Everton 0 Liverpool 1: Liverpool, previously such a free-scoring power, had to wait until the 95th minute for the Sadio Mane goal that ensured Jurgen Klopp’s first game at Goodison Park ended in a victory which lifted them into second place in the Premier League.
In a dramatic finale to a game of few chances, Daniel Sturridge’s power created space for a shot which struck the foot of the right-hand post and was tapped in from six yards by Mane, although, until that point, the main issue had been another referee failing to show a red card.
For Craig Pawson and Marcos Rojo at Crystal Palace last week, read Mike Dean and Ross Barkley last night, as the Everton midfielder’s stamp above the ankle of Jordan Henderson on 67 minutes was punished only by a yellow card when he should have been dismissed.
— Sportsbet.io (@Sportsbetio) December 19, 2016
Nevertheless, it was a night that had shown plenty of first half spirit from the blue half of Merseyside, not least after losing their goalkeeper just after the hour and seeing replacement Joel Robles make the save of the match, diving low to keep out Roberto Firmino’s 80th minute volley, though the end result was one of disappointment.
It had not started that way. Simon Mignolet, retaining his place in goal, was hardly troubled in the visitors’ goal but the Belgian set the tone for an anxious first half for Liverpool when his poor clearance after 10 minutes only travelled as far as Aaron Lennon whose drive was blocked by Dejan Lovren.
Seamus Coleman, probing high up the field on the right flank, and James McCarthy and Idrissa Gueye, crunching into every midfield tackle as if their lives depended on it, stamped their mark on the game as, for a good half hour, Liverpool failed to launch a meaningful attack or even work the ball into the Everton area.
On 22 minutes, Barkley — the only native Merseysider on either side — pushed the ball wide to Aaron Lennon whose cross forced Ragnar Klavan into an important interception with Romelu Lukaku poised to connect at the far post.
Then moments later, another Everton attack ended with Leighton Baines setting Barkley away for a 25-yard shot which passed within feet of the left-hand Liverpool post.
If Klopp’s game plan was to hit their hosts on the counter attack, the early signs were not hopeful, although, by the half hour mark, the Reds were finally gaining more control and, on 27 minutes, Firmino’s lay-off found Georginio Wijnaldum, whose wild shot offered no concern for Maarten Stekelenburg.
The minor Liverpool recovery did not unsettle the home side, however, and the last chance of an absorbing first half fell to the Blues, as Barkley’s right-wing corner was met by Ramiro Funes Mori, who had space eight yards from goal, but could only guide his header just wide of the post.
Given Liverpool’s record of 40 goals from their opening 16 league games — their best return at this mark since 1978-79 — it was a curiously limp attacking display, as Klopp’s side struggled to cope with Everton’s high-tempo, in-your-face approach.
However, McCarthy made way for Gareth Barry at half-time, having collected a knock to his knee in a tackle, and, whether due to that change or Klopp’s half-time team talk, it was Liverpool who made by far the more impressive start to the second half.
On 50 minutes, James Milner’s punt forward was misjudged badly by Funes Mori, pushed off the ball by Firmino, who sprinted through on Stekelenburg only to be denied by the keeper’s prone body as he tried to lift the ball into the goal.
Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana obstructed each other as they tried to latch onto the rebound but at least it was a sign that there was life in Liverpool’s attack and a spell of camping around the Everton area.
The home side broke that spell, Barry picking out an off-balance Lukaku who twisted and headed just over from the corner of the six-yard box.
However, Mane and Firmino responded, exchanging passes for the former to power into the area, forcing Leighton Baines and Stekelenburg to take evasive action which ended with the pair clattering into each other and conceding a corner.
That proved a costly moment for the Toffees, with Stekelenburg clearly shaken by the collision with his own player and able to continue for only seven more minutes before hobbling off to be replaced by stand-in goalkeeper Joel Robles.
Barkley’s lunge at Jordan Henderson’s ankle angered Lovren, who sprinted over to remonstrate and saw players briefly square up to each other, an incident which also led to a booking for Coleman.
The visitors continued to enjoy the better of the closing stages with Robles making the save of the match, diving quickly to his left to keep out Firmino’s volley on his goalline before the goal, and Coleman having to clear a Firmino shot off the line in the sixth of eight added minutes.
EVERTON (4-2-3-1): Stekelenburg 7 (Robles 64, 7); Coleman 7, Williams 7, Funes Mori 6, Baines 7; Gueye 8, McCarthy 7 (Barry 46, 6); Lennon 6, Barkley 7, Valencia 5 (Calvert-Lewin 72, 6); Lukaku 6.
Subs: Mirallas, Cleverley, Barry, Holgate, Kenny.
LIVERPOOL (4-3-3): Mignolet 6; Clyne 7, Lovren 8, Klavan 7, Milner 7; Lallana 7 (Can 82, 6), Henderson 7, Wijnaldum 6; Mane 8, Origi 5 (Sturridge 82, 6), Firmino 7.
Subs: Karius, Moreno, Lucas, Alexander-Arnold, Woodburn.
Referee: Mike Dean 5
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