After half an hour of last night’s game against Everton, I was thinking that we could be about to witness one of the worst Merseyside derby’s in memory. It was predictably scrappy; mainly due to Everton doing everything they could to stop us playing our game and disrupt our efforts rather than focus on their own football. And to their credit, it worked. We were unusually sloppy in our passing, and too over-eager to match their tempo and direct play, when it may have been smarter to keep the ball, quieten the crowd, and take the sting out of the game.
By the last 30 minutes of the game however, we were as dominant as we were in the incredibly one-sided 4-0 win at Anfield last season – if not as efficient in and around the penalty box. But Everton had buckled and abandoned their high energy game, letting us completely dominate the ball and only fail to score earlier due to a couple of good saves from Joel to deny Firmino, and the odd goalmouth scramble not falling our way. Our control paid off in the end though, as Daniel Sturridge worked the space for a shot that hit the post, and Sadio Mané tapped in the rebound. Everton had been riding their luck, and the tame defending and poor goalkeeping for the goal was only a small segment of evidence for that.
Ronald Koeman may have hoped he could rile his troops up prior to the game, and then hope that the magnitude of the occasion would be enough to see his side through. It saw them to half-time, but they came out afterwards looking visibly fatigued and lacking in direction or guidance. We then began to play much higher up the pitch, and looked more like the LFC we’ve become accustomed to this season.
It was good to see us show resilience and positivity until the last minute. We were keeping the ball for fun, but clear-cut opportunities were proving harder to come by, and it looked like it may take a bit of magic if we were to break the deadlock. Which is why it’s so important to have a player like Daniel Sturridge fit, ready, and waiting in the wings. With the clock running down and players starting to think that there may only be once decent chance left in the game, it must be a huge boost to see one of England’s most clinical strikers coming on. And while he didn’t claim the winner himself, it was his invention, control, and confidence around the box that opened up the rare bit of space that eventually led to the goal. He’s a player who has that instinctive striker’s nature of getting shots away in any situation, and that can be invaluable against a tight defence. Sturridge has gone under the radar a bit this season, but there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s still a major part of our squad.
There’s a couple of other players I feel need a special shout out too, though. Ragnar Klavan played his ninth game of the season for us at Goodison Park, and in all of those appearances he has barely put a foot wrong. He’s deceptively pacey for an aging centre-back, reads the game extremely well, and offers Dejan Lovren that solid partner at the back that the Croatian often needs next to him to feel safe. He’s not too shabby on the ball, and his experience showed as he dealt with Romelu Lukaku with relative ease on many occasions last night.
Georginio Wijnaldum is a player you could look at and expect more from as a £25m attacking midfielder. And while he sometimes struggles when asked to seize the initiative and pull the strings for us on the ball, his energy and relentless pressing is always on par with his fellow midfielders Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana, which is about as good a praise as he could get in that department. He also plays a vital part when we look to move forwards as a team; dribbling into space well, playing intelligent one-twos, and driving forwards ahead of the attack to allow the likes of Firmino or Mane to drop deep and disorient the opposition. He could, and probably should, have more goals for us by now, as his scoring record at each of his previous clubs has been impressive. But he’s been asked to perform a different role for us, and while that still may have profited us with more than a single, solitary goal, I think we can afford to give him the benefit of the doubt while he adapts to his new club and tactics, especially given how much he is thriving in so many other areas.
You can never have too many complaints after a derby day victory. It sends us off nicely into Christmas, after which hopefully we can look forward to a couple of players returning from injuries, and our already decent form continuing to improve. The fixtures are about to start mounting up, as the festive/new year schedule approaches and we enter into the FA Cup and then tackle the League Cup semi-finals, so it’s good to see that the players who have been waiting in the wings look more than capable of slotting right into our side. The likes of Klavan, Sturridge, Lucas, Can, Stewart, Gomez, and even Moreno may all need to be called upon soon, but Klopp will have ensured they all trained like first teamers anyway, and they should be champing at the bit to get their chance to prove their worth.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)