The 10-year wait for victory in a Merseyside derby goes on for Everton but they can have no complaints. Indeed, Carlo Ancelotti’s Premier League leaders will just be grateful to still be unbeaten this season after escaping another stoppage-time loss to Liverpool thanks to VAR.
Jordan Henderson, Jürgen Klopp and everyone involved in the 237th Merseyside derby thought the Liverpool captain had grabbed a 92nd-minute winner when Jordan Pickford failed to keep out his routine shot. Pickford should not have been on the pitch to make his latest unconvincing contribution having forced Virgil van Dijk out of the game with a horrendous sixth-minute foul. VAR spared Everton a penalty on that occasion, and defeat later on when Sadio Mané was penalised for offside in the buildup to Henderson’s strike. A breathless end to a pulsating, highly-charged occasion that will have left Klopp justifiably enraged.
There was more incident and goals inside the opening six minutes than the last three goalless Goodison derbies in total. Liverpool reacted to their 7-2 embarrassment at Aston Villa as a champion does; on the front foot, sharp and determined to dismiss that defeat as an aberration. They were ahead inside three minutes and in some style as Mohamed Salah floated a crossfield pass over the head of Séamus Coleman to the overlapping Andy Robertson. The ball was so precise that it committed the Everton captain to a challenge he was never going to make. Robertson swept around him and, from the by-line, picked out Mané for an unstoppable side-foot finish into the roof of Pickford’s net.
Everton optimism was punctured immediately. Ancelotti’s league leaders were ponderous in and out of possession, André Gomes in particular, and Liverpool’s midfield trio of Henderson, Fabinho and Thiago Alcântara controlled most of the first half, picking out gaps behind Everton’s midfield almost at will. It could, and should, have got worse for the hosts long before they were able to gain a foothold in the contest. Henderson almost made it two with a header that deflected off the covering Lucas Digne for a corner. From it, Liverpool maintained the pressure and Fabinho chipped an inviting cross to the back post towards the unmarked Van Dijk.
As the Liverpool defender shaped to shoot he was caught by a disgraceful challenge by Pickford, who brainlessly scythed through Van Dijk’s left knee. A penalty and a red card for serious foul play looked inevitable but VAR saved Everton and the England goalkeeper. Van Dijk was fractionally offside when Fabinho centred and therefore the penalty could not be given.
VAR apparently did not check for a possible red card offence and Pickford was ludicrously spared punishment. Van Dijk signalled for treatment immediately and received lengthy care before hobbling off to the away dressing room in the Park End car park. Joe Gomez, dropped for Joël Matip after his ordeal at Villa Park, replaced him and produced a much-improved display against Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
Everton’s tactic of hitting their isolated with long, first time balls was strange, given Liverpool’s problems at Villa, and rarely succeeded. But it was a fine through ball from James Rodríguez to the centre-forward that brought the equaliser. Calvert-Lewin forced a near-post save from Adrián after driving into the penalty area. From the resulting corner by Rodríguez, Keane rose between the Brazilian sandwich of Fabinho and Roberto Firmino to power a header through the Liverpool goalkeeper’s grasp.
Pickford, with some inevitability, made a telling intervention to prevent Trent Alexander-Arnold restoring Liverpool’s lead with a trademark free-kick after Gomes was penalised for a high boot on Mané. The keeper produced a fine save to push away a free-kick swept towards his top-right corner.
When Coleman’s hamstring went Ancelotti, light on defensive options, introduced deadline day signing Ben Godfrey for his Everton debut. The £25m signing from Norwich was immediately up against it as Firmino dissected the home defence to release Robertson. The influential left-back found Mané inside the area once again but this time the Senegal striker’s skewed his shot horribly wide. At the other end Richarlison just failed to connect when Calvert-Lewin turned on Abdoulaye Doucouré’s cross towards the far post and then shot over following a surging run by Godfrey.
Both teams went close to edging ahead early in the second half, Henderson inches away with a half volley and Calvert-Lewin missing an inviting cross into the six yard area from Digne. Everton carried a greater, more considered threat after the restart, however, and Richarlison was denied by the post when he met Rodríguez’s deep cross with a diving header. The Colombia international also forced Adrián into a low save.
But it was Liverpool who struck next. Yerry Mina should have got more on his attempted clearance from Henderson’s right wing cross but, even so, what followed from Salah was outstanding. He steered the loose ball beyond Pickford with a superb first time finish, becoming the third fastest player to score 100 goals for Liverpool in the club’s history. The drama was only just beginning.
Everton levelled for a second time when Rodríguez released Digne down the left and the France full-back stood up a cross towards Calvert-Lewin inside the area. The new England international towered above Robertson and steered a fine header inside Adrián’s far corner.
In the 89th minute Richarlison was deservedly dismissed for a dangerous lunge over the top on Thiago. In the 92nd Henderson thought he had condemned Everton to another stoppage-time derby defeat when he side-footed past the weak left hand of Pickford. Liverpool to a man celebrated before resetting. Everton trudged back to take the restart only for VAR to spot that Mané, who had crossed for his captain, had been just offside when receiving Thiago’s sublime pass on the edge of the area. Not for the first time in the 237th Merseyside derby, VAR proved Everton’s salvation.