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Fireworks missing on Merseyside as Reds keep powder dry

Everton 0 Liverpool 0

Everton's Theo Walcott in action with Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk. Photo: Peter Powell/Reuters
Everton's Theo Walcott in action with Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk. Photo: Peter Powell/Reuters

Andy Hunter

When the 231st Merseyside derby ended Idrissa Gana Gueye and Cenk Tosun stared disbelievingly at Liverpool's goal while Dominic Calvert-Lewin handed his Everton shirt to a young fan at the front of the Gwladys Street End. It was a peace offering.

The striker should have given every Evertonian so much more, a first derby win in eight years to be exact, but a dreadful miss two minutes from time left them all, Gueye and Tosun included, with a familiar sense of regret.

Liverpool emerged from an instantly forgettable contest with their unbeaten derby record and their Champions League preparations unscathed. With his team selection and substitutions Jurgen Klopp gave Everton the perfect invitation to defeat their rivals for the first time in 17 matches but Sam Allardyce's cumbersome side lacked the quality and ambition to end the worst derby run in the club's history. Everton missed a golden opportunity not only via the right foot of Calvert-Lewin. "A bit woeful," Allardyce said of his team's passing, and they needed almost 80 minutes to exert the pressure that should have yielded a flattering three points.

"We were not here to play a wild derby," said Klopp, whose team have kept eight clean sheets in their last 12 outings. In that sense both teams delivered. This was the first Merseyside derby since 1992 to end without a card of any description.

"We made it difficult for Everton to get the game they wanted," the Liverpool manager added. "It was a good performance, not brilliant, but probably the most mature since I came here. We played football, didn't get involved in any fights and to deliver a game like this is a big compliment for my team."

No added injury worries ahead of Tuesday's trip to the Etihad Stadium were arguably more important to Klopp than the point.

Liverpool's Roberto Firmino in action with Everton's Morgan Schneiderlin. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters
Liverpool's Roberto Firmino in action with Everton's Morgan Schneiderlin. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters

He made five changes to the team that blitzed Manchester City in the Champions League on Wednesday with his squad impacted by injury and the second leg understandably in mind. Mohamed Salah was rested completely as he receives treatment on a groin injury that is not expected to rule him out against City. Liverpool's bench included 17-year-olds Rafael Camacho and Curtis Jones, as well as Irish 19-year-old Conor Masterson.

In Theo Walcott and Yannick Bolasie, the hosts had two fit, fast and experienced wingers up against a right-back making his first appearance of the season (Nathaniel Clyne) and a half-fit 32-year-old central defender making his first start since January 1 at left-back (Ragnar Klavan). Yet Liverpool's full-backs were only seriously tested in the final stages, while Séamus Coleman and Leighton Baines were exposed time and again during the first half.

Klopp's options were stretched but he was able to do the same to Allardyce's team by stationing James Milner on the extreme left of Liverpool's midfield and Clyne in an advanced position. The pair revelled in the space between Everton's wingers and full-backs and gradually forced the hosts into a collective retreat.

Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson met minimal resistance as they controlled midfield, although Danny Ings and Dominic Solanke unsurprisingly lacked the menace of Salah and Roberto Firmino. Solanke should have opened the scoring when Clyne's cross rebounded into his path off Coleman's chest but his snap-shot was straight at Jordan Pickford. The Everton goalkeeper produced a fine save to tip away a Milner effort that was curling inside his left-hand post.

Everton's Cenk Tosun misses a chance to score. Photo: Peter Powell/Reuters
Everton's Cenk Tosun misses a chance to score. Photo: Peter Powell/Reuters

The stop of the game, however, came from Loris Karius. Liverpool's goalkeeper had been a bystander but underlined his growing influence in the first moment he was required with a superb fingertip save from Bolasie's curler that was destined for the top corner. That was a rare show of quality from Bolasie, with the Congo international encapsulating his side's error-strewn performance.

Wayne Rooney was similarly wasteful and could have no complaints about being withdrawn in the 57th minute for a second home game in succession.

Klopp's second-half substitutions reflected not only Liverpool's current workload but how lightly he regarded the threat from Everton. Both his best player, Milner, and most dangerous player, Sadio Mané, were withdrawn and Liverpool's control over the derby disappeared with them. An invitation was extended to Everton and they so nearly took it.

Eventually, belatedly, the hosts began to target Liverpool down the flanks and created several openings that should have yielded victory. Tosun was inches away from connecting with a Baines cross that flashed across the face of Karius's goal. When Walcott stood up an inviting cross from the right, the Turkey international out-muscled Clyne at the back post but steered his close-range header inches wide of the far post with Coleman just failing to connect.

The chance of the game, one that Calvert-Lewin can only have dreamed about beforehand, fell to the 21-year-old in the 88th minute. Coleman galloped down the right and his cross broke to the Everton substitute lurking unmarked at the back post. He had time and only Karius to beat but sliced horribly wide as Everton's players, to a man, lifted their hands to their heads. Their frustration continues. Liverpool move on to Europe.

Observer

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