still separates the Reds and Manchester City. Why the Merseyside Derby draw is not the end of the world.
Mike Nevin  |  4th March 2019

Goodison was everything we expected.

Everton’s players performed as if their lives depended on it, the home crowd bellowed and wailed as though a decade’s worth of trophies were at stake. The roar that greeted the final whistle was a tribal, primaeval outpouring of relief that quickly turned to jubilation at stopping the Reds in their tracks.

The Blues have suffered so often at the hands of Liverpool, repeatedly thrashed at Anfield, humbled on home turf and broken in a catalogue of cup semi-finals and finals, they were bound to treat this an epic victory. For a few stolen moments Evertonians might have revelled in the notion their team have wrecked Liverpool’s title dream but the reality is, that with nearly a quarter of the season left, their worst nightmare can still come true.

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Anyway, enough about them. Liverpool fans still have so much to look forward to and nobody should be throwing in any towels. The two most difficult remaining fixtures are done and dusted and only a hair’s breadth still separates the Reds and Manchester City. The notion that a title rests in anyone’s hands with twenty-seven points to play for is a nonsense that exists only in the minds of those who reckon without human fallibility.

The fact that Manchester United and Everton, each fervently hoping for a Liverpool collapse, have pilfered four precious points is galling in the extreme. Adding to the frustration is that the Reds, while not at their best, created enough chances at Goodison to have laid Everton to waste. If the swirling wind – a pet hate of Jurgen Klopp – was a leveller that suited the home side’s desire to invite a scrappy affair, the blustery conditions can’t account for Mohammed Salah’s touch deserting him.

Typically, given the grief we’ve thrown Jordan Pickford’s way since his Anfield aberration, the Blues’ keeper excelled himself in thwarting Salah in the first half. We’ve become so accustomed to the sight of Salah’s unerring left-foot precision that it was a genuine shock to see Pickford repel his shot from close-in at the Gwladys Street End. Reactions at both ends told their own story; manic applause from the Blues, eyes cast to the skies in disbelief in the Red corner. The only consolation was the hilarity of a Goodison scoreboard flashing up “England’s Number One” in comical fashion.

In the second half, again Salah contrived to waste another golden opportunity; a rare heavy touch allowing Michael Keane the chance to whip the ball away from his feet when he looked certain to burst the Park End net in front of the Liverpool fans. Despite the escalating tension, Everton never truly looked like scoring with Virgil Van Dijk marshalling their occasional forays with consummate ease.

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When Van Dijk sauntered forward for a corner, winning a header at the far post and nodding across goal into the path of Fabinho it looked like Liverpool’s moment of truth had arrived. Time seemed to stand still as the ball hung in the air just waiting to be volleyed home, but Fabinho opted to control on his thigh instead of lashing out with his left foot and the chance was gone.

Klopp, recognising the urgent need for a winner, sacrificed a toiling Gini Wijnaldum and an ineffectual Divock Origi calling upon James Milner and Roberto Firmino from the bench. Origi – Everton’s December nemesis – had at least strained Evertonian throats with their incessant booing; a peculiar way to remind themselves throughout of their fateful Anfield trip three months ago. Neither change worked for the Reds with Milner having a curiously inept passage when his every touch had Liverpudlians tearing their hair out.

More bewildered looks were exchanged when Adam Lallana – seemingly sapped of all sinew – replaced Sadio Mane to make Everton’s task of seeing out the final stages significantly less fraught. With the clock ticking down, the Blues were beside themselves with expectancy and the end of the match signalled celebrations that rivalled those of Liverpool in Istanbul.

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Nothing would have convinced of Liverpool’s ability to see out this title challenge more than victory here. It is a crushing disappointing not to claim that win. But, seeing the Blues so cocky; so thoroughly delighted with themselves should steel us for the challenge ahead. If the Reds need any further motivation to prevail in this quest, fans and players alike must bottle that Bluenose roar and ram it back down their throats come May.

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