Despite playing some of their worst football of the season, Liverpool nonetheless dominated an Everton side who had come to Anfield with no attacking intent whatsoever. The visitors are entitled to do this, of course, but it also wasn’t a particularly accomplished defensive display; Liverpool let them off the hook by lobbing cross after cross into the box instead of attempting to pick apart the holes in the back line, and were ultimately punished for only managing to score once. Calvert-Lewin dived for a late penalty after Lovren had got too tight to him, meaning Everton came away with a point from one of the poorest-quality derbies in living memory.
Jurgen Klopp raised some eyebrows by continuing his policy of mass rotation. The variation of personnel is not in itself a problem – it helps to prevent injuries building up over a busy period, and Klopp has some good squad players at his disposal. However, the changes for this game made it near-inevitable that the style of play would also alter. So it was: Milner and Henderson continually shifted the ball out wide, where Robertson and Gomez were on hand to swing hopeful crosses in towards Dominic Solanke. This is not a criticism of any of them – indeed, Joe Gomez put in yet another exceptional performance – but it must be asked what Klopp expected to happen when fielding all of these players together. He did Everton’s job for them: the quality was dragged right down, and Allardyce’s tactic of shoving everyone behind the ball and just launching it clear when they won it back was made at least partially effective when it should have been ripped to shreds.
This was exemplified by the manner in which Liverpool did make a breakthrough – it was a moment of pure quality, not a high ball into the penalty area. Mo Salah provided it: he swivelled past his man, jinked inside another and whipped the ball sumptuously into the top corner. It was a piece of individual genius, further cementing Salah’s status as signing of the summer and instant fan favourite. However, he was often the only one trying these things. Milner and Henderson are hardly notorious for driving at defenders; Solanke is pretty good with his feet, but his stock in trade is holding the ball up then passing it back to someone else. Again, the fault lies on the team selection – the sheer exploitability of Everton’s back line, as exemplified by Salah’s humiliation of Cuco Martina, was left largely untapped because of the type of players sent out by Klopp. To make such a call in the derby is criminal if you fail to deliver the result.
Of course, not all the fault lies with the manager. Sadio Mane must also take a significant proportion of the blame. Just after Salah had netted the opener, the Senegalese winger found himself through on the keeper with men over to his right – instead of teeing up the tap-in he went for goal himself, skewing it wide and wasting a golden opportunity. Had the team gone in at two up, it would surely have been game over, particularly given Everton’s ineptitude going forward. As it was, the margin remained at one goal – Allardyce’s side still weren’t really threatening for most of the second half, but nor did Liverpool look like adding a second. It was more of the same in terms of style, and to be frank it didn’t feel like watching Liverpool: the monotony of ‘shift wide, cross, repeat’ was extremely frustrating, and there was always a nagging doubt that the failure to actually get at the defence and add a second would end up costing us if something went wrong at the back. So it was: Dejan Lovren got far too tight to Calvert-Lewin, who chucked himself to the ground upon feeling contact and won himself a penalty. It was a clever dive, but a dive nonetheless – the referee can thus join Klopp, Mane and Lovren on the list of reasons why the team somehow failed to take all three points. To add insult to injury, it was Wayne Rooney of all people who smashed the penalty home: it left fans asking how their team could have possibly let this happen.
On another day, the referee wouldn’t have pointed to the spot and the questions about team selection would be subject to much less scrutiny. However, the result doesn’t change the fact that the team that was put out produced some pretty unpleasant and ineffective football for much of the 90 minutes – the domination stemmed from Everton’s determination to contribute nothing going forward, not from any inherent quality in the hosts’ play. It is not something that many fans can be eager to see repeated: Liverpool play some of the best attacking football in Europe, so to decide to shelve that for a week and instead punt balls at a target man is inexplicable. In a derby match, it is nigh-on unforgivable. Again, it is not the rotation that is the issue – it is the change in style to which it led. Fortunately, the next game is just around the corner; it would surely have made more sense to rest the players in this West Brom clash rather than the derby, but it does at least give Klopp and the team a chance to immediately bounce back.
- Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013