For most humans, there are moments when their sense of humanity penetrates sports affiliation. Even though I couldn’t stand him when he played for Arsenal and Inter, I could still see from interviews on Sky that Patrick Vieira was a pretty good dude and that has apparently played out with him becoming a capable manager (and a reputedly solid man-manager) for Crystal Palace. His generosity and general good nature shone through the fact that he played like a human wrecking ball in midfield. In many ways, he’s a lot like our own James Milner, Robot Warrior. So, if you’re a normal fan, you understand when players for other clubs are fun to watch just because of who they are. I see this opinion expressed all the time about Liverpool players, Liverpool in general, and Jürgen Klopp. Even if you’re not an LFC supporter, they’re still entertaining to watch, not only for their brilliant football, but also because people like Mohammed Salah are just good people. Not Everton, though.
No, the Bitters are so bitter that no slight can be too low and no action on the field can possibly be negative if it’s inflicted on their neighbors. From booing Virgil Van Dijk every time he touched the ball for the impertinence of getting his knee wrecked by Jordan Pickford last year (Seriously? Who wants to expend that much energy at a match by yelling at the opposition when you’re supposed to be cheering your guys the whole time?) to actually only half-booting the ball back to Alisson Becker after a throw-in that we’d knocked out because Solomon Rondon was down. (Virg had to go sprinting for it to keep it away from Richarlison.) Nothing is too petty for Everton in the Merseyside Derby and this is in a year after coming away with a win and a draw in it last season. What makes it worse for most of the Bitters is that they’re now led by a former Liverpool manager and are still seeing the results that are so typical of an Everton side, including Rafa’s rather, uh, unappealing style of football. Unfortunately, that pettiness has apparently seeped into the manager, as well, since he made comments after the match about how much money we’ve spent (“It’s always hard to lose but when you lose to a team that has spent so much money…”), in addition to how our side is just better than his. Hate to break it to you, Rafa (That’s not true. It’s actually kind of fun), but The Ev have spent €61m more, net, than we have in the past five years and half a billion of owner Farhad Moshiri’s considerable bankroll overall to give you that side that’s not as good as ours.
The funny thing is that said pettiness extends to actions that even negatively impact the Blues’ play on the field. It’s not often that a side gets booked twice in one match for diving (and what should’ve been a third time for Anthony Gordon flopping in front of Trent Alexander-Arnold), but it happened today. When your only hope to get a look at goal is to dive for penalties, maybe you’re better off just parking the bus and trying to limit the damage like a proper Burnley? But that might require fans who actually stick around for the entire match, unlike the crowd at Goodison, who began streaming out in the 20th minute when Mo put us up, 2-0. Remember when Jürgen bemoaned the fans leaving Anfield early during a match against Palace, saying how he felt “alone” in that moment? One can only imagine how isolated Rafa feels at this point, but you can’t say that he didn’t know what he was getting into, as he’s been on the other side of this rivalry and is the one who pointed out that Everton was a “small club” for the attitude that they took toward it. He’s not wrong. That’s why “petty” is the best word to describe the blue side of the derby.
I know I’m one of the old guys in the Detroit chapter and am constantly harping on how people don’t appreciate the intensity of the derby, but I can understand how after 20+ years of dominance, it doesn’t register to people who don’t remember trading league titles and FA Cups with The Ev for the latter half of the 1980s. To most modern fans, they’ve typically just been the little brother that us old guys get worked up about for some reason. But I think the injury to Virg last season lit a fire under some people, if not already among those annoyed by the behaviors of people like Richarlison (as Mike Danella pointed out today in a somehow-not-packed-to-the-gills-even-on-a-Wednesday Magee’s.) But the shamelessness on display tonight, both on the pitch and in the stands (the Gwladys Street end wouldn’t return a ball for a Liverpool corner in the first half, throwing it on to the pitch after play had already resumed, just as another example) makes it clear that the intensity of the rivalry has turned to poison for the Toffees, which is only going to make their climb back to competing for trophies an even longer and harder road. Thankfully, Liverpool are way beyond that road and it’s the positive nature of people like Captain Jordan Henderson, Mo, Virg, and the rest of the squad that have gotten us there.
