As one of the acknowledged fossils of OLSC Detroit, having watched this club since the 70s, I can say that there are few better feelings in a season than putting Everton in their place again. That place used to be just below us at the top of the table. Then it was regularly somewhere in midtable. Now it’s in the relegation zone which, given their ridiculous management over the past decade, is just about where they should be. But given our recent form and the TV commentariat’s decision that the Blues were on an upward swing after a single match under new manager, Sean “Burnley” Dyche, it was even more satisfying than usual to have basically been in total control of this match from the opening kick. This looked like the Liverpool that we’ve become accustomed to over the past five years. This looked like a side that was fully confident in their ability to lay waste to the opposing team and to look good while doing it. Both goals were perfect encapsulations of what this squad has been in those recent times; the first from Mo Salah off a counter from an Everton corner, hearkening back to the days when an opponent’s set piece was one of the best scoring chances for us; and the second from a stereotypical switch by Andy Robertson into a perfect, curving cross by Trent Alexander-Arnold into the box, and a tap-in by Cody Gakpo. Everything about this match signaled a return to the Jürgen Klopp Liverpool of the modern era. But, of course, we’ve been here before a couple times already this season, so some moderation is called for.
But, yeah, before that moderation happens, let’s take a moment to revel in beating the Bitters yet again. What made it even better was that after Cody’s goal, the Anfield faithful broke into a “Di-vock O-ri-gi!” chant, as I’m sure players like Seamus Coleman and Jordan Pickford will never forget the ending of the match from four years ago. After Robbo and Pickford got into the above-pictured tussle, the crowd mostly began to match Robbo’s reaction; simply laughing at the festive nature of it all. This was, contrary to my expectations about dealing with a Dyche side, the opposite of the soul-draining nature that has been that usual experience. This was an enlivening; a reassurance that there’s still a great deal of talent on this squad and, once in a while, the motivation to go with it. Mo spoke after the game about Captain Jordan Henderson and James Milner, Robot Warrior speaking to the squad about enjoying their football and, with that, allowing things to flow more easily than they have for most of this season. Instead of fretting about what could happen, the idea was to go out and make things happen. You could see that interest and intensity right from the start, in which we took the attack to them and didn’t let up until the final whistle. This was a Klopp team doing Klopp things and getting the right result from doing so and it was easily the most enjoyable game we’ve played since before the World Cup break, as a result.
But in the end, of course, it is just Everton, who are 18th in the table and still the bettor’s favorite to be relegated, Dyche or no Dyche, so celebrating the win like it was a significant accomplishment seems a little incongruous with the reality. The counterpoint is that we just got routed by the team that is 15th in the table and only there because they managed three points against us. Otherwise, Wolves would be in the relegation zone right alongside our neighbors. So managing to beat any Premier League side at this point is something of an accomplishment, no matter how much it may gnaw at our collective pride to admit that. To do so in such a controlled and efficient manner, where the match was in our hands from the moment the clock started, is what possibly elevates this to the fabled “turning point” that everyone likes to keep tossing out as the next glimmer of light on the horizon for this Liverpool squad. For me, it’s still like the old story of the boy and his horse: “We’ll see.” Yes, it was great to see everyone functioning like their old selves again. Yes, it was great to see MotM, Stefan Bajčetić, doing as well in the Gini role (recycler!) as he did at the #6. Yes, it was great to see Cody score his first Liverpool goal and play well at every step outside of it, as well. But what we need now is to carry that over into the next match against Newcastle and the match after that against Real Madrid and every match through to the end of the season. We may still not make European play next year, but we’ll at least be able to be comfortable with the idea that this squad played up to its potential and challenged those who will walk away with the trophies this season, just like we almost walked away with all of them last season. That all sounds much less funny than today’s match, but sometimes you just have to let things flow and enjoy what you have. This is where we are right now and in the afterglow of today’s performance, it doesn’t seem all that bad.
