So, yeah, I know that most of you don’t share my perspective on Everton. As I’ve mentioned (interminably) before, it was built when both clubs were the pinnacle of English football in the same way that Man City and Liverpool are now. I hated those guys (and Forest.) ManU was a complete afterthought (Hey! It’s just like old times!) and most people barely knew who City were or if they even played football. But Everton was really good. And they were just as obstinate in the derby as they were now, because they were really good, but we were just better. There were a lot of red cards and a lot of crunching fouls that meant X number of players probably wouldn’t be suiting up for the next match, just like today. I learned to hate them because they were every bit as annoying as Richarlisson and Co. are now. They did, however, actually play the game of football, which is what puts the current squad in something of a class of contemptibility all their own. Liverpool had 85% possession today, which is a Premier League record. I can’t remember having as much of the ball even when playing some 4th division side in the FA Cup. They had 94 completed passes for the match. Thiago Alcãntara alone had 120. They had no shots on target and only 4 for the match. We had 13 corners to their 1. (This is the point when I start thinking about how to address bus parking teams with a rules change, wherein if you have a corner margin of 10+, anytime the ball goes past the end line, you just get a penalty kick instead.) The Reds were doing their best to play football. The Blues were doing their best to do anything but.
Simon Hughes, never one to avoid defending anything from the city of Liverpool, asked on Twitter what people expected Everton to do, since they were so obviously outclassed before a ball was kicked. Well… maybe play the game? A number of times that Everton went forward, it resembled an actual football match with an opponent who presented a threat, so why not try that more often? But they decided they were going to stay in their lowest of low blocks and flop every time a red shirt got within shouting distance. That’s why the term “anti-football” was invented for Jose Mourinho’s abominable Chelsea sides, but even they weren’t this bad. Oh, and on that whole flopping thing, it’s a bad sign to be only 21 and already have developed a much-deserved reputation for diving, Anthony Gordon. The argument for a foul by Joel Matip in the box would’ve been much stronger if you hadn’t already received your third yellow card this season for simulation. But that’s The Ev in microcosm: gigantic aspirations and nowhere near enough competence to even approach them.
Compound that with Stuart Atwell’s similar incompetence and the general failure of Premier League officiating as a whole and we end up with what many were decrying as one of the worst halves of football this season at halftime. That’s because only one of the teams was actually presenting you with “football” and Atwell was doing nothing to arrest the situation. Jordan Pickford’s time-wasting antics began at the 12 minute mark. 12 minutes! How Abdoulaye Doucouré didn’t pick up a second yellow for shoving Captain Jordan Henderson to the ground is beyond me. How Richarlisson avoided getting a straight red for kicking into Hendo with his studs is beyond any observer of the game ever. The ball was dead, so there was no excuse for competing over it. It’s precisely “violent conduct”, which is a straight red anywhere in the world. And you can say that maybe Atwell didn’t see it… but that’s what we have VAR for in every nation other than England.
And, yes, I’m sure it’s kind of odd to see me sitting here and bitching about Everton and the officials after a 2-0 win. But I generally watch the game to be entertained and the first hour of this match was pretty dreadful in that respect. I certainly have my biases (I’d rather Liverpool win every match they play, thanks) and that extends to the style of football that I’d like to see, which is why I usually find Burnleyball repellent and would not miss it if they descended back to the Championship. But Everton has now raised that distaste a notch. Burnley has apparently elevated their game since the departure of The Royal Dyche and, at the moment, if the price of the Clarets staying in the top division for another year is watching the Toffees take the drop that they haven’t since 1953, I’m fine with it. Good riddance. Spend a few years in the second division. Maybe convince Farhad Moshiri to sell out to someone that will hire a staff and let them run the club without undermining them. Build an identity that’s something other than The Guys Who Piss and Moan About The Other Guys Across Stanley Park (and whom occasionally try to break their legs) and then come back and be considered an actual football club again. Or don’t. It’s hard to say that I actually care anymore, given that Merseyside derbies for the past few years have been more about worrying how many of our guys are going to get injured than whether we’re going to win the game. That way, the rest of you won’t have to hear about me ranting about Everton for a while, too.
