Everton recorded their first win at Anfield since September 1999 after a 2-0 victory over the Premier League champions on Saturday night.
Carlo Ancelotti’s starting eleven raised a fair few eyebrows, with the Italian electing to go with a back five comprised of Seamus Coleman (who was part of The Toffees’ last Merseyside Derby success in October 2010), Mason Holgate, Michael Keane, Ben Godfrey and Lucas Digne. Furthermore, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Allan, two players who have been sorely missed in recent matches, were left on the substitutes’ bench, with Everton’s attack hinged upon James Rodríguez at 10 and Richarlison as the central striker.
Ancelotti’s questionable setup was rewarded after just three minutes. Pressing high up the pitch, Abdoulaye Doucouré headed into Rodríguez’s path, who delivered a magnificent threaded ball through to Richarlison, who struck low and hard past his fellow compatriot Allison to give Everton the lead. It was a wonderfully worked goal and encapsulated the quality of Rodríguez’s touch and vision and Richarlison’s ruthlessness when through on goal.
🎙 | "What a start from #EFC!"
A superb finish from Richarlison gives Everton the lead at Anfield!
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) February 20, 2021
It was a breath-taking start to proceedings but, primarily due to the heartache of the last two decades, one couldn’t help but feel that Everton had scored too early. 87 minutes is an extremely long time to hold on against any opposition, let alone one with such attacking talent and pedigree in this fixture as Liverpool. If the visitors were to clinch victory, they were going to have to manage the game with real maturity and need their man between the sticks to deliver his best performance of the season.
In the next ten to fifteen minutes, Everton did just that. Brilliant blocks aplenty, The Toffees repelled a strong response from The Reds, denying the space their attacking trio need to thrive. And when called upon, Pickford was magnificent, making two excellent saves from Henderson and Alexander-Arnold from range to keep his side’s lead intact. Disrupted by what appears to be a groin injury to the former, Liverpool’s pressure faded, enabling Everton to slow the tempo of the match down and regain a degree of control.
This led to a golden opportunity to extend their lead just before the break. Arriving late into the penalty area after a trademark Digne cross, Seamus Coleman nodded straight at Alisson. Whilst the Liverpool goalkeeper deserves credit for his reaction, Everton’s skipper should have scored and potentially put the game to bed.
Having created the best two chances, defended resiliently and shown real promise on the break, Ancelotti’s men warranted their lead at the interval.
Half-Time: Liverpool 0-1 Everton
Liverpool were always going to improve in the second half. For all their injuries and indifferent form, they are still a very dangerous side who can dominate, counter-press and create at a level only matched by Manchester City.
Jurgen Klopp’s side’s start to the second half was their best period in the game. Pushing high and relentlessly rolling down Everton’s left through Alexander-Arnold and Salah, they came close on a few occasions to levelling the scores. But, as so often has been the case in the last two months or so, there was nothing substantive to Liverpool’s attack, with a strike from Salah that went straight into Pickford the closest they came to an equaliser.
Much like when Everton had just taken the lead, The Blues’ back five stood up superbly in this portion of the match. Mason Holgate, who enjoyed his best game for the club, was imperious, making several crucial clearances and blocks inside the penalty area. Ben Godfrey was powerful and brave, epitomised by two terrific tackles on Alexander-Arnold and Xhedran Shaqiri deep in Everton territory. And Michael Keane was majestic, sliding to stop the on-rushing front three on multiple occasions. Whilst the innovation of Liverpool’s attack can be questioned, the quality of Everton’s defending must not be underplayed.
With an hour played, Ancelotti then brought Calvert-Lewin onto the field in place of Rodríguez. Still in the lead and with Liverpool in the ascendency, so many Everton managers of the past would have cowered and made defensive changes to try and see the game out. But not this manager. Instead of soaking up the punches, he put faith in the counter attack as Everton’s best route to victory and as the game ticked towards its conclusion, his ploy was vindicated.
After a brilliant pass from Tom Davies, who was exceptional once again, Richarlison broke away from substitute Nat Phillips to feed Calvert-Lewin, who after firing straight at Alisson was felled by Alexander-Arnold. Referee Chris Kavanagh pointed to the spot, much to the bemusement of Klopp and those in red. Having watched a replay back on the VAR screen, Kavanagh stuck with his decision, giving Gylfi Sigurdsson the chance to right the wrongs of his own disappointing season and put his name in Everton folklore.
The Icelandic international obliged, easing the ball into the left hand corner of the net to send those in blue into absolute ecstasy. A Gini Wijnaldum strike aside, Liverpool fashioned very little in the closing stages to suggest a remarkable comeback was on the cards, with Everton happy to sit and wait for the referee’s whistle to blow.
— Everton (@Everton) February 20, 2021
When it arrived, a sensational, surreal wave of happiness and relief took hold. It was evident on the pitch. It was evident on the touchline. It was evident outside Anfield. And it was evident across social media, with the millions of Evertonians across the globe engaging in incredible celebrations. It was a sight to behold and whilst it is an absolute tragedy that no-one could have been inside the stadium to see it, no supporter will ever forget that night and how they and their homes marked it.
Some may criticise those celebrations and words for being excessive. This was a weaker Liverpool team than usual after all. However, as many of a red persuasion like to point out, Everton have lost to far, far worse Liverpool teams than this one over the course of the last twenty two years, in every way imaginable. The Toffees have been trounced by three, four and five goals. They have been embarrassed in vital matches in both league and cup. They have been punished by poor refereeing decisions. And, in more recent times, they have lost to last-gasp kicks of the football. That period of unbelievable, unbearable pain gives Evertonians the right to be as emotional or excited about their side’s triumph as they like this weekend and in the days and weeks to come.
Great things come to those who wait.
Full Time: Liverpool 0-2 Everton
James’ Everton Man of the Match: Jordan Pickford