I’m sure Virgil Van Dijk would’ve been dreaming about his debut for Liverpool for some time now, but even he couldn’t have imagined it going as well as it did.
The game got off to a gritty start, with Everton flying into a number of meaty challenges as you’d expect from the 230th Merseyside Derby. Wayne Rooney could easily have seen red for several offences, none more so than a late challenge on Joe Gomez before clashing with Emre Can in midfield. Yet it was a soft tackle between two players that made the difference in the first forty-five.
Adam Lallana was brought down by Mason Holgate, albeit with minimal contact between them, with James Milner converting from the spot as Liverpool’s ever-reliable figure. Given the controversy of Everton’s penalty last time the two sides met, it was only right that The Reds got their share of the luck this time out.
Things should have gotten worse for the away side when Holgate blatantly shoved Roberto Firmino over the advertising board and into the home crowd before the interval, with the Brazilian appearing to mouth ‘filho da puta’ – translating to ‘son of a b**ch’, although my lip reading isn’t the best. Both players were equally incensed and I doubt it’ll be the last we hear of the incident.
The second-half saw both sides produce some more quality, with Liverpool far more probing in attack in contrast to the ponderous possession play evident at times within the first forty-five. Adam Lallana had a clear cut chance to double the scores after a perfectly-weighted ball from Oxlade-Chamberlain put him through on goal, but the midfielder rolled it wide of the target in what was the kind of performance you’d expect from a man who hasn’t played all season.
Gomez was the next to be guilty of fluffing his lines, ghosting in at the back-post only to put his header wide of the goal from a dangerous cross. It was somewhat inevitable then that Everton were to find an equaliser out of nowhere, breaking away dangerously before Gylfi Sigurdsson calmly slotted the ball into the net from the edge of the area. Lallana and Can were the main culprits for the goal as Klopp’s side were again made to pay for failing to covert their chances.
Then came a late, and rather glorious twist for those in Red.
Liverpool’s new £75million man was on hand to head home at the death, capping off a brilliant debut for the Dutchman. Van Dijk produced an assured performance throughout the ninety, acting as a leader in defence by visibly pointing and communicating with his teammates to ensure Liverpool maintained a solid shape. At the other end of the pitch he looked dangerous all night from set-pieces, heading an earlier chance straight at Pickford from close range.
This was the stuff of dreams for a player who’s waited for so long to make his Anfield bow, having been left frustrated in the summer with Southampton unwilling to do business with Liverpool. Yet, this was a goal worth waiting for as Van Dijk ensured The Reds progressed into the next round, dumping their local rivals out the FA Cup and outshining Klavan’s late winner against Burnley just four days before. £75million well spent if you ask me.
The result means Liverpool are unbeaten in 16 games against Everton in all competitions, their longest unbeaten run against them in the club’s history. Merseyside is well and truly Red.