Liverpool dealt ‘Sorry I missed you’ card as Everton’s next pantomime villain emerges

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Liverpool were left to wait for their Premier League title like a customer awaiting a Hermes delivery, as Everton and their new pantomime villain held their own.

Stumbling into the daylight, a new daylight, blinking, not sure of what to make of it all.

Football is back and the most drawn-out, one-horse title race ever looks set to roll into its 12th month, after a marvellously forgettable 236th Merseyside derby.

When Liverpool’s manager and his players emerged from that portacabin on the Goodison Park car park, it partially struck the aesthetic feel that they were contractors, sauntering back from their tea break, ready for another round of power-washing the ‘Welcome To Goodison Park’ tarpaulin that adorns the back of the Park End.

An audible siren of impending doom emanating from inside the ground, the summer rain toppling from the sky. Everything suggested the surreal, as we headed into the lowest-attended Merseyside derby ever.

I hadn’t been too issued by other teams playing behind closed doors, but seeing your own do likewise was roundly unsettling. It is something we will have to get used to, swiftly.

Some fine games of football have taken place over the course of the last few weeks, the Bundesliga being the benchmark by which all other ‘Hollywood’ leagues could restart if given the green light by their respective governments.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved having football back.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, June 21, 2019: Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk, Sadio Mané and Fabio Henrique Tavares 'Fabinho' walk out before the FA Premier League match between Everton FC and Liverpool FC, the 236th Merseyside Derby, at Goodison Park. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

A sense of peril even kicked in on Saturday afternoon on behalf of Werder Bremen, one of the giants of German football, who are staring at the stark reality that relegation from the Bundesliga is looking the most likely conclusion to their troubled season.

A club that has spent only one season outside the top flight of the German game since professionalism was introduced, I’ll be glued to my TV screen to see if they can pull off the great escape this Saturday.

Everything is just that little bit displaced right now. The cups are where the plates should be. It is like walking into a pre-lockdown supermarket, only to find they’ve moved the aisles around and you no longer know where anything is.

On Sunday, Wales were due to be playing Italy in Rome, bringing Group A of the Euros to a finish, we were meant to be transfixed by the final round of the US Open golf at Winged Foot, while the Bigfoot music festival was scheduled to be gearing up for its rousing crescendo in Alcester.

Many people should have been packing in preparation of Glastonbury, praying for dry weather next weekend.

Instead, the Premier League continued in its commitment to end the season it started back in August. The only right and proper thing to do, but a path that will be taken blindfolded.

Talk of the game taking place at St Mary’s thankfully having receded, Liverpool were handed the basic concept of winning their next two games to clinch the title on Merseyside.

Liverpool, including Jordan Henderson (left) and manager Jurgen Klopp, missed out on three points at Everton (PA)

A third successive goalless draw in Goodison Merseyside derbies was perhaps the least surprising moment of a very surprising campaign.

This is a different Everton, compared to the one we put five past at Anfield; this is a different Everton to the one that was embarrassed by Klopp’s kids in the FA Cup back in January.

Carlo Ancelotti is class act, a coach who adapts to the changing moods of football, rather than one of those coaches who stubbornly clings to the tactics that worked for them 15 years ago, in the belief that it is the altering landscape that is wrong, rather than admitting to themselves that the game has moved on without them.

Ancelotti will elevate Everton to a higher level than they have been used to over the last three decades. He’ll do immeasurably better at Goodison in comparison to how Jose Mourinho will manage at Tottenham.

None of this means that Everton will be breaking that Merseyside derby hoodoo any time soon, though.

On Sunday evening, Liverpool recorded greater possession, yet Everton created the best chances in what was a poor game of football.

You wait three months for a game, then you are served something that has you wondering what games will be selected for the next episode of The Big Match Revisited, or Euros Rewind.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, June 21, 2019: Everton's Richarlison de Andrade (L) and Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk during the FA Premier League match between Everton FC and Liverpool FC, the 236th Merseyside Derby, at Goodison Park. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

A derby day like no other, the traditional pre-match pantomime didn’t revolve around an overly optimistic Derek Hatton upon this occasion, this time the pre-match mud-slinging duties were picked up by Richarlison, with his opinions on Virgil van Dijk.

Richarlison is all mouth and a modicum of trousers. He had an early chance but seemed to blink when the moment to pull the trigger came. It is in these circumstances where a Richarlison can turn himself from a ‘might be’ into a ‘going to be’.

Liverpool partook in a game of shadowboxing. All punches pulled, a feint here, a glancing blow there. Nothing substantial being landed.

It was nice to see everyone again, against a backdrop in which they weren’t cutting grass with scissors or performing impressive feats of choreography on laminated steps.

Injuries and yellow cards were picked up, drinks breaks were had, five substitutions were made, while simulated crowd noise was adhered to.

Kenny Dalglish struggled with his face mask. He looked like Donald Duck at one point.

The supporters of both clubs stayed away, to prove the point that football fans can show far more common sense than the average shopper at Primark.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, June 21, 2019: Liverpool’s Sadio Mané (R) and Everton's captain Seamus Coleman during the FA Premier League match between Everton FC and Liverpool FC, the 236th Merseyside Derby, at Goodison Park. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool’s goalscoring chances were laced with only mild peril for the hosts.

A Joel Matip header from a Trent Alexander-Arnold free-kick lacked the required levels of power and direction; Bobby Firmino dragged one wide when Naby Keita was well-positioned to receive the ball.

Other no-chance chances fell the way of Alexander-Arnold and Keita.

With the number of changes made throughout the game, it started to take on the air of an international friendly.

The lack of a crowd possibly helped Everton. No clarion calls from the stands to urge their team into foolishly open endeavours at just the wrong time.

There was no sensory pantomime this time around; no need for Liverpool’s players to bristle at the atmosphere. ‘New normal’ and all that. External distractions were not a consideration.

No added weight was placed on the occasion by the reactions of the crowd to perceived injustices.

As the game wore on, Richarlison ballooned one high and wide when closed by the impressive Joe Gomez, while Lucas Digne was booked for a fine tackle, the resultant free-kick flicking off the wall for a corner.

Gini Wijnaldum, Divock Origi and Dejan Lovren all made cameo appearances, with Wijnaldum being the surprising identity of the Liverpool player who almost gave the game away.

It was he who was dispossessed in the buildup to Tom Davies hitting the post.

Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson fist bumps Virgil van Dijk during the Premier League match at Goodison Park, Liverpool. (Jon Super/NMC Pool/PA Wire/PA Images)

In a bright finish to the game for Everton, Alisson made another save, this time from Richarlison.

Liverpool’s response saw a late Fabinho free-kick tipped over by Jordan Pickford, the Brazilian midfielder testing the theory of the England international’s shortness of arms.

It would have been very Merseyside derby of us to have won it there and then. Cold Everton sweats will have broken out as the clock ticked down.

A goalless return it was then. Five points to go and the title will be claimed, in this prolonged stroll toward the inevitable.

It’s like waiting in for a parcel to be delivered by Hermes.

The prize is on the way, but where and when it will materialise is still very much open to conjecture and there is no customer service number we can call either.

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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