Everton 1 – 4 Liverpool
There was nothing particularly interesting tactically about Everton’s biggest home derby loss in 39 years. We just outplayed them and that’s barely mentioning the fact that it could’ve been much worse, as both Joel Matip and Mo missed wide open chances in the first three minutes. Everton are still relying on that 4-4-1-1 to incorporate Rafa’s defensive principles but still give themselves a chance on the counter. Unfortunately for them, the person they’re relying upon to be their top ‘1’ is Rondon, who’s basically a byword for unreliability in the Premier League (four years with West Brom with the last on loan to Newcastle so the relegated Baggies didn’t have to pay his salary; he’s only just returned from Dalian in the Chinese Premier League, with his last half year spent on loan to CSKA Moscow so that Dalian didn’t have to pay his salary…) They do have a lengthy injury list, which is preventing them from fielding offensive forces like Dominic Calvert-Lewin and competent defenders like Yerry Mina. But the rest of that squad is, uh, not what you’d expect for a club that’s spent €481 million in the last five windows, albeit only €2 million last summer because they’re up against FFP limits.
On the other side of the pitch, the machine ran exactly how it’s supposed to, not least because of this man:
Is there anyone who still doubts the captain? Apparently there’s still a dedicated crowd on Twitter who wail at the “lack of progression” or technical skill or other terms that they clearly don’t understand. Hendo is currently in the 99th percentile for progressive passes among midfielders in Europe’s top 5 leagues and today had almost the mirror image of his deadly delivery for Mo against ManU. He also became the first LFC player to score and assist at Goodison since a guy named Steven Gerrard did it in 2005. But, yeah, you can’t overlook this other guy:
Scoring. Machine. That’s 31 goal involvements (goals + assists) this season. It’s December 1st. He’s even more the leader in the PL now with 13 and is still the assist leader with 8. He’s a huge part of why we have the most goals of any club in the top five leagues (43), the most of any side in the English top flight at this stage of the season since 1962 (25 by Burnley, believe it or not), and are the only English top flight side ever to score 2+ goals in 18 straight games. Speaking of assists, though…
Those two assists doubled Andy Robertson’s total for the season. Part of that is that he actually sat out a few games with an injury for the first time in quite a while, but it’s also been a slight dip in form probably brought on by fatigue from years of constant play and this past summer’s Euros. However, The Athletic had an interesting piece about why it seems like the right side has been favored($) this season. Obviously, Mo’s superlative play has been contributing to some of that, as has Trent. And the disparity is actually small enough that it’s easy to wave it away as the combination of factors listed above, in addition to sample size constraints. The most interesting detail from that article, in fact, is that Robbo’s touches have increased in the half-spaces almost as much as Trent’s have. We’ve been citing Trent for drifting into the middle of the field, but not Andy, but when you think about it, he has been moving in there quite a bit, including tonight.
But the first goal was standard Andy: up the outside on the overlap, cut back into the middle, putting it right on Hendo’s foot and leading to a goal that was remarkably similar to the one he scored at the other end last season that was taken away in another farcical VAR decision:
The second was that deadly pass from Henderson and a great example of counter-attacking play that has been the hallmark of Klopp’s teams since he arrived here. This is, once again transfer window warriors, a similarly great example of why it matters to have the same players playing together for multiple years:
Graeme LeSaux can’t gush enough about the accuracy of that shot at a full run and he’s right. The third goal is mostly Everton screwing up, but for Mo to take the ball from the midfield line, hold off two defenders, and still slot it past Jordan Pickford at just the right speed to get it in the far corner is just another example of the seventh-best player in the world doing his thing:
Séamus Coleman’s mistake at the back leading to this goal looked awfully similar to a play by the third-best player in the world over the weekend. This one had Everton fans calling for Coleman’s head, which is typical since he’s their captain and has only been there for 12 years now. And the last goal was just Robbo feeding a moment of sheer brilliance by Diogo Jota:
Yeah, man. Three of the top four scorers in the PL. But Diogo has been on probably his best run of form since he arrived here and it was evident across Stanley Park against Soton this past weekend and was no different here, just as the whole team has been and was.
[Brief profanity segment] As a side note, despite my jokes, I could quite literally not give a shit about the Ballon d’Or or most other individual awards. It’s a team game. I care about team trophies. Mo echoed those sentiments in his post-match comments (along with an eye roll and judicious “No comment!” when asked about the Ballon) and I’m fully onboard with him there. In contrast, there were some shots taken at Rafa after the game and I am not onboard with those at all. Despite the fact that he’s now leading our crosspark rival, I still respect Rafa for everything he did for our club and everything he continues to do for the Hillsborough families and other good causes around the city. I don’t like his football, but he’s a genuinely good guy and no one should be hoisted on the pétard of bitterness other than perhaps Marcel Brands (Everton’s DoF) and their own fanbase for being such toxic dipshits. [/profanity] Sorry. Everton must bring it out in me.
We’re at Wolverhampton on the weekend. The Wolves have worked themselves up to sixth place in the table after a slow start, so it’s anyone’s guess as to how well they’ll stack up against the scoring machine. After that, we make our first visit to the San Siro in 12 years. Oh, and