It was evident from minute one. Clear for all to see, through the snow flurries that coated Anfield on derby day. The disparity was striking. The gulf in class was wide. The balance of power on Merseyside was as plainly defined as ever.
And yet somehow, blue escaped into the comfort and warmth of the visitors’ dressing room, and eventually back across town, with a point. Somehow.
Everton escaped with a 1-1 draw thanks to a questionable 77th-minute penalty, won by Dominic Calvert-Lewin, and converted by Wayne Rooney in his first derby back with his childhood club. The boy from Croxteth punctured Simon Mignolet’s net and jumped for joy in front of the visiting fans, a scene straight out of red nightmares.
But “questionable” is being kind to the Toffees. The penalty was soft. It was incorrectly given. It was the kind of penalty-box coming together that provokes howls from fans but never a whistle from the referee. This time, though, it brought about both. And it was undeserved.
Mohamed Salah had given Liverpool a lead shortly before halftime after a thoroughly dominant first 40 minutes:
The goal was a moment of magic, in a way separate from the pattern of the match, but also in line with it. Everton was often penned in, unable to escape from its own half, realizing Sam Allardyce’s worst fears.
The new Toffees boss had fielded his two most creative players, Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson, as defensive wingers. The flat 4-4-2 wasn’t “tough to break down” or “resolute.” It was simply ineffective. Liverpool’s counterpress was inhibitive. Jordan Henderson completed more passes in the first half than Everton did as a team. Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was the most active Everton player.
Jurgen Klopp made the bold call to start Dominic Solanke and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain ahead of Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho. Without the two Brazilians, his side wasn’t incisive enough. The Reds recorded 23 shots to Everton’s three, but only three of Liverpool’s 23 were on target, and many of them were from range.
They will feel aggrieved, and should feel aggrieved. They were excellent defending from the front. Their center backs were uncharacteristically solid, their all-British midfield strangely overpowering. But they did not do enough to make themselves immune to a rotten slice of luck. And they were punished.