The 228th Merseyside derby was supposed to be a tightly contested encounter as it has always been on previous occasions. Although Liverpool have been superior in head to head statistics and latest outcomes, a new-look in-form Everton side under Ronald Koeman were expected to come up with a serious threat against their bitter rivals.
However, it did not turn out that way as Jurgen Klopp’s men secured a straightforward 3-1 victory, thus levelling their 13-game unbeaten record against the Toffees set in 1978 and the German gaffer becomes the first ever Liverpool boss to win his first three league derbies.
It was not as shambolic as last year’s 4-0 thrashing at Anfield. Everton, however, failed to impress once again and a few things went against them which became decisive in this high-voltage encounter.
Both teams suffered significant injury blows during the international break. Liverpool’s star midfielder Adam Lallana was ruled out following his thigh injury during his time with the Three Lions. Skipper Jordan Henderson had a setback and missed the game. Everton right fullback Seamus Coleman had a horrific double leg fracture while playing for his nation Republic of Ireland against Wales.
Also, Argentine centre-back Ramiro Funes Mori was ruled out for the rest of the campaign with a knee injury suffered in the national camp. Klopp had a selection dilemma but he preferred to protect his back-line and handed veteran Lucas Leiva a start over striker Divock Origi who was expected to replace Adam Lallana in starting lineup.
Koeman, on the other hand, relied on his youngsters and brought in Mason Holgate, Matthew Pennington, Tom Davies and Dominic Calvert-Lewin instead of the veterans Kevin Mirallas, Gareth Barry and Enner Valencia. He was forced to start Holgate in place of injured Coleman and to deal with Liverpool’s ‘gegenpressing’, Koeman changed the formation as he went for a 3-4-3 with Pennington partnering Ashley Williams and Phil Jagielka in Toffees’ backline.
But Klopp outplayed Koeman tactically as Lucas Leiva broke Everton’s threats in midfield and screened his defence efficiently that kept league’s top-scorer Romelu Lukaku isolated throughout the game. Also, the Reds explored Everton’s right-hand flank repeatedly in absence of Coleman. Holgate and Pennington’s inexperience exposed them defensively and Philippe Coutinho, James Milner, Roberto Firmino and Divock Origi constituted attacking threats using that particular side.
Pennington had a massive outing as he scored in his maiden derby to cancel out Sadio Mane’s early lead, however, it was a defensive nightmare for the youngster when he was bullied by Coutinho while scoring his spectacular solo goal to restore the lead.
Everton midfield was mostly dysfunctional due to Ross Barkley’s failure to get into the game. He was mostly engaged in infringements and fouls rather than constituting goal-bound threats and creating chances for big Belgian Romelu Lukaku up front.
Lukaku was crowded out by Liverpool defence as soon as he was touching the ball and the Reds, despite struggling to defend set-pieces at times, did well to contain Everton’s number 9. Gueye and youngster Davies tried best to overcome the deficiency with tireless runs, but their efforts lacked end products.
Finally, individual brilliance sealed the deal for the Red half of Merseyside. Sadio Mane showed great technique and control while scoring the opener within first ten minutes into the game, but it was Philippe Coutinho who scored one of Premier League’s best solo goals of this campaign as he danced past Gueye and Pennington before curling past custodian Joel Robles.
Substitute Divock Origi’s strike was the icing on the cake as he scored the insurance goal that almost defined the fate of the game with half an hour remaining.
However, Sadio Mane limped off the field and his injury “doesn’t look good” as per the German gaffer. With Lallana and Henderson out for a while and Daniel Sturridge still in his rehabilitation, the Reds are in serious shortage of options who can have an impact from the bench.
They will play Bournemouth on Wednesday night at Anfield and with eight games remaining in this season, the Reds have a serious possibility to seal a Champions League place unless they fumble and choke right at the end.
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