Liverpool extended their excellent home form against Everton with a comprehensive 3-1 victory. Klopp’s men were clearly superior, and at times left their opponents embarrassed. Certainly the visitors from across Stanley Park have cause for some embarrassment: resigned to being outplayed, they rapidly resorted to trying to take chunks out of their Liverpool counterparts. A casualty of this physical play was Sadio Mane, whose injury marred an otherwise wholly satisfying victory.
It was Mane who opened the scoring, picking up where he left off with his late winner in the reverse fixture at Goodison. He cut inside and ran parallel to the defensive line, drawing Everton’s back three hopelessly out of position. While they tried to reorganise and cover the central run of Coutinho, Mane unleashed an early shot – the left-footed drive caught everyone unawares, and Robles could only watch as the ball ran past him into the far corner. It was a goal that highlighted exactly what Mane brings to the side: directness, ingenuity and a clinical streak. There is no denying that he will be sorely missed if the injury he later picked up results in a prolonged absence – January demonstrated just how integral the former Southampton man has become to Klopp’s side.
Everton, too, are currently struggling with injuries. Given some of the tackles they put in yesterday it is hard to feel too sympathetic for their plight, but in any case a series of injuries on international duty resulted in Pennington featuring in the back line. Briefly, things were going very well for him. Despite almost total Liverpool domination he managed to bag an equaliser, capitalising on more dreadful defending of the second ball at a set piece to slot home. His jubilation turned to frustration just three minutes later, however; Coutinho, who looked revitalised in this fixture, left Gueye for dead before cutting inside Pennington and curling a beauty into the top corner. The Brazilian will need to maintain this kind of form if Liverpool are to cope with any long-term Mane absence – it is at least a possibility that Coutinho was only able to thrive because of the makeshift nature of Everton’s defence, but hopefully he has found the confidence to replicate this kind of magical form against better opposition.
It was at this point that the nasty challenges really started to fly. Of course everyone wants to see a bit of passion in the derby, but that means committing to 50/50s: it does not mean flying in with specific intention to injure. A Williams stamp on Can and a potential leg-breaker on Lovren by Barkley were just two of a number of unpleasant incidents – neither player should have been allowed to finish the game. To their credit, Liverpool maintained their composure; they refused to be dragged down, and instead continued to outclass their local rivals. The third goal looked an inevitability, and it came through substitute Divock Origi. As with Coutinho’s performance, this goal gives cause for some hope that Klopp’s team might be able to cope without Mane this time around – it took the Belgian striker barely any time to step up and increase the lead. It was a good goal as well: Coutinho slotted him in with a lovely pass, and Origi blasted it home beyond a very suspect Robles.
Coutinho, who featured a lot for Brazil over the international break, was given a well-earned break with about twenty minutes to play. Alexander-Arnold replaced him: this is the first time he has been given such an attacking role in the first team, and he thrived. Perhaps he, too, was making a pitch to replace Mane in the event of a serious injury – if so he gave Klopp food for thought, managing three shots on target in his cameo. The first of these was particularly good, forcing an excellent stop out of Robles. Derby experience is the next step on the road for the youngster, who is slowly but surely being eased into first team action. Many young players that have made it to the fringes of the first team in recent times, but Alexander-Arnold looks like he has what it takes to cement a regular starting spot before too long.
He could not extend the lead, however, and the game ended 3-1. This was not really a reflection of the superiority of the hosts, but they will nonetheless be satisfied with a thoroughly professional win. Special mention should be given to Lovren, who kept Lukaku almost entirely quiet – the Croatian has his faults, but has always excelled against physical forwards. Lucas, too, was surprisingly impressive back in his natural role of defensive midfielder: even his more vocal critics were forced to concede that he had a good game. The challenge now is to maintain the momentum: with United dropping points as well, the top four is starting to look very achievable. Although the lack of title challenge is disappointing given how Liverpool began the campaign, securing a Champions League spot would undeniably be a success.