Neil Atkinson’s post-match review for The Anfield Wrap after Liverpool 2 Everton 0 in the 2023-2024 Premier League season…
I ADORE YOU
Ooh, I adore you
When you pray, you’re answered
You walk through life just like a dancer
If I had my way, every day would be your parade…
Fred Again… Obongjayar
Every day would be his parade. God, I love Mo Salah.
Every day would be his parade. This includes days when he is not remarkable, when he is like a semi-normal footballer. When he makes it happen in mundane ways.
We underrate Ian Rush. Mad, isn’t it? Liverpool’s greatest ever goalscorer is underrated. Rush scored all the goals. Every single type of goal. Rush brought people into play and defended from the front, but more than anything he scored the goals. He made it look mundane.
There is the story of Mo Salah meeting Ian Rush and asking “how did you score all those goals?” and an answer would be — well, today. Like today. Penalties aside, obviously.
Rush just occurred. Especially against Everton. And today Salah just occurs. Rush felt inevitable. And today Salah felt inevitable.
It’s 17 minutes into this Merseyside derby before Everton string a series of passes together.
This is not the end of the matter. The Blue side of Merseyside aren’t poor today. Their keeper makes a number of crucial saves. Defensively, they start weak and finish pretty strongly. Despite being the goal scorer, Mykolenko and Branthwaite have Salah clocked for 70 minutes.
But as in those 17 minutes, Liverpool are in control of this game. In possession terms, in opportunities, in time and talent, Liverpool are in control of this game.
Virgil van Dijk is probably the player of the match. His calm control is shaken by no one. The difference between truly great footballers and average footballers is their appetite for risk.
Virgil backs himself to always be in control, to make the pass, to read the game. In the first half – and especially before Everton go down to 10, Virgil reads the game beautifully and he ensures that Everton don’t get so much as a sniff of a goal today.
Distributionally, his job is harder in this game than it has been for a while. It feels like, were Andy Robertson on the pitch, Liverpool score earlier. Trent Alexander-Arnold is the only outlet for significant periods.
But Virgil is consistently making it work. At his best, he is that fulcrum of this side setting the pace, setting the tempo, left to right, right to left.
Our midfield in front of him is looking better too. For the past few games, Mac Allister has looked a bit lost. But he is warming up to his place in the side and far fewer balls go awry in this game. This isn’t the perfect Liverpool 2.0 yet, but it certainly looks much better.
What Liverpool do so well is to take the rough with the smooth when it comes to passing. It’s not perfect but they continually fetch it back, keep hunting and for whole periods of the game, give themselves a rest, slowing the pace in possession.
There’s a risk in this. Sean Dyche is no fool and he has played Klopp’s Liverpool enough to know that if he can keep it nil-nil for long enough, a mad period at the end might be enough for a smash and grab. But the risk falls in Liverpool’s favour this time.
Aided by the double yellow sending off of Ashley Young (What was he thinking? Who knows?) Liverpool’s game is to go wide and keep sending Salah, Jota, Diaz, even Trent, Joel and frankly the keeper up towards the goal and reckoning the law of averages helps one in to the back of the net.
Liverpool spend a lot of time forcing the issue, but that doesn’t mean the issue just changes. It is a process and it is not a pretty one.
In the ground, we have screamed for several handballs. At last the ref’s left hand goes to his ear. The Everton players look like they know this one is the real deal. Penalty. How did you score all those goals?
For the extended final minutes of the game, Liverpool surge forward. Harvey Elliott brings the zip we’re missing. Darwin Nunez gets himself into great positions only for successive players to fail to pass to him. In response, he shows them how it’s done and passes a beauty before Mo Salah’s feet to cap this game off.
The big man is irresistible, his bun and hair bobbing. He is such a livewire. The manager bets the farm on him yet again and yet again he repays him in spades. The big man is a joy.
Not a classic, not a classic in terms of a late winner, not a classic in Derby terms, not a classic, but this game could have gone either way — Liverpool win or Everton draw. Klopp knows it as he exuberantly salutes his family of supporters at the end, extending his normal routine. He knows we all fought together for it today.
And won together.
And Liverpool, for a few moments, go top of the league.
It’s not perfect, but it has been a good day. Life just like a dancer. And if I had my way every day would be your parade.