False dawns have been frequent at Anfield in recent years. The return of King Kenny; the ill fated title challenge of 2013/14; Mario Balotelli. Even this season, each time they appear to be approaching something like real progress, there is a stumble. Be it the penalty defeat in the League Cup final, throwing away a two-goal lead at Southampton, or even Daniel Sturridge’s endless injury recurrences – Liverpool seem, perpetually – to be stumbling.
Last week’s miracle against Dortmund was backed-up by a convincing victory against Stoke City, and what was essentially a reserve team win at Bournemouth. Having only managed three back-to-back league victories once so far this term, the prospect of an Everton team – albeit one short on confidence and leaders – coming to Anfield may have easily proved to be another stumbling block for a team define by inconsistency this term. Yet it was clear more or less from kick-off, that no such slip up would be made this time.
It seemed almost incredible that the scoreboard remained at 0-0 until the 43rd minute. Everton’s Joel Robles had twice been smart with his legs, foiling Lallana and Firmino who had both been left in acres of space to wander through on the Spaniard’s goal, whilst Liverpool had been less clinical than they should have on many other occasions. This kind of backdrop can be one that often breeds nerves among supporters. As chances go begging, the anxiety rises, the doubts over whether it’ll be ‘our day’, creep into the backs of minds.
Yet last night, even before Divock Origi rose highest at the back post to nod Liverpool into the lead, no such doubts appeared to exist. They played with an assuredness and belief in their work which mirrored that of their manager; passing, pressing, tackling with purpose and intensity. Every player appeared to understand perfectly their particular function in the team, and they executed those functions superbly. The goals from Origi and Sakho, separated by just a couple of minutes, were more than just rewards for a dominant first half, but in truth, they made little difference to the inevitability of the game’s result.
Ramiro Funes Mori’s 50th minute red card made the result even more of a formality, and provided the only cloud over Liverpool’s evening, as Origi was stretchered off, the extent of the damage as yet confirmed. The remainder of the match passed in a blur of Liverpool attacks, with substitutes Sturridge and Allen charging around almost in a frenzy, desperate to add their names to the scoresheet.
Sturridge managed it once, and possibly twice, as Coutinho’s shot grazed the front man’s backside on its way into the bottom corner. Liverpool managed 31 attempts on goal, with even the unsuccessful punts being met with positivity. One of the enduring images of the match will be the hysterical Klopp, laughing uncontrollably on the Liverpool bench following a 25 yard effort from less than prolific midfielder Lucas Leiva, himself trying to stifle a chuckle at his underwhelming effort. This image is a microcosm for the broader picture at Anfield: a colony of happy campers, headed by an affable and charismatic leader.
For Everton, the picture is somewhat bleaker. Without a league win in seven games, Roberto Martinez appears increasingly to be operating on borrowed time. As his team languish in the bottom half, the prospect of keeping hold of young stars Lukaku, Stones, Barkley and Coleman beyond this summer, appears increasingly unlikely. The Toffees’ season, and their managers future alike, may hinge on this weekend’s FA Cup semi-final against a Manchester United side showing signs of a mini resurgence, but even success in the tournament may not be enough to save the manager, or to arrest the potential exodus of young talent from the Goodison Park gate.
Ultimately, the definition of both sides’ seasons as successes or failures may hinge primarily on their performance in cup competitions which, at the season’s outset, may not have been viewed as priorities. Beyond the relative immediacy however, the chasm between the two sides separated by the short expanse of Stanley Park, threatens to increase more drastically.
As an Everton side with so much promise threatens to become dismantled, the biggest transfer budget in club history awaits Jurgen Klopp, and for many Reds, the mere thought of some proven Klopp disciples joining the ranks of young, hungry players at Anfield, has them rubbing their hands; the prospect of more results like last night’s seeming more realistic by the day.
(images from Liverpool Echo and Facebook)