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The Loosening of the Devil's Red Pact

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Lyndon Lloyd17/10/20200comments  | Jump to last

You can take the fans out of the derby but you can't take the “derby” out of this historic grudge match, the latest edition of which saw four goals, an almost obligatory red card — 88 minutes, it should be said, after Jordan Pickford could have been sent off himself — and a last-gasp intervention from VAR’s hair’s-breadth rulers. A fixture that so often fails to deliver on the hype may not have produced the greatest exhibition of football from both sides but there were plenty of talking points and drama to chew over.

Everton came into the game with a 100% record and greater optimism of ending their miserable record in this fixture than they have done for many years but, in truth, they didn't do themselves justice. For long periods, there was just too much of the “old Everton”, the one that struggles to beat the opposition press, relies too heavily on Pickford’s boot to launch “attacks” and lacks the crisp, clinical passing of the like that Liverpool used to race into a very early lead.

With players possessing the ball-moving qualities of James Rodriguez, Allan and André Gomes — and certainly given the start they’d made to the new season — Evertonians could have been forgiven for expecting more from their team, especially in the first half where they struggled to contain a reds side operating near their peak. Gomes, in particular, was poor and looked well off the pace throughout until he was replaced by Gylfi Sigurdsson with 20 minutes to go and what was a sub-par performance overall from the team, coloured as it was by some visible fatigue, might gnaw at Carlo Ancelotti when he plays this one back.

When Everton were fleetingly sublime, it was, unsurprisingly, James Rodriguez who was at the heart of it but the Colombian had a mixed performance himself while Richarlison, the other player displaying the effects of trans-Atlantic travel on Thursday, was peripheral until he took centre stage late on.

But if the feeling was that Adriánwas a weak link in the reds’ side and that the loss Virgil van Dijk being forced off with an injury with just 10 minutes gave the Blues another big advantage, the hosts didn't end up taking full advantage. Apart from having to pick the ball out of the net and denying Dominic Calvert-Lewin prior to the first equaliser, the Spanish keeper wasn’t sufficiently worked by Everton.

Instead, the home side finished the match with 10 men after Richarlison’s deserved dismissal and played a Get Out of Jail Free card in stoppage time when Pickford, who had kept his side in it with an impressive display, almost threw a point away but Jordan Henderson’s goal, another potential heart-breaker for Blues supporters, was ruled out for marginal offside.

If there were fears that Everton would take the brunt of Liverpool’s response to the battering they took at Villa Park before the international break (not to mention that the forced pause in the schedule and the travel involved for some key players would be detrimental to the Toffees’ early-season momentum, they were realised right at the start of this contest. Jürgen Klopp’s side came flying out of the traps and were ahead inside three minutes.

A rapier-like passing move through the hosts’ midfield ended with the ball being played out to Andrew Robertson wide on the left and he centred hard and low for Sadio Mané to slam the ball high into the goal with a first-time finish.

Sensing blood, the reds came forward again in the fifth minute and when Virgil van Dijk threatened to meet a ball to the back post, he was cleaned out by a knee-high tackle by Pickford. With the whistle having already gone for offside and Pickford’s “tackle” deemed serious foul play and not violent conduct, there was no scope for VAR to review the incident and either award a penalty or send the goalkeeper off.

As such, it was a massive let-off for Pickford and Everton gradually settled and had a first chances of their own in the 11th minute when Calvert-Lewin could only head Lucas Digne’s cross well over and then when the striker tried to reprise his brilliant first goal against West Ham with deft control of Michael Keane’s ball over the top but his final shot was tame.

Everton equalised, though, with 18 minutes on the clock. Calvert-Lewin collected a ball down the right-hand channel and stung Adrian’s palms with a powerful drive from the angle. James took responsibility for the resulting corner and deposited it into the six-yard box where Keane connected with a strong header through the keeper’s gloves.

That should have been the cue for the Blues to settle, slow things down a bit and play their game a bit more but the passes just weren’t hitting their mark and all too often, the midfield was by-passed by Pickford’s long kicks forward. And that mid-section lacked fortitude at times as well. Allan was robbed of the ball in midfield but Mohamed Salah wasted the consequent chance with a powder-puff finish and then, when Gomes was penalised for a high foot near Mané (complete with theatrics from the Senegalese striker that should have warranted a yellow card), Pickford stretched impressively to push Trent Alexander-Arnold’s curling free-kick away to safety.

