Everton vs Liverpool: Chaotic Merseyside derby leaves more questions than answers

Dramatic draw summed up the surreal nature of this season’s Premier League

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Saturday 17 October 2020 15:26
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Liverpool’s best Merseyside Derby memories

If this derby was supposed to be about testing the substance of Everton’s surge, and whether Liverpool would administer “reality”, it only summed up the surreal nature of this season so far.

Through that, it was actually credulity that was tested more than Carlo Ancelotti’s side. This wild 2-2 draw at Goodison Park left more questions than answers.

How was Jordan Henderson’s goal offside? Does such a knife-edge decision take away from Liverpool’s perseverance in having it unluckily chalked off, or will people now talk about Everton’s resolve in securing a draw, given they did impressively come back twice?

How different would the game have been if Jordan Pickford had been sent off? How different would it have been if Virgil van Dijk had stayed on the pitch?

How - and why - did Pickford go for the ball like that? How was he not sent off for it? How did VAR, given what the system is supposed to be about, miss that by fixating on the offside? How was Richarlison sent off for a similar challenge after play had stopped, but Pickford wasn’t?

How vulnerable will Liverpool be without Van Dijk and Alisson, given their record already this season?

By that token, and what their signings represented, can Everton actually realise their ambitions with Pickford in goal? He made two brilliant saves, but also committed two bad errors, in different ways. Pickford was lucky he didn’t cost Everton in the game, but may yet have cost Liverpool Van Dijk for some time. It is a question that undercuts an otherwise good day for Everton.

The rest of the questions maybe illustrate something else: that the “reality” of the Premier League this season is askew. Forget what you know.

Maybe that’s also the lesson of this game, and thereby the campaign. It isn’t so much going to be about who maintains excellence for longest as who holds it together best; how best adapts to the wildness.

That said, for all that chaos characterised this match, its own excellence shouldn’t be overlooked either.

There was the command of large parts of Liverpool’s play, and the passing of Thiago Alcantara. There was that supreme strike from Mo Salah, most of all. The way in which he adjusted his body in a split-second, to so perfectly strike a low ball on the volley, just displayed a forward in the most divine form.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin scores Everton’s equaliser

It was just that Everton had their own forward in divine form at the other end. Dominic Calvert-Lewin plundered a header that drew comparisons with all manner of great forwards, from Les Ferdinand to - of course - Duncan Ferguson.

The biggest compliment you could pay him is that this was just vintage Calvert-Lewin, and a type of goal he is making his own. Behind him, there were so many moments when James Rodriguez made the pitch his own. His deliveries so often prompted problems in the Liverpool box.

But that is also the wider point about this excellence. Everything in football happens in a wider context, and in this case it was the general chaos of the game, but also the lack of command in both boxes.

It was hard to know what to expect at Everton’s end given how erratic Pickford was. He was one minute defying Joel Matip in magnificent manner, and in another letting Henderson’s shot squirm through his arms. Yerry Mina’s “clearance” shouldn’t be overlooked either, given how it teed up Salah.

Virgil van Dijk was injured by Jordan Pickford in the opening 10 minutes

Everton’s best moments meanwhile came in the context of Liverpool’s worst backline in three years. Without Alisson and Van Dijk, it was a return to the 2017-style defence that so undercut Jurgen Klopp’s attacking. You could sense the uncertainty any time a ball - and particularly a James ball - was sent towards the box.

Liverpool were also shorn of that assurance. This was the source of both goals. The first was so alarmingly simple it should have been a signal for Liverpool to avoid giving away corners for the rest of the game. James curled it i to the right area, and Michael Keane made the right connection. The latter was almost inevitable, given how Liverpool’s defenders struggled to get close.

Many might say Van Dijk wouldn’t have actually been in that area if he had been on the pitch, but what actually makes him so good as a defender is the effect he has on the entire backline as much as what he does individually.

Liverpool were there to be got at… and yet it was still a win that got away from them. One extreme to the other, much like the Premier League right now.

That should maybe give more impetus to a side like Everton than a result like this. There still feels like there is huge opportunity for surprise this season. That’s the current reality.

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