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The good, the bad and the lack of goals – Debating Liverpool 0-2 Everton

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Following Liverpool’s abject 2-0 defeat at home to Everton, three Reds supporters attempt to dissect yet another lifeless 90 minutes at Anfield.

Jurgen Klopp‘s men bounced into Saturday’s Merseyside derby full of confidence, having beaten RB Leipzig in the Champions League in midweek.

Unfortunately, Liverpool were flat from the moment the game kicked off and would eventually lose their 22-year unbeaten home record against Everton.

Richarlison’s early strike set the Blues on their way to victory before Gylfi Sigurdsson fired home a penalty late in the day.

Here, This Is Anfield’s Henry Jackson (@HenryJackson87) is joined by Owen Collins (@OGBCollins) and Rory Greenfield (@RoryGreenfield) to discuss another miserable outing for the Reds, including what has gone wrong for them in the final third.

 

The good…

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, February 20, 2021: Liverpool's Nathaniel Phillips during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Everton FC, the 238th Merseyside Derby, at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

OWEN: I thought Phillips had a decent game, given the circumstances, although he was outstripped by Calvert-Lewin prior to the ‘penalty’. And yes, I am clutching at straws already.

What else was good? Trent sticking it to Richarlison on every Red’s behalf was satisfying, although I can’t help feel he had the last laugh again.

In fairness, there were brief spells of good football on show and in the first half we seemed to have rediscovered the skill of passing into the opposition box rather than aimlessly crossing or blasting at goal, as has been the norm in 2021.

It worked and was when we looked closest to scoring. I’m aware ‘looked closest to scoring’ isn’t saying much these days, though, given there have been games when walking out of the tunnel has been the closest we’ve looked to scoring.

RORY: Only one injury? Another match down, so we’re closer to the end of this miserable season? Jokes aside, let’s be real, there is very little to cheer about right now as a Liverpool supporter.

The only glimmer of hope is that with Keita returning to the bench, we might finally be able to make a long-overdue tactical change.

We’re extremely predictable right now, especially against a low block, and it’s simply not working, especially against a low block.

The Guinean isn’t a player you’d rely on remaining fit, but if he’s available he can make a telling difference. High energy and pressing, purposeful dribbling and intelligent passing – him and Thiago could prove very dangerous together, offering a duel threat that may help to unlock stubborn defences.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, November 22, 2020: Liverpool’s Naby Keita during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Leicester City FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. Liverpool won 3-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I’d love to find more reasons for optimism, to look at the fixtures and see somewhere we can kick-start some form and consistency, but it’s difficult.

The Leipzig game in midweek showed me one thing – the team is scared of the next Premier League match.

They played with more freedom and confidence, scarcely seen of late. There are moments where the quality of these players wins out, then something knocks them back down to square one.

In the past, they’d back themselves to overcome the challenges, but not now. With any luck, however, Fabinho, Jota and Keita returning might just change the odds back in their favour.

HENRY: I think the lads have summed it really – football’s abysmal at the moment.

From the moment Kabak misjudged that high ball and headed it out for a corner, I just knew Liverpool were going to be off the pace. That’s not good, is it?

I agree with Owen that Phillips was just about the only bright spark, but that’s still massively clutching at straws. He was poor in the lead-up to that pathetic penalty decision.

The only other positive I can find is that Everton fans weren’t in the ground to witness that victory. I’m a bitter, bitter man.

 

The bad…

Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara and team-mates appear dejected (Laurence Griffiths / PA Media)

OWEN: Devastating injury, wasteful in attack, laughably nonsensical refereeing – to be honest, I was tempted to copy and paste this section from any one of about five previous articles.

At the same time as being absolutely devastated, in some perverse way, it’s hardly registering anymore.

So yes, Kabak was probably at fault for their first, and yes, Mane gave the ball away too easily and too often, and yes, we haven’t done anything useful with a corner for what feels like two years, but picking these out feels a bit like complaining about the wine list on the Titanic.

This is one of those seasons when nearly everything that could go wrong is going wrong and it’s wearying, and possibly unfair, to highlight individual wobbles in the face of this endless hurricane of misfortune.

That’s not to make excuses. Everton adopted the now-traditional defensive setup typical of bottom-half sides and they executed it perfectly. We didn’t play well enough, and even without Chris Kavanagh’s clueless decision-making, we didn’t look like having enough in the tank to rescue this one.

Everybody’s knackered, nobody is on form and our records are tumbling everywhere you look. Roll on August and let’s start again from the beginning. Doubters to believers 2.0.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, February 20, 2021: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Everton FC, the 238th Merseyside Derby, at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

RORY: The signs were worrying within the first three minutes of the game when Richarlison capitalised on poor play from, well, nearly everyone in a Reds shirt.

This trait of starting slowly has become synonymous with Liverpool this season. It’s not something new but in years gone they rarely conceded with such a formidable spine. Now, succumbing to an early goal leaves an even bigger mountain to climb.

People will scream about VAR, but the refereeing is equally at fault once more. How that penalty was given in the first instance I’ll never know, let alone once Kavanagh made the obligatory trip to the monitor to watch a five-second clip that might as well have been footage of Mars than the actual incident itself.

He seemed determined to give the penalty, no matter what. It was a disgraceful decision, but in truth, it had little barring on the outcome.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, February 20, 2021: Liverpool's goalkeeper Alisson Becker looks dejected as Everton's Dominic Calvert-Lewin wins a penalty during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Everton FC, the 238th Merseyside Derby, at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I know the lack of supporters is clearly telling, especially in a derby, but I struggle to remember a Reds team play so timidly in this fixture. The lack of intensity isn’t new this season, but if there was ever a match to compete from the first whistle it was this.

