Liverpool host Everton this weekend in a game of increasing importance. The sides’ unusual proximity in the league means bragging rights are not the only prize on offer; more so a valuable three points towards a top four finish.
Ahead of the Merseyside derby this weekend, let us take a look at the reverse fixture back in October. In a game full of goals, controversy and vast significance, it was a truly unforgettable contest.
A Proper Derby
Liverpool headed into the match on the back of an astonishing 7-2 defeat at the hands of high-flyers Aston Villa. This result was a hint of things to come as it showed the first signs of cracks in the Reds’ title push.
On the other hand, Everton boasted maximum points and sat at the top of the Premier League. Carlo Ancelotti’s side were playing some scintillating football and were spearheaded by the league’s in form player, Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
However, league form is often irrelevant for derbies, especially ones like this.
After missing the Aston Villa game due to testing positive for COVID, Sadio Mane gave the visitors the lead after two minutes and fifteen seconds – their fastest ever goal in a Merseyside derby. His thumping finish past a helpless Jordan Pickford demonstrated just how sorely he had been missed.
Minutes later, all eyes were on the England goalkeeper once again, although for the wrong reasons. His reckless challenge on Virgil van Dijk was seemingly ignored by the VAR, David Coote, after the Dutchman was adjudged to have been offside in the build-up.
Irrespective of Pickford bizarrely escaping any punishment, the ACL injury to Liverpool’s star centre back has subsequently shaped their season.
Shortly afterwards, Michael Keane restored parity, rising above the rest to net his third goal in the opening five games.
Both sides had their fair share of chances. Jordan Pickford, who arguably should not have been on the pitch, produced fine saves to deny Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mane from grabbing a second. Likewise, Everton looked a threat, with Richarlison hitting the woodwork from an excellently judged header.
However, 18 minutes from time, Mohamed Salah latched onto Yerry Mina’s slack clearance and clinically dispatched his 100th goal for the club. Despite further Liverpool pressure, Calvert-Lewin grabbed an equaliser, after expertly steering his header past Adrian.
In a hectic end to the game, Richarlison saw red for a wild challenge on the man of the match, Thiago. Subsequently, Liverpool thought they had won it right at the death after Pickford fumbled Jordan Henderson’s last gasp effort. However, VAR spared Everton’s blushes by ruling Mane offside in the build-up, despite televised pictures saying otherwise.
Jurgen Klopp gave his thoughts on the controversial decision after the game: “The players don’t understand how [Henderson’s] goal was offside. We had something last season where we had the ‘armpit’ goal that was offside.
I’ve had about 10 interviews since this where everyone has told me that it’s not offsideKlopp speaking to Sky Sports
Despite this late heartbreak for the Reds, it concluded what was a pulsating Merseyside derby.
How Liverpool and Everton Have Fared Since
Neither side walked away happy with the 2-2 result. Liverpool had felt robbed of a famous derby win by a dubious offside call. For Everton, their 100% record had come to an end; worse still at the hands of their fiercest rival.
Liverpool remained unbeaten for the rest of the calendar year. Impressive wins against Leicester, Tottenham and Crystal Palace guided them to a third successive Christmas at the top of the footballing tree. Contrarily, 2021 has been far less memorable.
The Reds have lost over half of their league games and now sit sixth in the table. Despite this, they progressed to the Champions League knockout stage and currently hold a 2-0 aggregate lead after their first leg against RB Leipzig.
Everton, on the other hand, struggled to regain their early season form, losing four out of their next five league games. Despite an excellent December, they have failed to find any consistency and sit one place behind Liverpool.
On the upside, they have an FA Cup quarter-final showdown against Manchester City to look forward to. Could we see the Toffees win their first major trophy in over 25 years?
Defensive Woes for Liverpool
As aforementioned, October’s Merseyside derby has impacted Liverpool’s season massively. The effects of Jordan Pickford’s horror tackle on Virgil van Dijk have lingered ever since. There has not only been a visible void in the heart of defence, but also the club’s mentality.
The Dutch captain is considered one of the Reds’ leading figures both on and off the pitch so, without his presence, Liverpool were bound to feel more vulnerable and susceptible.
Frustratingly, referees have later admitted to faults committed by both Pickford and the VAR, David Coote.
Michael Oliver, referee that day, recently mentioned it in an exclusive interview with the Daily Mail: “We have all, myself included, not thought about the challenge as much as we should have done.”
We could still have given offside and sent Pickford off.Michael Oliver speaking to the Daily Mail
Former referee Dermot Gallagher also spoke about it on Sky Sport’s ‘Ref Watch’ (via Liverpool Echo): “It was human error and that’s all we can do is apologise for it.”
Either way, Liverpool would still be without van Dijk, whether retrospective action had been shown to Pickford, or not. Unfortunately for the Reds, this match instigated their infamous defensive injury crisis as Jurgen Klopp later lost Joe Gomez and Joel Matip to long-term spells on the sidelines.
Moreover, Richarlison’s rash challenge on Thiago Alcantara had its own effects, ruling the Spaniard out for over 10 weeks with a knee injury. In only his second game for the Reds, Liverpool’s summer signing was starting to show glimpses of his of his sparkling best, reminiscent of his time in Bavaria.
Understandably, an injury like this has stunted Thiago’s progress on Merseyside and we are yet to see his full potential in the Premier League.
The Toffees’ Troubles
Despite lower season ambitions, Everton have also experienced a drop off since that game in October. The reason for that is not as clear as a series of injuries. Regardless, they have had their fair share; Lucas Digne, Allan and Seamus Coleman, to name a few.
Admittedly, Calvert-Lewin’s goals have dried up since that electric start to the season. After scoring seven goals in his opening five matches, he has only managed six in his last fifteen. Everton’s reliance on those goals has shown since they have suffered greatly from the forward’s lowering output.
As earlier stated, Everton had an impressive December, which saw them drop only two points in a famously busy schedule. However, their game against Manchester City on 28th December was called off, just hours before kick-off.
The Toffee’s consequent dip in form could highlight the impact of this delayed pause between league games, akin to the International break before the Merseyside derby.
Whenever Everton have picked up some momentum, it seems that has always been interrupted.
Following differing midweek results, it will be interesting to see how both sides perform in Saturday’s derby. Will Liverpool extend their lead over their city rivals; or will Everton secure their first Anfield win since 1999?