Liverpool 2 – 0 Everton
You could argue that Everton came out in a 4-2-3-1, with Richarlisson staying up top and with Doucouré and Allan playing the double pivot, except that they spent so much time backed into their own end that it was pretty much a 5-5-0 and with little thought to expand into anything else, barring Gordon’s occasional strolls down the left side. The kid is fast. I’ll give him that. But he also doesn’t really know what to do with the ball when he does get position and absolutely no one else on Everton’s squad knows how to help him out of those positions. That’s at least partially because of that whole “not playing football thing”
as this diagram from Alfred amply demonstrates. The reason that there aren’t any lines on Everton’s half of the image and why those circles are so small is, again, 94 completed passes for the entire match. Alfred said he had no explanation for why Michael Keane’s position is so far back but, again, given the way Everton “played” the match… If anything confirms the label of “anti-football”, it’s when your play in a match leads to errors in a simple tracking program. (There was also the retweet of a vocal Bitters fan who proudly stated in his bio that he’s “anti-football statistics”, as well as being “anti-woke” and “anti-left”, but also “Not a racist.” That’s just so, so Everton, it’s almost boggling.)
But they were indeed frustrating us. We started better in the second half and were pressing the issue more than we’d been able, but things really changed at the hour mark, when Luís Diaz and the anti-Everton, Divock Origi, came on for Sadio Mané and Naby Keita. We switched to a 4-2-4, since Thiago can easily play the double pivot with Fabinho and Everton weren’t going to try to exploit space behind a front four, anyway. That, of course, immediately led to
That’s not quite a give-and-go with Mo Salah, since no one really “went” anywhere, but that perfect touch to lay it off to Mo and give him a clear space to cross is classic Div. He’s been doing that since he was a skinny 19-year-old in the 2014 World Cup. It’s just great awareness and touch to identify good situations and then exploit them. That assist from Mo also makes him the outright leader for both goals and assists in the PL this season. But the second goal was just as good.
That’s another goal off a corner, our 14th of the season, easily the leader in the PL. It also means Everton has one more reminder about how bad they are at conceding them (only above Leicester in that respect, IIRC.) And, of course, it’s the cosmic inevitability of Div scoring against the Bitters again. Only Steven Gerrard has more home goals against Everton, in vastly more minutes. 27% of Div’s entire PL scoring output has come against the neighbors. Plus, that assist from Luís was brilliant. I saw a couple Everton commentators suggesting that it was a “failed overhead kick” that led to a “fluky goal” when anyone can see that he was pushing the ball in front of goal for someone to feast upon. That someone had to be Divock (and would’ve been Fabinho if not him.)
That’s a striker, yo. That’s what he’s there to do and, at least against Everton, he does it remarkably well. He’s probably going to leave us this summer for more game time at Milan, but his contributions at key moments won’t ever be forgotten. In their way, they’re almost as good as the consistency of the other goalscorer.
Andy Robertson has been a stalwart at the club for five years now and shows no sign of slowing down (literally.) James Pearce cited both his goal and his defense two minutes later, when an attempted clearance by Alisson Becker fell into the box, with Alex Iwobi waiting to pounce on it, noting that he’s “the complete fullback.” He’s not wrong. He’s done everything we’ve asked of him and continues to push the limits, which is something you can also say of the midweek star who starred yet again.
But what else can you say that hasn’t been said many times before (Squawka even borrowed my “maestro” label)? Of those 21 final third entries, Thiago completed 20 of them. What you can also glean from him having twice the number of passes in the final third is exactly how Everton were refusing to play the game. You can see that from the comparison on entry attempts that Alfred posted.
Aside from the abysmal success rate, this is also a measure of just how much control we had of the match and how little of a plan Everton had in their brief moments outside their own half. Just compare Thiago’s play (if you must) to the 73 minutes that Everton’s Allan had on the pitch, where he completed a grand total of two passes, both of them from kickoffs. I think it’s fair to point out Hendo’s impact when he came on with 10 minutes remaining, too. Although we had already entered game management mode around the 74th minute (since Everton were more than happy to let us do that), it was still with only a 1-0 lead. Hendo came in and began tearing up the right side, keeping Everton from trying to press forward, if that had even entered their minds. To be honest, I wanted him to start, since the kind of shithousing game that Everton was bound to play is an ideal situation for Hendo to simply take control of, which he’s done many times in the past against the Bitters and others. This is, of course, on top of his providing the opening for Luís’ assist.
Enough of that; hopefully for a few years. And, coming up Wednesday, we have a similarly obstinate team coming to Anfield in the form of Villareal. To Unai Emery’s credit, his squad at least ventures out of their own half occasionally, but it’s still going to be a struggle to break them down so, yay. After that, we travel to Saudi PIFC. Double yay. Let’s all prepare by watching the brilliance that is Luís one more time:
Oh, and just because, Alisson’s highlight of the match, showing Pickford how it’s properly done. Merry Christmas, Everton!