Then, with half an hour gone, Everton lost an important player of their own when Seamus Coleman suffered a recurrence of the hamstring problem that had prematurely ended his game against Brighton last time out and was replaced by Ben Godfrey, who acquitted himself very well on what was something of a baptism-by-fire debut.

Thiago Alcântara fired narrowly wide, Mané sliced a shot off target, and Calvert-Lewin’s side-foot touch slid past Adrian’s post as the two sides traded blows late in the first half but it was all square at the half-time interval.

If the second period had started in similar fashion to the first, with the visitors driving forward and seeing efforts from Fabinho and Henderson fly over the crossbar, Everton found some rhythm of their own and when Rodriguez picked Digne out with a splendid cross-field ball and the Frenchman put in a teasing centre, Calvert-Lewin uncharacteristically failed to get a touch ahead of Adrian.

James was at it again 10 minutes later with another quite brilliant cross that Richarlison dived to meet but his header came back off the post before the Colombian star had an effort of his own diverted away from goal by the keeper.

It was with 20 minutes to go in the Goodison derby back in June that Ancelotti’s side found an extra gear in an attempt to win the game and the same was hoped for today but it was Liverpool who took the lead again in the 72nd minute. Mina cut out a cross from the right but only presented it on a platter for Salah who took an instinctive snap-shot that spun beyond Pickford’s dive and inside the far post.

And 2-1 almost became 3-1 five minutes later. Joel Matip lost his marker in the box at a corner and headed towards the top corner but Pickford pawed it out the air superbly to deny the defender before parrying a stinging Salah shot over the bar.

Ancelotti had already withdrawn the disappointing Gomes and he then, somewhat surprisingly, replaced Abdoulaye Doucouré with Alex Iwobi for the last quarter of an hour but it was James and Digne who combined to serve up the second equaliser for Calvert-Lewin. Rodriguez, who had ghosted over to the left flank, fed the Frenchman down the line and his deep cross hung up perfectly for Calvert-Lewin to meet it with one of his amazing leaps and then steer his header back across the keeper.

“Now go and win it,” was, no doubt, the collective refrain from Evertonians watching on screens across the world over but Pickford had to save well at the feet of Mané before Richarlison effectively killed the Blues’ hopes of taking the points with a dreadful and needless challenge on Alcântara in the centre-circle. The Brazilian appeared to injure himself in the process of launching himself through the Spaniard but he will get a month to recuperate and consider his latest lack of judgement with a three-match suspension.

The incident almost proved to be even more costly because Liverpool tried to press home their numerical advantage in the last few minutes and looked to have claimed victory it with yet another sickening stoppage-time winner. Mané was played in down the reds’ left and he cut the ball back into the centre for Henderson whose side-footed effort looked routine enough for Pickford to palm away. Instead, the ball spun off his glove and over the line but Liverpool’s celebrations were cut dead by Video Assistant Referee, David Coote, who adjudged that Mane’s shoulder had been beyond the last defender.

It was a huge slice of fortune for Everton but then the Blues have been due some derby luck after years of dodgy refereeing decisions — hello, Graham Poll — and last-gasp winners. Reds fans will feel aggrieved at VAR and will moan that Pickford should have been given his marching orders after just five minutes but after Dirk Kuyt’s flying kick on Phil Neville, Steven Gerrard’s two-footed lunge on Gary Naismith, Luis Suarez’s histrionics in getting Jack Rodwell sent off, Evertonians won’t be losing any sleep.

Instead, they will, perhaps, see this as evidence that Beelzebub’s pact with the dark side of Merseyside is loosening, that the balances are being redressed somewhat and that their side, after years of inferiority have a side capable of living with the current champions.

Despite being well below the best of what they’ve shown this season and never seeming to get out of second gear, Everton managed to grab a draw against what Klopp described as his side’s best away performance of his tenure. The spirit of a side that knows the meaning of losing less and less these days to twice come from behind is admirable and hugely encouraging.

That’s definitely something to build on for Ancelotti but it’s a relief that the next tortuous derby isn’t until February when the Blues will get a chance to slay two hoodoos at once.

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