Can I write about the Merseyside derby yet? Has the dust settled enough? Have the Anfield Wrap lot put their crayons away yet? While Jürgen Klopp continues to erupt like an Icelandic volcano, Sam Allardyce has come away from the den of horrors as pleased as the cat that got the Bisto. We’re all a little bit pleased too, but also annoyed. It’s alright to be both. In fact, it’d be weird if you weren’t.
What is most encouraging about what is on paper a very nondescript 1-1 draw is the fact it was nondescript. Three clean sheets in a row, followed by a game in which a side that had scored 15 goals in their last three outings could only muster three shots on target. Mo Salah’s goal was a beauty, and the other two efforts on Pickford’s goal are extremely difficult to even recall. What that means is that Everton’s defence was organised, resolute and stuck to the plan.
That also means there was a plan, which is an absolute delight when compared to recent Anfield tragedies. Sam Allardyce must have looked closely at the other sides to come away from Shelbyville leaving a bitter taste in Kopite mouths. Burnley, 28% possession, five shots, 37 clearances. Manchester United, 37.8% possession, six shots (one on target), 21 tackles. Chelsea, 46% possession, three shots on target, 23 tackles. Sevilla, a whopping 50% possession, two shots on target, six blocks. Allardyce knew Everton would not win the battle for possession, and so set the side up to frustrate, throw their bodies on the line and wait for the right moment to strike. And, with Dejan Lovren’s help, it worked. It’s worth remembering that the penalty doesn’t happen without Wayne Rooney carrying the ball into the Liverpool half and flighting an exceptional ball into the path of Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
Everton’s forward rarely got involved, but his contributions were positive when he did, competing impressively in the air. Gylfi Sigurdsson performed valiantly in his defensive duties and provided Everton’s other shot on target, while Idrissa Gueye constantly put himself in the firing line – even if he should have done more to prevent Salah scoring. The star of Everton’s limited show was Jonjoe Kenny, whose tenacity and sound decision-making was exactly what was needed.
All of that is the side dish, though. Let us give thanks to the footballing gods and dine out on a seemingly endless supply of the Reds fuming. The irascible Klopp, he who fell apart as the cameras he loves so much seemed to turn against him, provided most of the fun. The howls of derision that Everton would dare take a point away after an assault on sport, and indeed life itself, weren’t at all overdramatic and pathetic. And I can’t go on without saying that Liverpool fans moaning about soft penalty decisions is like Piers Morgan bemoaning a lack of privacy. In fact, it’s like those ‘white genocide’ morons. After having it all their way for time immemorial, one tiny blow has sent them cartwheeling. And if that doesn’t bring you immense pleasure, you’re just not a Blue.
Yet let’s not pretend we’re treating it like a win, though that’s what our loveable neighbours have told us we’re doing. The game was, frankly, garbage. Everton were terrible. During the first half, we were so impotent that Pelé was appointed club mascot. It isn’t fun to see Everton create such a tiny amount, nor is it enjoyable to watch possession given away like a hastily-purchased Christmas present. Tom Davies looked particularly terrified of having the ball, while Oumar Niasse was so poor that I’ve taken his locker away again. We have to talk about Cuco Martina too. At first, I thought he was purely awful. In fact, he was…less awful. Martina completed plenty of tackles and clearances, with a decent success rate in the former. But Salah was always going to be too much for him, and so it proved with the goal. Martina was the sacrificial lamb, played out of position against a player in red-hot form. It could have been fatal.
The main source of annoyance is also the main source of pleasure. The plan made sense. It was practical. But it was a damning indictment of the lack of quality in the squad right now. It would have been great to go to Anfield and take the game to Liverpool, but it wasn’t possible. Allardyce put out an Everton side that was well-organised, but also lacked ambition. It is the sort of performance that no Everton manager can dare to repeat though, in this case, stealing a point provided the justification. Without the penalty, we would be asking serious questions of the performance – even with the point secured, it has to be ensured that there is some bite in the side in every single match.
Everton were accused of “anti-football” by some seething Kopites. What a nonsense phrase. Everything is football. Some styles are more attractive and desirable, but the objective – winning points – is the same. Allardyce played the percentages at Anfield, and was rewarded. But Liverpool can never tone their critiques down, so it was THE WORST PERFORMANCE IN THE HISTORY OF FOOTBALL.
90% of why we are pleased with the Merseyside derby is the fact that Kopite heads have fallen off left, right and centre. The other 10% comes from satisfaction with the game plan working at Anfield for once. Now, it’s time for Allardyce to show his versatility. At Newcastle, the game plan needs to involve a lot more attacking intent. Ditto against Swansea, West Brom and Bournemouth. Chelsea and Manchester United will need a system reliant on the tough-tackling game that gets Goodison rocking. We showed at Anfield that we can adapt to what is needed at the time. Hopefully, such a style of play won’t be needed when we return there, either in the FA Cup or next season.
It’s alright to be both pleased and annoyed. Now, hands up if you think it was a penalty…