Liverpool and Everton fought out a fairly grim 0-0 draw in the Premier League on Saturday morning, keeping the Reds in third.
Everton 0-0 Liverpool
Premier League, Goodison Park
April 7, 2018
Wijnaldum’s dress rehersal
The biggest positive to come out of the dire draw was undoubtedly Gini Wijnaldum‘s performance as the No. 6, the Reds’ holding midfielder on the day.
With Emre Can still injured and Jordan Henderson suspended, the Dutchman is next in line to take up the role for the second leg against Manchester City.
Thankfully, Wijnaldum passed this test with flying colours, much as he did in pre-season.
He was strong in the tackle, surged forward into the limited spaces available to open up play for his team and was always available covering Everton‘s rare counter-attacks.
Of course there will be far more to deal with at Man City, but this was a promising display in a position of weakness ahead of next week.
Indeed, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to call this Wijnaldum’s best Premier League performance away from Anfield.
Klopp’s experimental system
Changes were necessary due to fatigue and injuries, but there were still a few surprises in Jurgen Klopp‘s selected lineup.
Ragnar Klavan at left-back was particularly notable, while Gini Wijnaldum took the No. 6 role despite Jordan Henderson playing—surely with one eye on Tuesday.
Danny Ings‘ first league start under Jurgen Klopp came on the right side of the front three, ahead of Nathaniel Clyne—returning for his first game of the season after a long-term absence.
All those changes meant an understandable lack of fluency in the side’s football, as well as a vastly reduced chance creation rate.
There were certainly positives—Clyne was solid, Wijnaldum as above—but it was always going to make it difficult to create enough chances to win comfortably.
In the end, that rustiness from the front men ultimately cost the shot at victory.
For those who don’t get to play often, taking the opportunity when it’s handed to them is of paramount importance—and that goes double for forwards, given the productivity of the Reds’ usual trio.
Dominic Solanke and Ings both started, both needing a goal and a performance to show they can reasonably be seen as understudies to Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Co.
And both were woefully below-par in the first half.
The hold-up play was non-existent, Solanke missed a big chance from just five yards out and neither seemed to have any kind of first touch.
Unfortunately that pattern continued into the second half, with the exception of any clear chances to lament being missed. Aside from two blocked Solanke efforts, there was little to cheer from the front two.
Eye on the future
It’s a bit of an indication of the low-key nature of the game that a talking point is three players who didn’t even set foot on the pitch—but the Reds’ bench was intriguing nonetheless.
Along with academy graduate Trent Alexander-Arnold, who entered the pitch late on, Klopp also selected teenagers Conor Masterson and Curtis Jones as subs.
They were added to by young winger Rafa Camacho, who was drafted in after Alberto Moreno was injured in the warm-up.
None of the trio saw game time—Roberto Firmino and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were given 20 minutes or so—but the experience of being on the bench will have been eye-opening.
It also perhaps gives an indication on who is impressing enough from the next generation down to warrant Klopp calling them up, with each having been training with the seniors.
With the top four close to being sealed, it could be that one or more are given an experience of the last league games of the campaign with an eye on future development.
Derby done, City to come
Liverpool faced four key games in the space of two weeks, and three-quarters of the way through that run they remain unbeaten.
Palace were vanquished, Man City destroyed, now the derby has been navigated without too much to be negative about, despite only taking a point.
It’s all eyes on the second leg against Man City, from Klopp as much as the fans, as was clearly shown in his lineup.
Resting Firmino, taking off James Milner and Sadio Mane, starting the attackers as he did; it might be about recovery from the first leg, but it’s also ensuring the team is raring to go at the Etihad.
Remain unbeaten from this four-game streak and the Reds will be in the last four in Europe as well as the top three in England.