With Everton flying high in the Premier League at the moment and Liverpool defending their 19th title, it seemed we would be witnessing a Merseyside Derby from one of the previous eras when the Reds and the Blues largely dominated the English football scene, when Jurgen Klopp’s team went across the Stanley Park to take on Carlo Ancelotti’s table toppers at Goodison Park on Saturday.
In terms of the quality of the football on display, the game did not disappoint, but the low officiating standards in the league many believe to be the best in the world came to the fore and made all the headlines once again.
The Pickford – Van Dijk disaster
Liverpool started on the front foot and played that way for most of the contest. They made their domination count as early as the third minute, when Andy Robertson broke past Seamus Coleman on the left and pulled the ball back for Sadio Mane. The Senegalese forward slammed it in under the bar to give his side the lead.
Buoyed by the goal, the Reds continued attacking in search of another, but they suffered a
huge setback in the 10th minute when a chip over Everton’s back line found the run of Virgil van Dijk on the far post, and Jordan Pickford rushed out and lunged heavily into the Liverpool centre-back. The tackle the Everton goalkeeper made seems to have been deliberate – his eyes (let alone the rest of him) were nowhere near the ball, he obviously went to take the player out.
His mission was accomplished. Van Dijk was forced off the pitch with an injured knee, and further more, Pickford walked away from the incident without any consequences whatsoever. VAR apparently did review the situation but David Coote, in charge of the technology-based system, looked only if Van Dijk had been offside, and not Pickford’s challenge on him. The decision was – it was offside and Pickford was let off, which set a precedent suggesting that a player can be injured deliberately – providing he was offside. It’s hard to justify the offside call itself, though, with the line on the screen being drawn from Van Dijk’s elbow, rather than a part of the body allowed to touch the ball as the rules demand.
The Richarlison red card
Michael Keane equalized for Everton in the 19th minute, heading home after a corner, Mo Salah slammed past Pickford for Liverpool to retake the lead in the 72nd, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin had set the score level again in the 81st.
Right at the stroke of 90 minutes, Everton forward Richarlison tackled Liverpool’s Thiago Alcantara, taking the Spanish midfielder out with extreme recklessness. This time, referee Michael Oliver was close and needed no help from Coote in the VAR room to make his call. He blew the whistle and whipped out the red card straight away.
As he walked off the pitch, Richarlison looked angry that his actions hadn’t gone unpunished like Pickford’s, even though he tried to avoid responsibility by staying on the ground himself and asking for medical assistance. All the assistance the medical staff eventually provided appeared to have been to restrain him from causing further havoc as he repeatedly tried to turn and start a fight with someone.
Nonetheless, he later publicly apologized.
Thiago played on for the rest of the game, but Klopp later revealed that his knee swelled up and he was taken to the hospital, where he underwent a scan together with Van Dijk.
The late, late controversy
Richarlison was off the pitch and the game entered the second of the five minutes of stoppage time when Mane found captain Jordan Henderson inside the box, and Pickford was beaten from close range despite the feebleness of the shot and the fact that it was going straight at the England No.1. It looked as if Liverpool would grab another late Merseyside Derby win, when Coote from the VAR room made another horrible mess.
He reviewed whether Mane had been offside in the buildup. The still image showed the Senegalese onside and it looked practically certain the goal would be allowed to stand, but no. The decision inexplicably read: “Offside – no goal”.
Given everything seen on the pitch throughout the contest, the champions are obviously left with a sour taste in their mouths as a deserved victory was snatched from their hands by poor officiating. On the other hand, despite sitting top of the table and all the pre-match optimism among Everton fans, many of whom believed the time had come for a win over their Red neighbours, the Blues are now celebrating their extremely narrow escape from the clutches of defeat and the point they, in all fairness, did not deserve.
Not that it’ll make much difference now, but Liverpool have reportedly demanded some explanations from the Premier League.
When all said and done, Everton remain in the lead with 13 points from five games and won’t be looking back on this game for too long, but they will probably rue the fact that this was the 20th winless Premier League Merseyside Derby for them in a row. Liverpool are second with 10 points after Saturday’s matches, one more than Aston Villa and Leicester City who play each other at the King Power Stadium on Sunday.
More importantly for Klopp and his team at the moment, they are still waiting to learn the extent of the injuries to Van Dijk and Thiago, despite some rumours suggesting the Dutchman would be out for seven or eight months which popped up on Saturday evening.