Neil Atkinson’s post-match review after Everton 1 Liverpool 4 in the Premier League at Goodison Park, and The Reds are magic…
IT shouldn’t be easy. You shouldn’t score nine across two games at Old Trafford and Goodison Park.
Everton’s form across their last eight games goes like this: lost, lost, lost, drawn, lost, lost, lost, drawn. All things considered, tonight’s resounding 1-4 completion at Goodison shouldn’t feel so surprising. We are in good form. They aren’t. But truth be told, that has been the case before, and we have had mad games there. We have had crazy draws and they’ve had crazy wins. Jurgen Klopp was worried about it.
It shouldn’t be easy. It never ever should be. There is something occasionally unreal about it being relatively straightforward in games that should be graft.
Being fair to the Blue Brethren, for 10 minutes either side of half time your stomach is churning. Do not let this fade, Liverpool. Stay real. Stand firm. No Brightons. No West Hams.
Virgil van Dijk’s look of relief at the end says that he was worried about it. Derbies are anxiety-inducing stress fests. You don’t need to be your dad to start shouting unreasonably at the telly. No one wants to mess it up even if we are in good shape and they are not.
But Brighton is actually the anomaly, not the norm. The truth is that Liverpool, this Liverpool, right now are the side that makes it 1-3 not the side that lets it go 2-2. When it goes 1-3 it is the end of the matter. The job is done. The spoils are ours and only misery is left at Goodison Park.
It remains a sane game of football. It remains Liverpool’s game of football.
Jordan Henderson is the first among equals in our team. That he opens the account for us tonight is sweet and fitting and, oh, what a goal. Incredible. Bends it around with his left foot from 20 yards. The ball for the second sublime. All the doubt he creates constant. He is the business. First among equals. First to everything.
In my mind there is the team talk, the team meeting. Those things they are the manager’s domain. Be calm but assertive. Be cool. It is just another game.
Then there is the team WhatsApp. There is the team as it goes down the tunnel. The team where it talks to each other. In my mind.
In 2001, I was sat in the paddock at a European game and Nicky Barmby warmed up in front of us. A man stood and screamed: “Don’t take any shit off those blues Sunday, Nicky.”
In the team WhatsApp, in the team down the tunnel, in Van Dijk, in Salah, in Mane, in Thiago. In Jordan Brian Henderson. Don’t take any shit off those blues, Wednesday. Show them Wednesday. Be the side on Wednesday.
A manager creates a space, creates the room for excellence and then those players fill the space with excellence. Fill the space with want and need, fill the space with desire and needle. Fill the space cupping their ears and goading and showing for one another.
Liverpool are a good version of themselves tonight. Not the best because they don’t need to be. But as the ball moves crossfield — from Robertson to Henderson, Henderson to Salah — and then enters the front-three zone of clever, switching flicks and tiny passes that wend their way through Everton’s fractured defence, you see a team at ease with themselves. They are handling the pressure and staying in their own skins.
Their shape holds so solidly tonight there are no worries about Mo Salah getting crowded out or Trent Alexander-Arnold being overwhelmed. Liverpool have a calmness about them and a canniness and then everything else when required.
Let’s talk about the manager. Their manager. Whatever way you look at it, Everton’s problems are more fundamental than Rafa Benitez. And they, in the long term, are unlikely to be altered by sacking him. Not least because the first job will be to find a replacement which wouldn’t be straightforward. So maybe Rafa hasn’t pulled it off tonight. Maybe he won’t pull much off this season. There are wider club issues for our rivals.
It shouldn’t be this easy. But what Manchester United and Everton have in common is gross mismanagement at all levels for at least five years. The counterpoint is Liverpool. Victories against these sides on their grounds have to belong to supporters but there is a part of me tonight that wants to make this point — the people who run Liverpool at every level on and off the pitch have got this much right for this length of time. They haven’t been perfect but they have been streets, motorways, global shipping lines ahead of our rivals across the park and down the M62.
Nothing is won yet. Mo Salah is the best player in the world. Fabinho the best number six. Liverpool are two points off the top. Liverpool are magic. These nights, they belong to us, to me and you. While we have them, we need to drain the very marrow from them.
Forget your hurdles tonight. Enjoy the race.
Subscribe to The Anfield Wrap for instant reaction to all the Liverpool FC news and events that matter to you…