Liverpool must kick on from derby day victory
Steps were taken in the right direction on Monday but the Reds must not then take any steps back
Monday night was a unique experience for me, watching the Merseyside Debry opposite two Everton fans on the same table. These were friends and members of my university society so there was no form of hostility, merely friendly football banter, but I can say it made derby day victory all the more satisfying.
It only added to the Merseyside Derby cliches that were on display; the old “form goes out of the window”, with Everton fans overhyping their players (the only thing that was remarkable about Amadou Onana’s performance for example, was his acting performance when Trent brushed his neck only for Onana to fall over as if Trent had hit a full power free kick at his face), to the sudden transition of “we need to win this one” at the start of the game to “three points from the last two is more than we could have asked for” as Gakpo slotted in to make it 2-0.
Then there were the cliches on the pitch; the comedy of Everton very nearly opening the scoring, to going 1-0 down 13 seconds later (a new Premier League record according to OptaJoe) was the quintessential opening goal in a Merseyside Derby, as well as Pickford being made to look the clown at Anfield yet again.
People will ask “what was he supposed to do?” with so many players in front him, but surely walking away from the goal as if distracted by a cloud he thought was shaped like a dinosaur (much like his T-Rex arms) wasn’t the best solution. If the ball goes past Salah and Gakpo tucks it away, Pickford hardly looks a fool. I actually think he’s a good goalkeeper and I’ve changed my mind on him, but that Origi goal has clearly cursed him at Anfield.
There was also something fitting in the story of the match with ex-Red Conor Coady having a brain fart for the second goal, just a few months after thinking he’d won the derby for Everton at Goodison Park, only for it to be ruled out.
Then there was the classic argy-bargy at the end of the game, as Robertson howled in Pickford’s face. Everyone loves a derby bust up, but no one more than Darwin Nunez, obviously, who was quite happy to remind the Everton players what the score was.
Fans inside Anfield still haven’t witnessed an Everton victory since 1999, which was before Stefan Bajcetic, or indeed yours truly, were born. They came no closer on Monday; I’ll get to Liverpool’s performance and how much of it was a case of Everton being poor, but in full honesty, the Toffees looked like a Championship side more than I’ve ever seen before.
The Anfield crowd was much louder and proved my theory that the crowd and performance on the pitch is not a case of the chicken and the egg. The fans need a push of some sort from the players to push themselves; low confidence, daft mistakes, and most importantly, low energy levels, won’t inspire a crowd.
A bit of intensity (Pep Lijnder’s favourite) and the crowd magically wakes up. Finally go 1-0 up instead of conceding first to a blunder for the 10000th game in a row, and magically, the crowd grows in excitement.
It was strange to see a team making mistakes against Liverpool; to see a keeper look human; as much as Everton weren’t short of desire, it was different to the opposition teams who’s managers cry because beating us means that much to them, for example. That may have been in 2021, but teams still play like it’s their last ever game against Liverpool, even when they are off form and everybody is beating them.
Mykolenko’s positioning was also very bizarre for the opener; again, it’s not his fault, but why not make it as difficult as possible rather than as easy as possible?
It is difficult to distinguish what determined the outcome of the match between Everton playing awfully and Liverpool playing brilliantly. It’s important to remember that the league leaders Arsenal (well, not anymore- oops) lost to Dyche’s side in their last game, so Everton aren’t completely useless.
And there were signs of improvement from Liverpool in which the quality of the opposition is irrelevant. The midfield looked stable, the press was much more effective and more coordinated, as well as the team looking more energetic as a whole.
Gakpo looked much sharper after a difficult (yet entirely understandable) start. Who would have thought that it’s not a good idea to write off a new signing after five games? And at that, five games in which the whole team has been playing poorly and the signing from a foreign league is playing in a new position?
It was nice to see him get a fully deserved goal, but there was much more to the Dutchman’s performance than a simple tap in. He was electric, positive, and very smart with his decision making. Watch the first goal back and watch the sheer pace of Cody Gakpo; he outsprints Salah, running the full length of the pitch in seconds.
Whether or not Firmino leaves at the end of the season, you can certainly see that Gakpo is being trained to perform a similar role in the future; where he lacks in Brazilian flair, he makes up for with pace and height.
The team generally looked reinvigorated with the return of key players, even if they are lacking match fitness, as well as some sort of reality check after the Wolves performance, where Klopp gave the players two days off.
Nunez continued to cause chaos, but still needs to work on being more clinical; he’s not missing many ‘easy’ chances, or even finishing poorly but he should still be scoring more with the chances he is getting presented with. It will come.
Salah looked more energetic and sharper too, and you could sense that he was going to score a goal before he did. Mykolenko was a bag of nerves and Salah took advantage.
The star of the show was undoubtedly Stefan Bajcetic, who continues to improve with every game he plays. It’s exciting to think about how good he will be in five years at the age of 23, having filled out. He’s already quite strong, but he hasn’t even fully naturally developed yet. What amazes me most is his composure; he always has time on the ball, even when it looks like he’s not going to get it.
I’m too young to even come close to remembering, but how does Stefan Bajcetic compare to Steven Gerrard at the same age? I’ve seen many who can remember say that he’s playing at a higher level. A different kind of player, but nonetheless a hugely exciting prospect in midfield. He also seems a lot calmer than Stevie, who at the same age, was flying into tackles and kung-fu kicking testicles, foolishly getting himself sent off in the process.
I was adamant that Phillips should have been given the start, and while he probably would have been okay, Matip and Gomez made me eat my words. More confident, more solid, and this time, no stupid mistakes (apart from one by Matip early on, but Gomez bailed him out. That’s also something we haven’t seen enough of in recent weeks). Gomez was excellent.
Having said that, it was a welcome sight to see van Dijk enter the fray (even if was just to taunt Everton players during a scrap). Liverpool very nearly conceded from a set piece yet again, and were fortunate not too; but unlike on many occasions this season, the Reds earned that fortune, and capitalised on it.
You feel as though against any other team this season and how Liverpool have been starting games, that ball knocks off the post and goes in. Or there’s someone there to tuck in the rebound. Or it hits the post and rebounds in off Trent’s bum.
But because of the stronger, more confident start, that doesn’t happen (and because it’s Everton, of course).
Anyway, van Dijk coming back should help sure up the defending from set pieces, as Matip and Gomez aren’t the strongest in the air, whereas van Dijk quite simply is. Liverpool mustn’t allow this to become a flash in the pan, like the win against Man City. They must kick on and for the first time this season, build some momentum. Beat Newcastle, win the next few, and top four will be in touching distance.
But far, far tougher tests are to come. Tomorrow I will be recording the very first podcast on The Modern Age, previewing the Real Madrid tie with my good friend and Madrid fan Alex Bazarov- so stay tuned for that. For now, enjoy this picture of Robertson laughing in Pickford’s face.