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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 27 March 2019

Advantage Manchester City as Merseyside derby between Everton and Liverpool ends in stalemate

A game for athletes, not aesthetes as thud and blunder prevailed over art and craft at Goodison Park

Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford saves a shot from Liverpool striker Mohamed Salah at Anfield. Reuters
Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford saves a shot from Liverpool striker Mohamed Salah at Anfield. Reuters

It is rare Everton derive such enjoyment from a stalemate. They may have played their part in denying Liverpool their long-desired title. For the first time this season, their destiny is out of their hands. The initiative rests now with Manchester City.

The 200th league derby between these neighbours was not a classic but a scrappy, scruffy affair still served a purpose for Everton. A team who have been too easy to beat in the last three months showed resolve. Liverpool have found draws too frequent of late and a fifth in seventh games was also a third 0-0 as Everton emulated Bayern Munich and Manchester United. Apart from Wednesday’s thrashing of Watford, Liverpool have found goals elusive. Their clearest chance fell Mohamed Salah’s way, but his mini-drought continued.

Instead, the match was personified in some respects by Idrissa Gueye, Everton’s indomitable scrapper. Thud and blunder prevailed over art and craft but Goodison has rarely been louder in recent years. The pre-match playlist of Oasis songs was a hint that Everton would prefer City to win the title. The atmosphere was intense and contributed to a frenetic feel. Never mind the quality, feel the urgency. Passes were misplaced, touches misjudged, decisions mistaken. Both escaped without defensive lapses costing them in the opening exchanges. Chances were rarely actually created.

It was a game for athletes, not aesthetes. Both managers selected some of their more physical footballers. Divock Origi and Jordan Henderson started for Liverpool, Kurt Zouma and Morgan Schneiderlin for Everton. The diminutive Bernard was dwarfed by virtually everyone else.

Jurgen Klopp held Roberto Firmino in reserve as Origi, December’s match-winnerin the corresponding fixture at Anfield, scurried around enthusiastically if impotently. If there was a psychological element to the choice of the Belgian, an instant reminder of the most embarrassing blunder of Jordan Pickford’s career, the Everton goalkeeper produced a redemptive moment.

He held Salah’s first shot. That was regulation stuff. Not so when Fabinho released Salah, sending the Egyptian sprinting clear. Salah’s shot was angled towards the far corner. Pickford saved brilliantly. His efforts were augmented when a sliding Seamus Coleman blocked Henderson’s subsequent effort.

Pickford was not alone in denying Salah. Michael Keane made a brilliant last-ditch challenge to prevent the winger from reaching Joel Matip’s through ball. Lucas Digne produced a similarly vital interception when Fabinho seemed likely to break the deadlock.

In a game defined by defenders, Virgil van Dijk was imperious at times, authoritative at the back and capable of pinpoint accuracy in his passing. He feels a magnetic presence. The ball gravitates towards him, rather than vice versa. Everton’s ploy of aiming long balls at Dominic Calvert-Lewin backfired as Van Dijk headed them away. On one of the few occasions when Calvert-Lewin won a header, following Digne’s corner, Alisson saved.

Everton had been muted as an attacking force in the first half, though the ineffectual Theo Walcott skewed a shot wide, but improved significantly thereafter. It was a sign of Liverpool’s struggle to find fluency that the usually indispensable Gini Wijnaldum was substituted after one of his least effective displays. Firmino came on with James Milner, as Origi exited, but the Brazilian is rarely at his best as a replacement. Liverpool lacked invention, beyond a couple of unexpected solo runs from Matip, though the centre-back headed a late chance wastefully wide.

Meanwhile, Marco Silva sent on Richarlison and Andre Gomes, who he had held back. Alisson punched away an effort from Gomes, while Bernard was first inches from reaching Richarlison’s inviting low cross and then was lining up a shot when Van Dijk made a telling intervention.

A fixture with a recent record of dramatic finishes did not produce a sequel. Perhaps Everton, the victims of most of the late drama, may be grateful for that, but if their season has never really recovered from their Anfield derby defeat, it was a day when they regained some pride and Liverpool lost ground.

Updated: March 3, 2019 10:24 PM

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