Virgil van Dijk, midfield rotation and some always welcomed derby handbags make three of the five talking points as Liverpool’s record signing grabs a late winner in the FA Cup at Anfield.
Liverpool 2-1 Everton
FA Cup Third Round, Anfield
Friday, January 5, 2018
Goals: Milner 34′, van Dijk 84′; Sigurdsson 66′
Virgil van Dijk makes his debut
The atmosphere was thick with anticipation as Liverpool’s record signing was named by Klopp for the visit of Everton.
Huge expectations will follow the Dutchman around for some considerable time after his £75 million move from Southampton. It’s no secret that Liverpool have lacked a cohesive leader at the centre of their defence for some considerable time, and van Dijk has been brought in to address this concerning attribute.
It took all of three minutes for a packed Anfield, and those watching at home, to see that van Dijk can step into this void immediately.
Barking instructions whilst organising those to the side and in front of him as to where they should be. Strong in the air he had the Everton attack under control at almost every aerial opportunity.
His presence in the opposition box caused panic, the Dutchman exploited this twice. First he jumped clear to tamely head an opportunity to a grateful Pickford, the giant in red wasn’t going to miss the next chance – towering above the Everton backline he nodded the ball into the Kop end net to send the terraces wild.
Injuries and a tight Christmas schedule left Jurgen Klopp with little opportunity, the Liverpool manager had to rotate for the visit of Everton – derby or not.
Emre Can – fresh from the rumours he has signed a deal with Juventus for next season – was partnered with the returning Adam Lallana and vice-captain James Milner.
It took a significant part of the first half for the midfield three to get their shape, and it was less than convincing.
However, even though he looked exceptionally rusty after a long layoff it was Lallana who drew a naive foul from Holgate inside the area and Bobby Madley pointed to the spot. Fellow midfielder Milner stepped up to blast the ball home.
Fingers will be pointed at Can for the Everton goal he was guilty of a lack of concentration.
Giving up on his tracking back duties his slowing of speed enabled Sigurdsson to fire a shot past Karius from the edge of the area.
There will be many who will see this as his only contribution all night but the German was tireless in his work rate bar this one, costly, error.
Yellow cards, tasty tackles and a penalty – this derby match had it all. Holgate’s arm across Lallana could be viewed as soft, but no more so than the spot-kick that allowed Everton to snatch a point at Anfield last month.
Wayne Rooney was the first to lose his head and the Everton elder statesman was heading for a red card before he was substituted early on in the second half.
For the matchup that has seen more red cards than any other fixture in English history, this particular episode ended with 11 versus 11; however, Mason Holgate was lucky that referee Madley bottled the decision to show him a yellow (gusting red) card for deliberately pushing Roberto Firmino so hard he ended up in the Main Stand.
Unsporting behaviour or serious foul play – you decide seeing as the referee didn’t bother.
Defensive frailties still show
Liverpool were exposed by Everton on three occasions, with one counter attack resulting in a goal.
The high ball into the box will still cause a problem for the Reds until they can partner van Dijk with someone equally as adept in the air – the Dutchman can’t be omnipresent in the area, he secures his section well but those to the left and right must be as resolute should Liverpool want to nullify the weak-point many try to exploit.
Karius, and Mignolet when called upon, will have to work out a relationship with van Dijk quickly, the German goalkeeper was hesitant on several occasions when it was clear his centre back wanted him to come and claim the ball.
It is the individual errors that still cause Liverpool a problem, the fact the Reds can now go up the other end and pinch a winner is a pleasing development.
Liverpool frustrated everyone last time they faced the Blues a month ago. Good chances went begging and Everton duly pulled a goal back to leave Anfield with a draw.
As seen against Burnley on New Year’s Day there seems to be a new level of confidence around the team, Liverpool scored late in that game to win and the same steely display was on show tonight.
Whilst van Dijk will grab the headlines it shows that the defensive unit can now push on and help a Rolls Royce forward line grab a goal or two when they may be running out of fuel.
Next up for the Reds is the visit of champions-elect Manchester City, Pep’s Sky Blues can be devastating as Liverpool found out in September but lately the ability to grab wins where defeats may have followed previously is a good sign that Liverpool are marching on, and tonight that is into the fourth round of the FA Cup at Everton‘s expense, lovely!