Friday 28 April 2017

Mane injury only blot on derby victory for Reds

Liverpool 3 Everton 1

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp clashes with Everton boss Ronald Koeman at Anfield. Photo: Reuters
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp clashes with Everton boss Ronald Koeman at Anfield. Photo: Reuters

Simon Hughes

It was not en masse, but minute 60 and already it was time for some individuals in the away end to make for the exit gangway and hit the wet tarmac of Anfield Road; chins nuzzled into chests, hands in pockets.

It had been a Merseyside derby with fury, goals and a possible recovery making what would have been a brilliant story. But, ultimately, it was the same old outcome for Everton, whose winless run at Anfield stretches into a 19th year. Three-one down, the early leavers considered the matter unsalvageable. They have been here so often.

Liverpool's Sadio Mane celebrates scoring his side's first goal.
Liverpool's Sadio Mane celebrates scoring his side's first goal.

Everton were not well-beaten here, but they were beaten deservedly by a Liverpool team that in theory, should qualify for Champions League when you weigh up their current position in the league and the opponents they must face between now and the end of the season.

It was not a perfect afternoon. Sadio Mane's injury was agonising and the way he went down, the way he tried to carry on, the way he realised he could not by falling for a second time because of the pain in his leg suggested he might not appear for Liverpool in a while, adding to Jurgen Klopp's injury problems.

Klopp, indeed, had spent Friday mulling over the advantages of a tactical shift in light of Adam Lallana's absence through injury and the short amount of time he had to prepare for the game. The same thoughts must have crossed Ronald Koeman's mind, considering three players that featured in their most recent victory over Hull City were not available after "the worst" international break in his career as a manager.

The upshot was Klopp decided to stick with the formation he has used throughout the campaign, while Koeman tried to hide the gaps across his team by deploying a back three. Perhaps the lack of preparation time available to the managers made it a better spectacle than it might have been otherwise.

There was a pre-match tribute to former Liverpool captain, coach and caretaker manager Ronnie Moran, who died last month at the age of 83. The Kop unveiled a plaque displaying 'Bugsy', Moran's nickname.
There was a pre-match tribute to former Liverpool captain, coach and caretaker manager Ronnie Moran, who died last month at the age of 83. The Kop unveiled a plaque displaying 'Bugsy', Moran's nickname.

The first half was gloriously chaotic. Liverpool led, Everton pegged them back, but within a couple of minutes Liverpool were in front again. By half-time, Everton were in a nightmarish sort of position because it had seemed the day was going their way, having clawed themselves back into the contest following Mane's opener, which involved a sprint from deep and a calm left-foot finish.

So, when a 22-year-old locally-born centre half scores his first goal for the club in only his third start - an equaliser in front of the Kop - you imagine the glow of the moment to last a little longer than it did.

Instead, Liverpool's response was spectacular. Matthew Pennington, the scorer of Everton's goal after Liverpool's defenders failed to clear Leighton Baines's corner, afforded Philippe Coutinho too much space before the Brazilian unloaded his curling shot in the top corner of the net.

Earlier, Pennington was not punished when Coutinho was allowed to release a similar effort only for Joel Robles to save him, but this time, the quality of the Coutinho's strike did not mask what had happened.

Pennington was Coventry City's player of the season a few years ago but it would be unfair to judge him solely on his performance here. Liverpool scoring so soon could have sucked the life out of Everton's performance. It did not. But even with Mane's injury, Liverpool were in control. Their victory was secured by Mane's replacement, Divock Origi, who combined with Coutinho to send Robles the wrong way.

For Liverpool, all they need to do now is find a way to beat the lesser sides. For Everton, their atrocious 21st century history at Anfield continues.

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