Liverpool 2 – 0 Everton
Emblematic of the total control I was talking about is that diagram, where all but four of our fifteen shots came from inside the box. We were basically able to do whatever we wanted and play the game that we wanted against a Sean Dyche side, which is weird. It was the most dynamic side of his that I’ve ever seen, given that they actually tried to press in their offensive third and didn’t act like the ball was a bouncing grenade that should be avoided, if possible, but handled like it was ready to explode if it happened to fall at their feet. That gave us the freedom to, you know, play football which turned into better results for everyone but his team. Breaks my heart. If he rides back down to the Championship with them, it will only be too appropriate and will honestly be quite funny for them to see Burnley, under Vincent Kompany, on the opposite escalator going right back up. Speaking of escalators going up…
Yeah, man. LFC Stats is even understating this a bit, since Squawka had him also winning five duels, winning possession back five times, completing three long passes, and not committing a single foul. Not that the latter would have mattered too much in a game that Simon Hooper decided didn’t need cards until Everton had gotten stuck in no less than 12 times in the first half alone. But, still, to demonstrate that kind of skill in both controlling the ball and avoiding the whistle in a derby, not least the one infamous in English football for the number of red cards it has produced, is saying quite a bit. This kid’s (18!) stock is doing nothing but rising.
Right alongside him is our other captain (Chaos), Darwin Núñez, who caused massive problems for Coleman on the left. And he was on the left again, which still makes me grit my teeth a bit, but the interchaneability of our front three is a constant process, so he did spend a fair amount of time churning things in the middle of the pitch, as well. He’s still the player with the highest xG to not have scored among the top 5 leagues in Europe since the World Cup. He came close (again) a couple times and is still contributing, even beyond the excellent assist to Mo, so the byword is still “patience.”
That was the right word for Cody to be using, too, as he finally avoided the dreaded “007” tag (0 goals, 0 assists, 7 appearances) with what was easily his best game in a Liverpool shirt, to date. As I’ve noted a couple times, he’s been competent since he arrived, but not spectacular. Given how long it has taken in the past for players to adapt to Jürgen’s system, that’s not overly surprising. It just happened to come during our most dire period of the past six years, so the spotlight was definitely on. But I disagree with Squawka to some extent here. I thought he looked great from the first minute and he was heavily engaged in all of the activities they’ve cited for him here in the first half. After that, it was clear that he had an extra bounce in his step but show me the forward who doesn’t after they’ve rippled the net.
Like, y’know, this one. This was a feeling of genuine relief. Liverpool obviously does well when any of our guys are scoring on the regular, but Mo has been such a dominant force since he arrived that it’s glaringly obvious that things aren’t going well when he’s not scoring. But as the above tweet shows, there are so many things that he contributes outside of the scoreline and he hasn’t stopped doing any of those. He also had the most progressive carries of any player in the match and that was his 100th goal involvement (71 goals, 29 assists) at Anfield. And he got four fouls called on him! Four! In one match! But those accomplishments are always more obvious when he has gotten that burst of confidence from doing what he does best.
Likewise, Trent looked like Trent tonight, which is another sure sign of the Liverpool of recent years looking like themselves. Not sure why the beautiful assist isn’t listed here, as it was another classic TAA+ delivery, curving right around Everton’s back line and into Cody’s instep. It was aided by the strange passivity of Connor Coady (wrong spelling!), who considerately watched the ball sail right past him in the 6-yard box. I mean, he was a Liverpool fan growing up, so…
If there was any doubt about Jürgen’s status as Liverpool manager, this historical comparison should lay that to rest right quick. Yes, there have been some mistakes and, yes, despite his ferocious denials, there may be some personnel issues that need sorting out (He apparently thought that James Pearce had written Melissa Reddy’s article about the staff changes, which is why he refused to speak to Pearcey at the press conference last weekend.) But he’s helped to build all of this and led us to a level of success that we haven’t seen since Bob Paisley. Given that this match took place on the anniversary of Bob’s death, there’s some cosmic symmetry about all of that. (RIP, Bob. You’re still probably the greatest ever.)
So, that was fun. (And funny.) Next up are the Magpies at St. James’, which is a much tougher task than it has been in the recent past. Win that one and we got something goin’, especially in terms of the faint hopes of replacing Newcastle in fourth place for next year’s Champions League. Lose or draw and, well, the season continues, regardless. One more dose of that huge sigh of relief: