The 227th Merseyside derby was shaping up as one of the least eventful. That is, of course, until Daniel Sturridge offered a reminder of his priceless capacity to make things happen and Sadio Mane tapped in the winner in the 94th minute. With his goal, Mane ensured Liverpool could make the short journey back across Stanley Park with three precious points that restored them to second place in the Premier League.
Sturridge had only been on the pitch for 15 minutes following five games out with his latest injury when he shot from 20 yards. It was scarcely his cleanest strike — a pea-roller that Joel Robles surely should have saved. Instead, it rebounded off the post and Mane was presented with an open goal. He had scored a late winner against Liverpool for Ronald Koeman’s Southampton, but this time Mane mustered an even later goal to condemn his former manager’s team to defeat in the Dutchman’s first derby.
As Robles made such a tame attempt to stop Sturridge’s initial effort, Everton could rue the loss of Maarten Stekelenburg, injured in a challenge with teammate Leighton Baines. It wasn’t the only illustration of Everton’s ability to hurt players; Ross Barkley was lucky to escape with a yellow card for planting his studs into Jordan Henderson’s ankle.
It threatened to be the major talking point of a game with few chances. Instead, while Jurgen Klopp’s attacking players created little, Sturridge came off the bench to condemn Everton to a first home defeat in nine months and stretch their wait for a derby win — something they have failed to achieve since 2010 — even further.
Liverpool had won, lost and drawn since Philippe Coutinho suffered an ankle injury against Sunderland on Nov. 26. The Reds had scored 10 goals in their first four matches without the sidelined Brazil international. They eventually got one this time around, too, and it proved enough. But, until Sturridge changed proceedings, how they missed Coutinho.
Coutinho’s absence had been a boon for Divock Origi. The path to the team had been blocked to an eager substitute position. At a stroke, it was opened up and Origi had seized the opportunity. He had scored in five consecutive matches for the first time as a Liverpool player. He had the chance to make it six in six when Nathaniel Clyne supplied an inviting cutback. Origi skewed it wide and that summed up his night.
This was his least fruitful night since his return to the team. He kept on running, but to rather lesser effect. It was a reunion with Ramiro Funes Mori, who was sent off for a dreadful foul on the Belgian in Liverpool’s 4-0 win in April. When they clashed again, the Argentine halted his galloping opponent entirely legally, first jockeying and then dispossessing him.
Origi’s recent run came to the detriment of Roberto Firmino, who has gone from a makeshift striker to one who has looked a lesser player when restored to the flanks. Ubiquitous a few weeks ago, Firmino was strangely anonymous in the opening stages. His first impact came in a largely innocuous challenge that nonetheless injured James McCarthy.
Then, like Origi earlier, he was granted a golden chance. James Milner fed a ball over the Everton defence. Firmino ran onto it, tried to lob Stekelenburg and saw the goalkeeper palm it away. He was denied by a second keeper, the substitute Robles saving a volley, but while his influence grew, he endured a sixth successive game without a goal. It is his longest drought of the season.
An Everton manager tried to out-pass Liverpool in the derby. Not Ronald Koeman, however, but Roberto Martinez, whose 4-0 defeat in April hastened his departure from Goodison. His successor took a very different approach. He aimed to outrun his opponents, with his passer in chief sidelined.
It is only four months since Koeman described Gareth Barry as one of the best players he had ever managed. August optimism has given way to December realism. Everton went into a second successive high-profile game without the veteran. There was the pretense he was rested against Arsenal, but it is harder to sustain when he stayed out of the side.
Everton’s approach was signposted by Koeman’s team selection. More athletic performers were picked in the sedate Barry’s absence. There was urgency, intensity and an attitude to please a vocal crowd. These qualities were personified by Idrissa Gueye and McCarthy, the all-action figures picked in Barry’s stead. They set the tone. Others joined in, looking to hassle and harry.
It is a policy that had paid dividends. Everton had launched salvage jobs against Manchester United and Arsenal with up-tempo football. They started in a similar vein, inviting questions as to whether they could maintain that effort for 90 minutes.
Yet with McCarthy needing to be replaced at half-time, Barry was reintroduced. As he struggled to get up to the pace of the game, it altered Everton’s approach. They pressed less and sat a little deeper. They seemed to settle for the draw and instead Liverpool were rewarded for showing more ambition in the closing stages.
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