Liverpool returned to Premier League action with a fairly low-key 0-0 draw in the third Merseyside derby of the season, with Everton crafting the best of the chances.
Everton 0-0 Liverpool
Premier League (30), Goodison Park
June 21, 2020
Taki and Naby, earning starts
The buildup to the derby had seen two players praised by coaches and team-mates alike who had not been in the team, certainly not as regular starters, before the lockdown.
Takumi Minamino and Naby Keita have clearly benefitted from the unexpected break and resulting return to training, and they were two standouts for the Reds in the first 45 minutes at Goodison Park.
Minamino’s passing and pressing were good in deep areas, while Keita was easily the best player on the park, dribbling away from challenges, winning back the ball and playing the quick, one-touch exchanges which help open up defences.
Minamino can consider himself unfortunate to have been subbed at the break, more an indication of the need to get pace behind the defence than a reflection on his display.
Derby without fire, fans & atmosphere
Ahead of kickoff there was a suggestion, even from in the Everton camp, that a lack of supporters might mean Carlo Ancelotti’s players wouldn’t be almost goaded into over-attacking by their own fans—demanding a long-overdue win against the Reds.
On the flip-side, the roaring home support has often helped Everton crawl over the line to a point they scarcely deserved, and that would also be missing on this occasion.
In the end, did it matter either way?
The Reds were easily the better footballing side—obviously the team with greater squad options and fewer injuries to potential starters—but Everton arguably had the better chances with their late flurry.
And, ultimately, Liverpool will win the title and Everton won’t.
Lack of left-back threat
Andy Robertson should be back for midweek, says Klopp, but having James Milner on that side in the derby—and the absence of any attacking thrust as a result—perhaps serves as a reminder of one job for summer.
Yasser Larouci is highly rated by the club’s staff, but should Robertson pick up a two- or three-month absence in 2020/21, will he realistically get picked to play regularly?
And if not, are Liverpool still to maintain the same threat if Milner is the outlet?
The vice-captain obviously has a big role to play, on the pitch and off, but he’s far from best utilised on the side of the defence. Needs-must sees him fill in once in a while, but the Reds could certainly do with an alternative attack-minded presence.
His early departure from the pitch only serves to underline that he’s not suited to the intense, sprint-heavy, wide outlet role which Robertson fills so well.
Perhaps Bukayo Saka might be sufficiently disillusioned with Arsenal‘s form after the restart…
Early fitness concerns
No Robbo in the squad, no Mo Salah on the pitch.
Then we lost Milner to injury in the first half, and Joel Matip to another in the second.
It’s a quick and rather brutal reminder that footballers face different circumstances even in terms of reaching peak sharpness and fitness, and it’s not just a case of switching on the form and skill.
The substitutions might not have been ideal in normal circumstances—best performer going off after an hour in Keita, not gambling with an attacker when Matip went down and so on—but that probably wasn’t the biggest factor on this occasion.
Getting over the line will happen, Klopp wants all his seniors getting game time and sharpness and there’s little reason to risk the squad’s fitness.
On to Wednesday
The Reds play on Wednesday against Crystal Palace and, ideally, we’d have been looking to seal the title then.
A draw here means it won’t be the case, but it’s only marginally delaying the inevitable and it’s notable that, given an extra opportunity to break their duck this season, the Blues have failed to win any of the three derbies in 2019/20.
Assuming City beat Burnley, it may well go right down to the Reds simply beating City themselves in a one-off shootout to wrest the title away from them, and away from Anfield.
Not the situation we expected to be going for the title in, but then exactly what about all this present context is?!