Liverpool extended their lead at the top of the Premier League to 23 points on Sunday evening, but were held to a dire 0-0 draw at Goodison Park.
As has been the case with most games so far, the season’s third Merseyside derby got off to a pretty sluggish start. The artificial fans could do little to mask the sleepy, exhibition tempo, although a slick Liverpool counter-attack just after the half-hour mark might have, had Roberto Firmino not dragged his shot wide.
The introduction of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at the break saw Liverpool up the ante, but while their attacks increased in frequency and intensity, the Toffees stood strong. By the hour mark, the Reds had seen 65% of the ball, but were limited to a single shot on target.
For all the game was controlled by Liverpool, however, Everton exploded into life as the game entered the final 10 minutes. Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Tom Davies and Richarlison all found themselves with excellent chances, but a combination of some magnificent work from Alisson and the Brazilian’s right-hand post kept the sheet clean.
Fabinho surprised everyone when he took precedence to Trent Alexander-Arnold to fire a stoppage-time free kick at Jordan Pickford, but a victory for either side would have been unjust in what was – let’s face it – a terrible game of football.
Key Talking Point
All eyes turned to 19-year-old Anthony Gordon, who made his first league start in a youthful Everton XI which featured four academy graduates, and it was a team which, for the most part, did the job it set out to; frustrate and contain the more esteemed visitors.
Liverpool were far from at their best, granted, but they weren’t given the space to be, as the Toffees used the declining tempo and tame atmosphere to their advantage.
They will feel desperately unlucky not to have won the game when a flurry of late chances came their way, but they nonetheless have reason to be positive after ensuring their rivals will have to wait that little bit longer to make sure of their Premier League title.
Starting XI: Pickford (6), Coleman (6), Keane (7), Holgate (6), Digne (6); Gordon (6), Gomes (8*), Davies (6), Iwobi (7); Richarlison (6), Calvert-Lewin (5).
Substitutes: Sigurdsson (5), Bernard (N/A), Kean (N/A).
To call it a spectacular Everton performance would be quite a reach, but it was functional and effective, owing largely to the brick wall they set up in front of the Liverpool midfield which cut off the supply to an isolated forward line.
At the heart of all that was Gomes, whose defensive abilities were as effective as his distribution and composure on the ball which allowed his side some respite when they were able to get on the ball.
Key Talking Point
The team Jurgen Klopp sent out raised more than a couple of eyebrows, as Mohamed Salah was only fit enough for a place on the bench. He was replaced by January signing Takumi Minamino while Andy Robertson – suffering from a minor knock – sat out for the dependable James Milner.
Joel Matip and Naby Keita were each handed starts, which would have seemed unlikely, but the deployment of a squad player or two can perhaps come as no real surprise given the severity of the schedule ahead.
The unfamiliar lineup coupled with the ring-rust of three football-less months led to a performance that lacked in rhythm and vibrancy, and even the introduction of Divock Origi – a Liverpool cult hero after five goals in his last seven derbies – was unable to inspire anything magical.
A muscle injury to Matip forced Klopp to make his fifth substitution when he might have considered throwing Salah into the fray, but a fairly lethargic performance – made worse by the introduction of a shaky Lovren – nudged them a point closer to the Premier League title.
Starting XI: Alisson (8*); Alexander-Arnold (7), Matip (5), Van Dijk (6), Miner (6); Henderson (6), Fabinho (7), Keita (6); Minamino (5), Firmino (6), Mané (6).
Substitutes: Gomez (6), Oxlade-Chamberlain (5), Wijnaldum (6), Origi (5), Lovren (3).
There was next to no quality in the game from a Liverpool perspective until 80 minutes, when they needed Alisson at his very best to prevent what would have been an embarrassing defeat at the home of their rivals.
The Brazilian made himself big and reacted like lightning to keep out Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison, and continues to prove he was worth every penny of his massive transfer fee.
Both sides have a tight turnaround ahead, with Everton travelling to bottom side Norwich on Wednesday just hours before Liverpool host Crystal Palace.
Everton return to Goodison to face Leicester a week later, while Liverpool have the small matter of a trip to Manchester City next Thursday, though will be hoping to have the title sewn up before then.