While there was a palpable sense that this was a Merseyside derby like no other off the field, as a usually packed Goodison Park lay bare while fans watched from their homes amid the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, felt eerily familiar.
In derby history there have only ever been two 19:00 BST kick-offs, the first of which came in March 1967 in front of a crowd of 106,000 spectators. Here, Everton and Liverpool played a goalless stalemate in front of less than 300 people.
Story of the match
It was a game conducive to the atmosphere it was played in, with only a handful of notable chances coming either end as the two Merseyside teams played out a bore draw.
Indeed, after 106 days devoid of the Premier League champions-elect, all pre-match hope and expectations about their return fell on deaf ears. Indeed, the first half was quintessential of the opening forty-five minutes in almost all games since the restart, with teams understandably taking time to adjust after so long out.
Jurgen Klopp’s side, without Mohamed Salah who was fit enough only for the bench while Andy Robertson missed out altogether, struggled to muster up the usual attacking flair we’ve been accustomed to seeing this season as a rigid Everton resolve proved difficult to break down.
Albeit not the three points they would’ve hoped for on their return to action, the result takes Liverpool one small step closer to their goal of securing their first title in over thirty years, with the potential to be crowned Champions this week, should Chelsea or Burnley take something from Manchester City and the Reds overcome Crystal Palace.
Minamino gets chance after impressing in training
With Salah not 100 percent fit, the Egyptian was replaced by Takumi Minamino for his first top-flight start, having impressed in recent weeks according to James Milner.
While his position in the side remains somewhat unclear given his preference to play in the archetypal ‘Firmino role’, the Japan international showed glimpses of why he’s earned rave reviews in the weeks since Liverpool returned to training, which included a goal and assist in the friendly against Blackburn Rovers earlier this month.
Drifting inside, Minamino looked sharp in the early stages, getting in between the lines and attempting to provide space for Trent Alexander-Arnold down the right flank. Linking well with Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, he showed glimpses of his undoubted talent as he continues to bed into Klopp’s side.
Naby Keita repays Klopp’s faith
Slotting into the midfield for his first start since February 24, Klopp gifted Naby Keita the opportunity to impress at Goodison Park, a show of faith he dually returned with arguably Liverpool’s best performance of the evening.
The Guinean has yet to match the expectations set ahead of his arrival in the summer of 2018 having impressed with such consistency in the Bundesliga but could well stake a claim in the coming weeks.
As the game took a very pre-season feel, Keita wasn’t afraid to drive forward with the ball, taking risks in possession in an attempt to make things happen and producing intricate one-twos with Firmino in the central areas. Showcasing his quality in possession, his willingness to take players on and make to look things happen could be a great asset to Liverpool in the games to come, allowing him to showcase what he’s capable of ahead of a pivotal campaign next year.
Everton come the closest but impressive Reds run rolls on
While the game delivered precious chances, Everton had the better of the two sides, spring boarding off a resolute defensive performance to cause some problems for the league leaders.
An injury for Joel Matip in the second half saw Dejan Lovren enter the fray, with the Croatian a clear target area for the home side. Indeed, Alisson Becker had to bail him out twice in the dying embers as Lovren’s over exuberance saw him spend more time on the deck than anywhere else.
Rebuffing Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s effort before Tom Davies' rebound struck a post, Alisson once again stepped up as the dependable figure in between the sticks, rising when Liverpool needed him despite being relatively untroubled all game
Robertson’s omission highlights importance to Klopp’s system
Liverpool’s full-backs have been at the heart of the club’s successes in recent seasons, with the dual threat of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson proving a potent attacking weapon for Jurgen Klopp.
Sunday’s performance underlined just how important the former-Hull City man is to various aspects of the team, with the Reds struggling to create anything of note down the left despite Joe Gomez’s best efforts.
Robertson’s almost telepathic partnership with Sadio Mane has been a key feature of the season and his absence brought a certain imbalance to the team, forcing an overreliance on Trent, who put in a poor performance by his standards.
More gusto needed on Wednesday
Albeit far from a vintage performance, the result sees Liverpool move a point closer to securing the Premier League title, with Crystal Palace coming to Anfield on Wednesday.
As very permutations continue to be put on paper, including the very real possibility that Frank Lampard’s Chelsea could help Liverpool secure the title should they take points off Man City and Liverpool beat Palace, the Reds must remain focused on upping the ante in midweek.
You feel Salah and Robertson’s anticipated returns will be criticial to that.