In a topsy-turvy afternoon of football, Liverpool beat Everton 1-0 at Anfield.
The Toffees dominated the first-half but failed to score a goal despite their dominance. Curtis Jones settled the tie with a stunning strike in the second-half to put The Reds into the fourth round of the FA Cup. What did we learn?
1. Coutinho Jones, take a bow
Sometimes, a goal is so good all you can do is shrug your shoulders and say “fair enough” – even in a tight game, even in a derby. Quality will always blow you away, make you forget all analytical ideas and make you just exhale with the kind of noise you make when stepping on Lego bricks with bare feet, except in this instance you’re expressing your confusion, exhilaration and admiration.
Liverpool used to feast on a semi-regular diet of such goals, courtesy of Philippe Coutinho. The Brazilian had this technique where you almost knew he was going to score when he hit it. Edge of the box, just left of centre, with about two to three yards of space ahead of him. The Brazilian would wind up and curl a beauty, as fast as it was accurate, flying off his foot and into the top corner.
Coutinho left Liverpool two years ago, and they haven’t seen many if any of those trademark goals since then. They’ve scored incredible goals, but no one’s really “done a Coutinho” until today. Curtis Jones, 18-year-old Curtis Jones, making his third appearance of the season Curtis Jones, been at Liverpool since he was eight Curtis Jones, illuminated the Merseyside derby with a goal of such bewildering quality that you genuinely worry the kid may have set too high of a bar for himself going forward as the youngest Liverpool goalscorer in a Merseyside Derby since Robbie Fowler. That he may have Macheda’d himself. It’s a genuine worry, how could it not be?
Jones’ goal was stunning. All jokes about Jordan Pickford’s #BabyArms aside, it’s hard to imagine that even someone as long-limbed as Thibaut Courtois would have been able to save Jones’ effort. That was pure Coutinho, pure football, pure beauty. As a famous man once used to say (especially about Liverpool goals), “take a bow, son.”
2. Everton’s hardwired inferiority
If the task hanging over Carlo Ancelotti’s head was ever thought to be a small one, this match has shown that mindset to be utterly incorrect. This is also why Marco Silva failed despite massive investment, and Ronald Koeman too. This is why Everton always fail: they don’t believe they can win. That inferiority is hardwired into the club.
Look at the last this match, Liverpool playing a ramshackle team full of kids and back-ups. Talented, sure, but nothing that should have troubled what was Everton’s strongest possible side. But this is about more than just quality on the field: Everton simply do not believe that they can win these kind of decisive games, even when they are miles better.
So The Toffees dominated the first-half. They cut Liverpool to ribbons on the break and created shots at goal, but every time they tried to pull the trigger they could only hit it straight at back-up goalkeeper Adrian. The Spaniard had to keep his legs closed, sure, but he was never really tested in any real way.
And then after Liverpool’s kids got a pep-talk from Jurgen Klopp they came out of the half-time break and actually began dominating the game. The Reds owned the second half and their incredible goal was just reward for them and a dagger through the heart of the Everton pysche. Carlo Ancelotti has such a huge job on, not to make Everton good at football, they already are, but to make them believe that they can be great at football; that they can win games.
3. Minamino shows promise
Takumi Minamino made his debut against Everton to admittedly less fanfare than Virgil van Dijk did two years ago when he kicked off 2018 and his Liverpool career by scoring a late winner against the Toffees, but nevertheless he played quite well.
Minamino is a playmaker, yet despite being deployed in a team full of young players lacking all of the devastating attacking talent that he would usually be making plays for, the Japanese international still looked really bright. He moved around, pressed well, and tried to link well with his team-mates. There will be brighter moments to come of course, but this was a promising start.
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4. Liverpool’s lost squad depth
Despite the incredible victory against a full-strength Everton side, Liverpool will be devastated coming out of this match. Well, potentially anyway. Nine minutes into the game James Milner was involved in a 50-50 and came off worse. No biggie, that can happen, except this time Milner stayed down, and then had to be subbed off.
Liverpool’s squad isn’t the deepest in midfield and at full-back, yet the Reds have never been made to suffer for this because of James Milner. The Englishman is such a versatile player, such a willing worker, and is the perfect squad player. A veteran at 34, his professionalism and fitness (the pre-season beep test videos are now a yearly social media highlight) has allowed him to cover for a multitude of players. If he’s out for any considerable amount of time then Liverpool could suddenly find themselves struggle.
5. Red-hot Liverpool pass the ultimate heat-check
A “heat-check” in when a basketball player who is shooting well tries an absolutely ridiculous shot to see if his rhythm is so good, if he’s so “hot” that he can just sink anything. Heat-check can also be used to describe any situation where a player or team checks their form by doing something ridiculous.
Liverpool putting a team full of kids and a couple of back-ups out for a Merseyside Derby in the FA Cup third round is a truly impressive heat-check. No sensible side would do this. The idea when you’re winning is to keep winning, and picking a risky line-up like this could derail things, much as it did last season when they tried this routine against Wolves, failed the heat-check, and had a terrible January.
This season however, Liverpool are so red-hot that they absolutely nailed this heat-check. A team full of kids took their lumps in the first-half and then absolutely battered Everton in the second-half to win. No matter what they do, who they play, or how they play, right now Liverpool Football Club simply cannot miss.