“I thought, ‘What am I doing?” Virgil van Dijk admitted, as he recalled the moment he taekwondoed a strange sort of volley into the air, seemingly to the point of sanctuary for Everton’s defence in the 96th minute of the Merseyside derby.
Listen to Anfield and you hear a groan. The Kop suspects the outcome is settled, a fourth draw of the season would have opened up a four-point gap between Liverpool in second and Manchester City at the summit of the Premier League.
“I’m a defender so sometimes you need to think a little bit more as a striker when you are up there,” Van Dijk then acknowledged. Earlier, he had surged past Michael Keane and into Everton’s box. The delivery needed to be low and hard but instead it was mid-height and soft, allowing Yerry Mina to make a clearance. From Fernando Torres, he had morphed suddenly into Antonio Nunez.
Fast forward to the dying seconds of the match, all that Jordan Pickford needed to do was stand there and let van Dijk’s subsequent effort sail over. Half of the ball was over the line already and it was whirling backwards.
“It spun and as I tried to flick it over, my hand hit the bar,” Pickford recalled. Then, “it hit the bar again…”
Twelve minutes earlier, Divock Origi had been introduced as a substitute for his first appearance in the Premier League since May 2017. There is an arc to this story because his Liverpool career was really accelerating in 2016 when, in this fixture, he sustained a season-ending injury after Ramiro Funes Mori applied the studs of his boots to his knee, earning the Argentine a red card.
Jurgen Klopp had sent Origi on with a basic message. “Basically, he said to just to play my game and playing like I was training. I was feeling good, I’ve kept in shape…”
Origi had already struck the crossbar in injury time when the second opportunity presented itself. Van Dijk had been involved in that sequence as well, knocking a header into his path from a Trent Alexander-Arnold corner. Liverpool’s corners all afternoon had been poor but this one was much better.
Origi offered thought for introspection.
“It is like a trap for a striker; you miss a chance and you keep dwelling on it,” he said. “For me, instantly, my reaction was, no; I just have to focus, chill, play my game and see whatever happens…”
“I think he should have scored,” van Dijk assessed, smiling. “And I told him…”
For someone whose minutes this season have amounted to just 11, as a substitute in Belgrade when Liverpool lost miserably to Red Star, it was impressive that Origi instinctively thought to position himself in an area to capitalise on any goalkeeping mistake, especially as the chances of one happening seemed so remote.
Pickford had experienced a mixed afternoon. His kicking was wild at times, though one of his saves in the first half when he blocked Xherdan Shaqiri was important.
He referred to Origi’s goal as a “freak”, though a “freak mistake” might have been a more appropriate description.
“I think it is the Everton luck when we come to Anfield,” he reflected, as though a curse exists on the other side of Stanley Park. “There’s nowt I can do about it now. I will get over it. I just want to say sorry to the Everton fans. You could see our progression as a group, the chances we created and the football we played. That’s a positive but what can I do?
“I don’t sleep well after many games, really, but we have got a game on Wednesday [against Newcastle] and I will show people what I can do. You can’t practice what happened there in training. You just have to get on with it and I will show you my character.”
Liverpool had kept another clean sheet. Since Van Dijk’s arrival and then the signing of Alisson Becker there has been less pleasure in their play but they have become attritional.
Van Dijk believed there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for the amount of added time, which helped make Liverpool’s victory possible.
“The added minutes definitely occurred because they were stopping the game,” he said. “To score in the dying seconds is always special.”
Origi’s goal-scoring record at Liverpool is probably a bit better than most remember, with 22 in 79 games. This was the most special for him. “You could see the emotion of the fans and the coach and the players so we celebrated all together,” he said. “It is a good day for Liverpool.”
He wonders now whether there is a future for him at Anfield. Klopp was prepared to sell him to Wolverhampton Wanderers in the summer but he rejected the move. Ironically, Everton also made an enquiry about his availability but did not follow it up with an offer.
It was suggested to him that he could be Liverpool’s super-sub but he left with a feeling that he wants more than that. Liverpool need extra options in attack because Roberto Firmino looks in need of a rest while there are concerns about Daniel Sturridge’s availability after he was charged by the FA for infringing on betting rules.
“It’s on the pitch you have to do your talking and it is the coach who makes the decisions,” he said. “As a player, you always want to play a lot of minutes but as a team we have a lot of goals this season. I just try to shine my light and see wherever it goes.”
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