Everton 1 Liverpool 4
When he was appointed Everton manager Rafael Benitez will have been looking for this fixture, will have dreamt of winning it and for his name to reverberate appreciatively around Goodison Park. But he will also have had nightmares about a humiliating defeat and the chants coming from gleeful Liverpool rather than Everton fans.
The ignominy was duly inflicted and how Benitez will desperately hope it is not the defeat that now leads to the end of his reign with Liverpool’s fourth goal sparking an inevitable exodus of home fans, a chorus of boos and, before it was scored, a bottle thrown on to the pitch and close to goalkeeper Alisson. At the end Everton looked numbed.
A sixth defeat in seven Premier League matches will place any coach under pressure and losing a Merseyside derby to a clearly far superior Liverpool will increase that pressure even more so on their former manager. Benitez will probably survive, for now, and other changes, instead, may well be made at Everton where director of football Marcel Brands, for example, cuts an isolated figure.
But whatever the faith in Benitez he needs to turn this around quickly especially as the fans continue not to take to him. He is fighting for his future and, even despite a spirited response, Everton were comprehensively outplayed.
Such was the gulf it felt like one of those cup ties where minnows give it a go before being outclassed. Liverpool’s start was brutal. They could have been two goals up inside two minutes. In fact they could have been three up before they did eventually score – and then it was only in the ninth minute that they did strike. First, Joel Matip headed narrowly wide from a corner, then Mohamed Salah volleyed over from close range before Jordan Pickford reacted smartly to parry Salah’s shot. The next time Pickford touched the ball it was picking it out of the net.
The warnings went unheeded as Jordan Henderson started and ended the move.
He found Sadio Mane who waited for Andrew Robertson to overlap and the full-back cut the ball back to Henderson on the edge of the penalty area who beat Pickford with a superb first-time shot. It was his first goal in his 18th Merseyside derby.
If anything Everton were too pumped up. Pickford had set the tone as he emerged, fists up, from the tunnel and his team-mates were all adrenalin and no control. That was summed up by captain Séamus Coleman berating the goalkeeper when he failed to collect a through ball. It was just too frantic from them with Andros Townsend booked for a dive as he tried to win a free-kick up against Robertson.
For Benitez, the first manager since 1894 to lead both Merseyside clubs, it was the worst possible start and it got even worse. Liverpool scored again and it was about three things: Everton’s hesitancy as they surrendered possession, the precise weight of Henderson’s pass that released Salah and the perfect execution of the forward’s finish as he ran on to it and arced a shot high around Pickford without breaking stride.
“Rafael Benitez” and “going down” sang the Liverpool fans as the mood turned mutinous, Henderson continued to run the game and it appeared some Everton supporters left the stadium. A banner emerged, just as it had done in the defeat at Brentford, at the Gwladys Street End, which read: “We demand Nil Satis Nisi Optimum [nothing but the best is good enough], it’s about time our club did too”.
But just as the mood continued to sour Everton pulled a goal back. The ball broke to Richarlison and his excellent pass, with the outside of his boot, found Demarai Gray whose pace took him away from Trent Alexander-Arnold and Matip, who were both badly caught out. Alisson rushed to smother but Gray’s shot only deflected off him on its way into the goal. How the mood changed.Everton were even cheered off at
Soon after the restart, Ben Godfrey dived in to block from Mane after he was picked out in the Everton area by Alexander-Arnold before, at the other end, Gray’s inswinging cross was headed narrowly over his own bar by Matip.
It felt on a knife-edge. The atmosphere switched again after a horrible mistake by Coleman who failed to control Gray’s pass back to him on halfway with Salah stealing the ball away.
There was much to do, Coleman tried to tug Salah back but he held him off before sprinting into the Everton area and rolling his shot beyond Pickford. A red flare was thrown on to the pitch by the jubilant Liverpool fans.
Salah’s speed and control under pressure were astonishing. It felt he would scored from the moment he went past Coleman and it felt it meant the result was now confirmed.
There was soon another goal, and another flare, as Robertson found Diogo Jota who was far too easily allowed to turn inside the area and fire a shot high beyond Pickford and inside his near post.
The boos rang out at the end.
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