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Liverpool's vice-grip on derby loosening as Everton continue to progress


Liverpool's Jordan Henderson after Saturday's draw with Everton

Liverpool's Jordan Henderson after Saturday's draw with Everton

Liverpool's Jordan Henderson after Saturday's draw with Everton

Even amid the appalling challenges, the feisty exchanges between backroom staff, and the bickering about refereeing decisions, the record can be set straight about one aspect of the Merseyside derby. No, it is not the 1980s again. Not yet, anyway.

Carlo Ancelotti was classy and honest enough to acknowledge that. The Italian needs more than 10 months to engineer a power grab.

Instead, Liverpool extended their unbeaten run in the fixture to an 11th year. The red half of the city has experienced defeat in only 19 of the past 120 such games. No Liverpool manager since Roy Hodgson has lost to Everton. When the two sides next meet, Everton will be seeking their first Anfield win this century.

For now, this remains a strictly parochial squabble in which any observations about contentious incidents are met with long-standing grievances from bygone eras.

Where else but on Merseyside could those irate about Jordan Pickford's challenge on Virgil van Dijk be rebuked by recollections about Jimmy Case ending the career of Geoff Nulty in 1980? Or Richarlison's reckless red card for taking down Thiago Alcantara instantly prompt screen grabs of an assortment of Steven Gerrard tackles?

If Everton heed their manager's warning about consistency it could be that Saturday's events will have a bearing on their participation in this year's title race. They can certainly push for the Champions League places. Under Ancelotti's professorship Everton are developing into an excellent side.

But the main reason this fixture could be so consequential is because of Van Dijk's injury. For however long they are without the Dutchman, Liverpool are substantially weakened. It would have been preferable for Jurgen Klopp to lose the match than the world's best defender. One only had to review Van Dijk's six minutes to identify what Liverpool will miss without him. He began with a "welcome" to James Rodriguez.

He followed it with a similarly robust challenge on Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Nothing remotely comparable to what he suffered, it should be stressed. Van Dijk and Jordan Henderson set the tone to ensure there was no chance the humiliation of the 7-2 defeat by Aston Villa would be replicated.

Yet if Liverpool walked into Goodison Park determined to resemble the European champions of 2019, or Premier League winners of 2020, they left looking more like Klopp's side of 2017.

Liverpool should have won. For two years Klopp's team shook off the debilitating habit of failing to win games in which they are superior.

Short of key defensive personnel, their opponents' chance-to-goal ratio is heading in the wrong direction. Although Ancelotti acknowledged the distance in quality between the teams, he could have won given how uneasy Liverpool looked when they were attacked.

Calvert-Lewin air-kicking from close range early in the second half, and Richarlison heading on to a post, were reminders of Liverpool's vulnerabilities. Until Alisson Becker returns, that flaw will remain. Even with one shoulder in a sling, the Brazilian No 1 would probably have saved Michael Keane's header to equalise Sadio Mane's third-minute goal, and without Van Dijk every set-piece into the Liverpool penalty area resembles a hand grenade.

Yes, Liverpool were entitled to feel damaged by the video assistant refereeing. Equally, they should not have been in a position where they were pursuing a winner in the 90th minute, or left cursing the inconsistencies of monitors.

Yet again, it was the away side exiting a Goodison derby with heads slumped and a point, while the hosts saw signs of encouragement. That remains the biggest signal of where both clubs stand.

Everton will truly know they are being judged to the same standards of their neighbours when such results against stricken opponents are perceived as an opportunity missed rather than a lucky escape.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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