A lot of people would assume that the title this week would refer to the debacle against Aston Villa, but that’s not the case. At Villa Park, it was just one of those games. We got beat, fair and square. Today at Goodison was something else entirely. Not only should Everton have been playing with a man down from the 7th minute onward, but David Coote, the guy nominally watching the game at Stockley Park- an official who has been removed from the rotation in league matches before for egregious errors -not only incorrectly confirmed Virgil Van Dijk offside on the play in which he was injured and not only used the offside flag as an excuse to avoid looking for a red card on Jordan Pickford, but also made another ridiculous offside call on Sadio Mané for what should have been Jordan Henderson’s winning goal. In all three cases, he would’ve been justified in calling Michael Oliver over to look at the pitchside monitor to give his assessment of what happened. No such call was made. Furthermore, players are still responsible for their conduct on the pitch, even when the whistle has blown. The “fact” that Virg was offside doesn’t change the fact that Pickford may have seriously injured him with a potentially career-threatening tackle in the penalty box. Want to say play was dead so it can’t be a penalty? Fine. That doesn’t change the (actual) fact that it was seriously reckless play and an automatic red.
Remember when several ridiculous offside calls were made early last year, the first season of VAR in the PL? Remember when FIFA urged the PL to use some common sense when assessing those offside calls? The farcical situation soon settled out and it seemed like English officials had come to grips with the idea that offense should be given the benefit of the doubt and calling offside on someone’s armpit was beyond the pale. After all, we wait an ice age or two for the flag to go up these days, just in case someone scores so the situation can be sorted out without interrupting the game action. You’d like to look at the above picture and think that said benefit of the doubt would be used in this scenario… except that it’s not even necessary, since Mané isn’t offside. The new interpretation of the handball rule confirms that the upper arm/shoulder can be used to play the ball. Even if one decides that the millimeters of Sadio’s upper arm in play here would cross the line, you can clearly see Yerri Mina’s foot in the same position as Sadio’s arm. Hence, not offside. This, too, should’ve been a call down to Oliver to get him to examine the picture in the hopes that Coote’s incompetence wouldn’t tar him, as well.
But one of the main problems did, in fact, start on the field. Michael Oliver is perhaps the least assertive of PL officials, which makes him precisely the wrong one to pick for a derby of this intensity (Still the most red cards in one matchup since the PL began, with 22; 15 of them for Everton, also a PL record against a single opponent.) A stronger official would’ve questioned Pickford’s play. A stronger official would’ve been more direct with Andre Gomes’ continued shithousery in the middle of the pitch. I was honestly surprised when he pulled the straight red on Richarlison. In any sane league, that’s easily a red card. But this is the Premier League and this is Michael Oliver, so I was expecting, at best, a yellow. That obvious intent to injure by Richarlison succeeded, since the manager mentioned after the game that Thiago was suffering an injury after that encounter. But Oliver and Coote are just the most recent examples of the overall trend. English officiating is a disgrace to the game. You would think that they might’ve learned after no call ups to the 2018 World Cup and precious few to the Nations League/Euro qualifiers. The fact that all PL clubs regularly have to dread the appearance of figures like Martin Atkinson and Jon Moss makes the league into a joke. And, FFS, VAR is not the problem! Just like any computer, the technology is only as good as its users. If the error is between the chair and the keyboard, there’s no excuse for whining about how “VAR is ruining the game.” All one needed to correctly call that third goal was a set of working eyes, which most officials typically have. No other league has these problems with the system, so it’s pretty obvious that the PL’s execution of it, just like last year, is still the worry of every PL fan. One no longer has to just hope that one’s own team has a good day and/or the opponents have a poor one. There’s also the concern about whether the official is even capable of doing his job properly. At this point, the majority of evidence on English pitches points to “No.”
Everton 2 – 2 Liverpool
And the worst part off all of this is that, aside from the egregious officiating errors, the game was actually pretty good, overall, and unquestionably a great response by Liverpool to the Villa game. Andy Robertson, Thiago, Fabinho, Hendo, Mané, and Mo Salah all had brilliant games, with any of them arguably MotM. The synchronization through the midfield was excellent and we’re reminded once again how crucial it is to have O Captain, Our Captain, playing down that right side. His mind meld with Trent Alexander-Arnold is better than anyone else’s and he still has the drive to roam all over the field in search of the next tackle.
But even those who didn’t reach superstar status had solid games, with Joel Matip returning in great form and early sub Joe Gomez and stalwart Roberto Firmino making the machine hum. From the opposition, it was interesting to see Carlo Ancelotti continue with the 4-3-3, instead of his beloved 4-4-2. Everton this season had focused largely on goals from the middle, staying comparatively narrow and taking advantage of James Rodriguez’s feathery touch. However, I think Carlo understood that trying to stay narrow against us simply invites assault from Robbo and Trent, so the Blues actually tried to engage us on the flanks. That’s where a lot of the space in the center of the pitch came from (see: the excellent series of passes leading to Sadio’s opening goal.)
But the Man of the Match citation probably has to be extended to Thiago. Among a host of excellent performances, his was probably the best: 92% passing (70/76, the most in the game), 48 of them in the opponent’s half (also most in game), 2 chances created, 2 shots, 4/4 dribbles (most in game), 2 interceptions (most in game), 93 touches (most in game), and a tackle. Just outstanding. He played the “recycler” role to the hilt and still made some incisive passes into the final third; a lot of which can be seen here:
The only mild criticism can perhaps be directed at our man, Joe (whom Klopp insisted “had a brilliant game!”) He was the man assigned to Calvert-Lewin and you could perhaps question what he was doing watching Richarlison’s cross sail over his head for the former to punch it in. But we already know that Joe isn’t the greatest in the air (that’s, uh, Virgil’s job… You know?… The guy we lost in the first half with no repercussions for the opponent?), so you can’t really blame a guy for not excelling at one of his weak points. They tried to deliver the long ball to DCL a number of times and Joe was in the right spot every time to shut down the attack. Similarly, if you’re mildly insane, you could argue that Adrián could’ve made a better play on Michael Keane’s header for Everton’s first goal, but 99% of keepers wouldn’t have and, again, Adrián is our backup. He made a couple excellent saves later in the game and clearly had been instructed by John Achterburg to play the long ball, with which he’s more comfortable. That turned out fine since we were the more dominant team in the middle third where many of those long balls landed.
- JFC, I can’t remember the last time I was so pissed off about a game result.
- Mo became the first LFC player since Steven Gerrard (2008) and the 17th ever to join the ‘100 goals’ club at Liverpool. He’s also the third-fastest to have done so (159 games), after Roger Hunt and Jack Parkinson.
- That’s 23 straight against Everton without a loss; our longest such streak against any opponent in the club’s history. And it should’ve been another win. Even the damn Manc fans are saying so on Twitter.
- Klopp didn’t sound positive about either Virg or Thiago, although that may be post-game frustration talking. Virg often plays through pain, so the fact that he couldn’t continue is of some concern, despite passing the ACL test on the pitch and walking off without assistance.
OK. We now enter the insane portion of our schedule, as we’ll be playing every three or four days until November 8th. Next up is a trip to the canals and Ajax in the Champions League. After that, we’re back to English officiating and Sheffield United (who will probably be eager to field one Rhian Brewster against us…)