Centre-backs impress as Reds show grit to win it late – 5 talking points from Everton 0-1 Liverpool

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Sadio Mane‘s stoppage time strike earned Jurgen Klopp‘s side a huge three points in dramatic fashion in the Merseyside derby.

Everton 0–1 Liverpool

Premier League, Goodison Park
December 19, 2016

Goals: Mane (90)

It wasn’t a classic by any means, but it had the most brilliant ending possible for anyone of a Liverpool persuasion – providing the perfect early Christmas present.

For so long, it looked as though the Reds and their local adversaries would have to settle for a drab goalless draw, only for Mane to pounce after Daniel Sturridge‘s shot had come back off the post.

It was the kind of moment that can potentially define a season, as Liverpool picked up their first win at Goodison Park since October 2011.

Here are five talking points from an unforgettable 227th Merseyside derby.

 

New-found grittiness

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, December 19, 2016: Liverpool's Dejan Lovren clashes with Everton's Romelu Lukaku during the FA Premier League match, the 227th Merseyside Derby, at Goodison Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

One of Liverpool’s biggest Achilles heels in recent times has been an ability to dig deep when the chips are down.

Against Everton, this aspect of their play was really put to the test early on, but Klopp’s men passed with flying colours.

The hosts came flying out of the traps in front of a Goodison crowd baying for blood, and the Reds had to withstand a dominant spell by their rivals.

High balls were being launched into the box, 50/50 balls were going Everton‘s way and the visitors couldn’t find their rhythm on or off the ball.

Crucially, however, they didn’t concede, and in truth, Everton were only really limited to half-chances, with Ramiro Funes Mori heading wide.

In years gone by, Liverpool would have found themselves 1-0 down and in real trouble, but this side is made of sterner stuff under Klopp.

They still aren’t perfect in that respect, as we witnessed during their late meltdown at Bournemouth, but they are improving all the time.

That was Liverpool’s first 1-0 win of 2016 – it is a scoreline that can be so precious in football.

 

Centre-backs outstanding

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, December 19, 2016: Liverpool's Dejan Lovren in action against Everton during the FA Premier League match, the 227th Merseyside Derby, at Goodison Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

There was slight doom and gloom in the lead-up to the match, after it emerged that key man Joel Matip would again be missing through injury.

With the imposing figure of Romelu Lukaku up against them, it had the potential to be a torrid night for Liverpool’s centre-back pairing of Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan.

They may have kept a cleansheet at Middlesbrough, but this was a far bigger test.

As it turned out, we had nothing to worry about, with the duo bordering on faultless – bar a couple of needless fouls by Lovren.

The way in which they kept Lukaku quiet had echoes of Matip up against Diego Costa and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, with their aerial ability, experience and no-nonsense style all standing out.

Neither Lovren or Klavan are ever going to be the most popular players at Liverpool, but they deserve huge credit for their efforts against Everton.

A word of praise for Simon Mignolet too, who has kept successive cleansheets alongside Lovren and Klavan since returning to the side last week.

 

An off-night for Firmino & Origi

With Philippe Coutinho still out injured and Sturridge only fit enough for a place on the bench, Liverpool’s front three was again made up of Mane, Roberto Firmino and Divock Origi.

While the former came up trumps at a key moment, Firmino and Origi struggled at times.

The Brazilian produced the odd moment of class, as any player with his ability would, but he seemed off the pace and lacking a spark. Klopp admitted post-match that he isn’t in the best “moment” with regards his current form.

Without his stricken compatriot Coutinho,Firmino doesn’t look the same player, and he looked a little leggy at the match progressed.

Although he did better when moved centrally, with Origi switching to the left, this was still a poor evening for one of Liverpool’s most important players.

Origi was also very frustrating in his decision-making and failure to hold the ball up at times, but an excellent run of form in front of goal should not be forgotten. He remains very raw, but a very exciting young talent.

 

Barkley somehow doesn’t see red

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, December 19, 2016: Liverpool's Adam Lallana clashes with Everton's Seamus Coleman during the FA Premier League match, the 227th Merseyside Derby, at Goodison Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

When Mike Dean was announced as referee for the Merseyside derby, you could almost hear the whole of Liverpool groan.

The controversial official is known for being too noticeable in games because of poor decisions, and while he was generally solid on Monday, he still made a glaring error.

Ross Barkley was incredibly fortunate not be sent-off for his horrific challenge on Jordan Henderson – which was a genuine ankle-breaker. Fortunately the Liverpool captain avoided serious injury – and to only give him a yellow card was criminal on Dean’s part.

Soon after, Barkley then petulantly kicked the ball away, preventing the Reds from breaking, but once again Dean failed to punish him correctly.

Fortunately for Liverpool, Mane’s goal meant that the decision didn’t prove costly, but Klopp would have been left understandably fuming if two points had been dropped.

 

Stuff of champions?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, December 19, 2016: Liverpool's Sadio Mane celebrates scoring the winning goal against Everton in injury time during the FA Premier League match, the 227th Merseyside Derby, at Goodison Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

For so many years, we had to sit back and watch Alex Ferguson’s Man United side nick late winners that eventually proved pivotal in title wins. It was also a trademark of Liverpool’s in the 1970s and 1980s.

This ruthless edge is another thing that has often been lacking in the Premier League era for the Reds, but not on Monday night.

The drama of Mane’s winner brought back glorious memories of Gary McAllister’s free-kick at Goodison back in 2001, and it could be equally important come the end of the season.

The Reds never panicked in the closing stages, like all great sides, and their patience eventually paid off. Whisper it quietly, in fact no, shout it from the rooftops, this is what champions do.

It cannot be stressed how important the win was, given Chelsea‘s current form, and they are now still six points adrift of the current league leaders.

For the more conservative among us, it also keeps Liverpool looking very good for a top-four finish. What a night that was!

To mark the end of the 30-year wait for a league title, the ‘Liverpool Mishmash’ poster is available to order exclusively on This Is Anfield — the history of the Reds in one image!

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