Saturday 21 September 2019

Origi exorcises ghost of horror tackle to end two years of injury hell

Goal-hero Divock Origi has now scored three times in Merseyside derbies at Anfield. Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Goal-hero Divock Origi has now scored three times in Merseyside derbies at Anfield. Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Chris Bascombe

Forget Jordan Pickford or the crossbar, if fate played a part in Divock Origi's winning goal, the assist should go to Ramiro Funes Mori. This was not just a Merseyside derby winner. It was an exorcism.

Funes Mori has long since departed Everton, but two years ago the Argentine centre-back's horrific tackle on Origi looked to have effectively ended the young striker's Liverpool career.

It is not that he was forgotten or undervalued, just that he was perceived with sympathy more than adulation. He has rarely played for Liverpool since.

For the opening act of this most unexpected derby tale, we must return to that moment in April 2016, when Origi was terrorising Everton's defence.

The Belgian scored the opening goal in a 4-0 win, a contribution met with the fiercest retribution.

Funes Mori was sent off, even issuing an apology, having put his opponent on a stretcher.

"I very much regret what happened," Funes Mori said. "It was never my intention to harm a rival and I fervently hope it's nothing serious."

Destiny

Little could he know the derby destiny he was beckoning for the stricken forward.

At the time, Origi was blossoming, the preferred No 9 in the Europa League campaign. He had started away in Borussia Dortmund, scoring in Germany, and was certain to start in the final when Klopp's side got there.

Instead, he spent months in recovery and returned from his ankle ligament problem a different footballer, bereft of confidence, touch and even the pace that once brought tentative comparisons to Thierry Henry.

Origi spent last season on loan at Wolfsburg, but they had little inclination to keep him.

The closest he has come to joining another Premier League club is Wolves, although there is another irony in his contribution here, as Everton were also once thought to be interested. Whether this contribution encourages or kills that possibility remains to be seen.

The ferocity of the celebrations not only reflected the importance of Origi's 96th-minute header to the title race, but his chances of re-establishing himself on Merseyside.

With Roberto Firmino looking in need of a winter break, Klopp will certainly be tempted to use him more often.

Naturally, Everton's fans will not embrace the sentimentality of the strike. It was the freakiest of winning goals with which Origi gloriously ended two years of personal hell.

"It's a special moment, for the club and for the city," said Origi, overlooking the welcome consequences for his own prospects.

"It was just instinct - I just had to be sharp. I just believed in myself. In football, those moments make you stronger."

Klopp - never one to ignore the power of romanticism - was thinking about the striker's harrowing derby experience when he sent him on, sensing a debt was to be repaid.

"I said it to him on the pitch. I had it in my mind," said Klopp. "We never forgot it. Fouls happen and harsh tackles happen. In his case, it was so obvious that it was a break in his development - at that time he was outstanding.

"After that, he needed a long time until he felt nothing. In the Europa League final, he was somehow ready, but not completely pain-free.

"Everything changed a little bit and you lose confidence and you don't play the same any more.

"At that time, he was an unbelievable threat - speed, physically strong, remember the Dortmund game?"

It was tough on Everton. They can only lament being the extra in someone's derby romance after contributing to such a competitive spectacle.

"Lucky, lucky, lucky," said Marco Silva, who left Anfield with the scant consolation of masterminding the most accomplished Everton display at Anfield in a generation, his side playing with composure and belief to go so close to a point.

What will enthuse Everton's depressed followers - even in the midst of a most excruciating defeat - was the sight of their side coming to attack as well as repel, such a contrast with last season under Sam Allardyce.

They were far superior in defeat here than when securing a point a year ago. Andre Gomes is the symbol of Silva's reinvented team, composed in possession, seeing the right pass to feet rather than hitting long.

Klopp's frenzied celebrations confirmed his prediction of "a proper fight" to win. He could not have imagined doing so with such a sucker punch from an unlikely source.

"Now he can finish the book," said Klopp, welcoming back a new striker, suggesting this was the moment Origi finally recovered from the Funes Mori tackle.

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