Rivalries are rivalries for different reasons. Some draw sharp contrasts by two groups of people, two ways of life. They pit rich versus poor; one religion against another; a city against the countryside; or secessionists against centralists.
But in other rivalries, you can’t really tell the rivals apart. Some rivalries exist because the two parties are largely the same with no significant differentiator but their club affiliation. The Merseyside derby is just such a rivalry in which the sides’ respective stadiums are less than a mile apart and their fans indistinguishable from one another but for the colors they don. The tribalism is for its own sake, dictated by neighborhood, passed on through family tradition and genetics.
And what is such a derby when it is denuded of the fans that make it a rivalry in the first place?
Not much, as it turns out. Or at least it wasn’t on Sunday, because not even the fake crowd noise could salvage the drabness of a 0-0 stalemate between Everton and Liverpool at Goodison Park.
It was a big game that ultimately produced little of consequence. The Reds dropped points for just the third time in their 30 Premier League games this season, following a layoff of more than 100 days. Their lead over Manchester City is 23 points with just eight games remaining (and nine for City). The title is a certainty in all but mathematics. The point lifted Everton all the way from 13th place to 12th, still in no danger of relegation and well out of range of the European places.
The only noteworthy outcome was that Liverpool’s coronation will probably be delayed by another week.
Like all other games of the restarted Premier League, and indeed every other league when it first kicked back into gear, it was a most unsightly affair. Not even mighty, era-defining Liverpool, masters of passing and movement and counter-attacking and fancy German presses, could shake off three months of inaction just like that. The soccer was largely slow and rudimentary. Lots of lumped balls, aerial duels. Liverpool looked rusty, its gears grinding through the buildup from the underuse. Everton was, it goes almost without saying, worse.
But to say that nothing happened in the game wouldn’t be true.
There was a nice rainbow before kickoff.
Sadio Mane completely botched the communal kneeling at the kickoff, tearing off into the Everton half as everybody else briefly sunk to the grass.
And Trent Alexander-Arnold pledged to auction his Black Lives Matter-inscribed cleats off for a good cause following the game.
But the game itself didn’t really get going until the 80th minute, after a smattering of unremarkable Liverpool chances up to that point.
That’s when Richarlison shook off Dejan Lovren and found Dominic Calvert-Lewin, whose backheel flick was saved by Alisson but fell to Tom Davies, who rolled the rebound off the far post. Everton was dangerous on the subsequent corner as well, but couldn’t convert its only spell of sustained danger all game into a goal.
Everton’s surge was brief. Liverpool’s control of the game was unchallenged the rest of the game — by Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti’s apparent design. But for all that Liverpool possession, Jurgen Klopp’s side produced almost no real scoring opportunities of note aside from free kicks by Alexander-Arnold and Fabinho either side of halftime, both of which were covered by Jordan Pickford. The sharpness wasn’t there. And then neither were the points.
It was the kind of game that underscored just how totally this season has been disrupted, that we’re having typically super-heated derbies with title implications — a Liverpool win would have forced a City victory on Monday to prevent the Reds from clinching — that feel like preseason scrimmages. And an early-season friendly at that.
If City fails to beat Burnley on Monday, Liverpool’s next chance of claiming its first league title in 30 years will come against Crystal Palace on Wednesday. If City wins Monday, then the next opportunity will come in a head-to-head game with Liverpool on July 2.
Liverpool’s fans would have quite liked to take the title at the rivals’ ground. Even if, as Klopp pointed out before the game, it was strange for the Reds to be able to stroll casually by the home team’s stands in their usual pre-game walk across the field.
It just wasn’t a derby without the fans.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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