Given the injury to Van Dijk (and Thiago) in the previous game, I expected a response. Maybe not a Dirk Kuyt two-footed lunge, but a strong or over-zealous tackle or two.

Liverpool are clearly lacking leadership on the pitch but also a bite, which was crucial in their recent success. Fabinho’s subtle shithousery or Van Dijk’s utter contempt when anyone attempts to challenge him – even Matip’s wild gesticulation – is badly missed right now.

Meanwhile, Minamino scored another great goal, just for the wrong team. The Japanese player described today as “an artist” by Arsene Wenger no less, has thrived at Southampton.

The decision to loan him out when Firmino continues to flounder in front of goal, is becoming ever more bemusing. Some say he has a future at the club – I would like to believe that, let’s wait and see.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, February 20, 2021: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson goes down injured during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Everton FC, the 238th Merseyside Derby, at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

HENRY: I could write an essay on the bad, but I’ll spare you all.

Henderson’s injury was the latest in an endless stream of fitness woes and he is going to be a big loss in the coming weeks. I’ve never seen injuries like this.

I’m with Owen in that I could moan at Kabak’s performance and Mane’s infuriating knack of losing the ball, but there are so many mitigating factors at the moment that it’s hard to get too angry.

Even someone as great as Klopp is powerless to do anything about this kind of misfortune.

Another shocking VAR decision is no shock in the slightest – Liverpool have now had 11 negative decisions go against them in 2020/21, which is more than any team in the WHOLE of last season. That sums it up.

And Rory has nailed it about Minamino, too – what on earth were Liverpool doing letting him go? It makes absolutely no sense to me.

 

And the lack of goals…

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, February 20, 2021: Liverpool's Sadio Mané has his shot blocked during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Everton FC, the 238th Merseyside Derby, at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

OWEN: Somewhere in a parallel universe, Jota has never been to Denmark and Liverpool are top of the league.

In all seriousness, I’m praying that his return to fitness will solve the drought, if nothing else to give one of the front-three a bloody rest – they each look mentally and creatively shot.

I suppose there was always going to come a time when Mo, Sadio and Bobby all fell out of form at once, but when it happened, it seems to have created a self-generating loop of doubt and desperation, despite the occasional moments of utter brilliance in the last few weeks.

Is it as simple as saying there’s just nobody to replace them? Possibly. From memory, we’ve tried to pass the shooting boots to Ox, Shaqiri, and Curtis Jones of late, without success, and it appears our best option is to bring on Divock Origi and hope for something.

If this is the so-called “shop window” then I dread to think what the shop is, other than some sort of fire-damaged Debenhams.

Get Jota back fit and get somebody else in to just give the guys a breather and rediscover some sharpness.

Hell, Ben Woodburn or Layton Stewart, even. Failing that, there’s that Japanese guy down at Southampton, he looks quite handy.

RORY: A big part of the problem is the supply from midfield. There were brief signs that Liverpool may be starting to tick once more away to Tottenham and West Ham, but that has since waned.

Salah is the only consistent goal threat in the team right now and even he can’t do it alone, despite his best attempts. Without any threat from set-pieces and with Mane struggling to find regular contributions, it’s down to others to step up.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, February 20, 2021: Liverpool's Roberto Firmino shoots during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Everton FC, the 238th Merseyside Derby, at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Thiago can and has created but rarely scores, Jones is certainly capable, as is Wijnaldum (in a different coloured shirt) but the midfield isn’t fully functioning.

Without the presence of Fabinho, they’re too deep to impose themselves. The midfield is a much longer and more concerning topic than I have the words or energy to address right now, but I think it’s time to focus on a certain Brazilian.

I’m not going to lie, Firmino is driving me absolutely crazy. Whilst never the most prolific of number 9s, the lack of conviction in his shooting is a major issue now.

While Salah and Mane toil, they’re marshalled heavily in most games. This leaves Firmino with clearer opportunities and he’s simply not taking them.

His goalscoring has always been patchy, but the fact he was such a creative hub, whilst pressing so demonically and effectively, made him the focal point of this side for so long. Sadly, it feels this decline is no longer form but something more permanent.

Jota will take his position in the front-three, once fit, and the team will be better for it. Whether the Portuguese is the long-term answer as a No.9, I’m not sure.

As revelatory as he was at the start of the season, I believe his best position is still off the left of the three or deeper in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-2-2. The key difference with Jota, however, is his ability to score from any angle.

He generates strong power from little back lift and shoots early, low and hard. It’s in such contrast to Firmino that he’ll have to play. For a team so low on creativity, those precious few chances need to fall to someone decisive and clinical – a player selfish enough to take that chance and trust he will find the net.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 17, 2020: Liverpool’s Diogo Jota during the FA Premier League match between Everton FC and Liverpool FC, the 237th 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. The game ended in a 2-2 draw. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

HENRY: I think Owen and Rory have covered it all really.

Firmino is a massive issue for me now. He’s probably been my favourite player under Klopp, but I think it’s simply a case of him peaking as a footballer.

He is 30 later this year and has a huge amount of football in his legs – sometimes a player just drifts past his best and is no longer a fulcrum of the side. It happens.

This doesn’t mean Liverpool should sell him, but I think we’re seeing him reach a stage where he should no longer start every week next season.

I think the front three’s woes as a collective still boils down to injuries, though. I will use it as an excuse until I’m blue in the face because they really have ruined Liverpool’s season single-handedly.

Not having Van Dijk, Gomez and Matip around has a knock-on effect with everything: the Reds can’t play as high a line; the full-backs don’t have the same freedom and aren’t able to provide as much in the final third and the two best midfielders have been playing at the back, taking energy and quality out of the middle of the park.

Bring on August…

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