The first installment of this season’s Merseyside Derby sure was something, and not in the good way.
In truth, if it hadn’t been for all the horrible calls and challenges, it would’ve been a fun game. Everton finally looked like a worthy opponent, for once, and Liverpool didn’t look at all like they were suffering that post-International break slump they usually do.
Usually, generally, I try not to say refereeing ruined a game. I don’t know all the rules of the game like they do, I am not on the pitch, or know these players like they do. That being said, when the interpretation of said rules injures a player with no consequences, and misjudges the offside rule to disallow a late, match winning goal… man. That is the kind of stuff that takes the focus away from how well everyone played up until those moments, takes the focus off of the game and onto the decisions that were made in an attempt to control the match.
Now, two days after the match, no one is talking about the linkup play between Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, and Thiago in the midfield, or the build up to the first goal that saw the ball move seamlessly between three or four players. Hardly any celebration has gone to the triumphant return of Sadio Mane and Thiago from Covid-19 quarantine, or Mohamed Salah’s 100th goal for Liverpool. 30 Premier League assists for Andy Robertson. 250 appearances for Roberto Firmino. The second ever Merseyside Derby without fans.
Moments like those are what the game is about, what we all watch for. We love this team, and the way they play this beautiful game — that’s why we are fans and support them as we do. Even Everton, who should be applauded for their performance and their current unbeaten run, have been overshadowed by the choices of the referees. Thought it was their goalkeeper, Jordan Pickford, that made that unnecessary and brutal challenge on Virgil Van Dijk that went unchecked, they were still able to keep the scoreline level.
It’s heartbreaking, it’s frustrating, and there are no doubt loads of Everton fans that are relishing our heartbreak at the moment. It’s all cyclical. It will come back to us, to them. It happens to everyone. There’s calls for retroactive action to be taken against Pickford, especially now that Van Dijk is likely out for the season after needing surgery. Liverpool themselves have asked the Premier League to investigate the decisions behind those two huge moments in the derby - the lack of a red card for Pickford and the offside call ruling out Hendo’s late goal.
There’s conspiracy theories out there, too. Of course there are. That the League is favoring whoever is at the top of the table, that they didn’t want Everton to go 10 men and 2-0 down twenty minutes into the match against Liverpool.
Angry and upset fans can come up with anything, any number of reasons why their team was hard done by.
The League may choose not to investigate those decisions, even. We may never know why those things happened, why the tide turned against us, and that’s something we’ll have to live with. I'm already preparing to be disappointed by that too. We can take solace in the fact that it was genuinely a great game outside of those moments. That both teams played well enough to make it an interesting and fun derby to watch, outside of those decisions. That this rivalry has been well and truly maintained, now that Everton is a little closer to Liverpool’s level, rather than depending on sitting deep and making themselves unable to break down. Everton did come to play on Saturday, to fight for that unbeaten streak they have have earned. I mean, for the first time in my life as a fan (that I’m aware of), Everton is at the top of the table and Liverpool are second. That’s a nice thing to see for a city that continues to be hard done by the South.
This is the stuff that we should be talking about, and maybe even what may happen when the Toffees come to Anfield in February. If they can keep up their high flying ways, if Liverpool can survive the congested December turn through the season without Van Dijk.
In fact, I would much rather talk about this stuff than what the referees decided.
It was really a joy to watch Jordan Henderson return at full strength, and his celebration of his first Merseyside Derby goal that could’ve been the winner. It was lovely to see Sadio Mane tearing it up on his side of the pitch again, taking full advantage of whatever Everton threw at him, and sneakily causing problems (shithouse Sadio, my boyfriend and I giggled). Salah’s instincts taking over for him to score that goal to put us 2-1 up were pure and incredible to see - one touch smash into the back of the net. To see these historic clubs, this historic rivalry, play out at their highest level. Lightning fast football across both sides of the park (one of the problems that the team had with Aston Villa a couple weeks ago, to be fair).
That’s the biggest disappointment from the weekend. That these things, things even on the Everton side that I am overlooking, are overshadowed by the result and the circumstances of that result. Liverpool probably deserved to win, although I may not have been too upset if Everton had played the way they did and won against us (that's a lie, I probably would've been). This all out brawl deserved a winner, not shared spoils. It deserved praises for the players, not attention on the referees.
There is one good thing that came out of this match, though, and it’s witnessing Joël Matip’s angry walk towards the referee following Richarlison’s tackle on Thiago.
Let that energy bring us into the next match, and the one after that, and the one after that, and all the others.