When the upcoming fixture list gets released, one of the biggest matches of the season is always Everton at Goodison Park. It is a match that carries great importance for the city and supporters of each side. As the first match back for both Liverpool and Everton since the Premier League shut down due to the coronavirus, the Merseyside Derby carried with it even more meaning this time around. As Jurgen Klopp has said, football is often the most important of the least important things. And while the health and well-being of the populace certainly outweighs the result of a sporting match, the return of one of the most important matches of the entire Premier League calendar was a very welcome distraction after several months of hardship. Unfortunately, the match itself hardly lived up to the billing.
Evertonians may have been petrified of getting run over yet again by Liverpool, but some familiar tropes emerged for the Reds. Their streak of disappointing runs at Goodison continued with an attacking display that had more in common with a lackadaisical pre-season friendly than a derby match. Liverpool have also struggled in recent years coming off a long layoff, and this match fit right in with the Reds’ worst spell of the season, which came right after the Premier League winter break.
Injuries also had a big role – with both Salah & Robertson out of the starting lineup despite recent positive reports on their health – and two forced substitutions during the match that resulted in Gomez at LB and Lovren doing anything but sitting on the bench for the full 90. The latter served as a painful reminder to Liverpool supporters that while it is easy to laugh at Arsenal and the comedic stylings of David Luiz, a similar agent of destruction and schadenfreude still resides at Anfield for the time being. The Ox also failed to impress off the bench aside from one late mazy run to set up a dangerous free-kick after he replaced Minamino at the half despite Takumi being one of the few bright lights of the first 45.
As such, it was not terribly unsurprising when Liverpool failed to create much of anything on the day and were lucky to walk away with a point despite some attempted late sabotage by the Croatian Creator of Chaos. Even the sight of Divock Origi did not cause PTSD amongst Pickford & Co. Instead, Liverpool continued their slow, inevitable path to the title, less General Sherman marching to the sea and more a glacier flatting down the landscape.
In the end, the latest edition of the Merseyside Derby was a reminder that football has returned with both thrills and flaws. Often the biggest matches fail to deliver, and the desire of the sides to avoid defeat stymies either from securing the victory. But even when the spectacle falls short of the moment, the return of football marks the return of some semblance of normalcy in uncertain times. Liverpool are here to give us a chance to remember some of what we have lost but also what there is still to gain. When Jurgen’s boys finally hit the back of the net and Hendo does his tap dance with the Premier League trophy, it will truly be time to smile.