Unsurprisingly, the Merseyside derby was a let-down. The more that Sky Sports hype these matches up, the less interesting they turn out to be. Quality was low and tension high, there was little to really enjoy for the neutral. A dramatic late goal provided heartbreak for the frustrated Evertonians, while Liverpool can move on in the knowledge that they have notched up another three points. These derbies have become far more significant for the Toffees than the their rivals over the past few decades and that was apparent on Monday night.
Goodison Park had awoken from its slumber during the early knockings of the game with Arsenal last week and it noticeably fired up Ronald Koeman’s side. During the first half, the game was largely just sparring, with neither side registering a shot on target. Jurgen Klopp would have been as underwhelmed as anyone by that display, but Koeman’s team failed to take advantage of their relative dominance. The match was a throwback in some ways, the ball was bouncing around at such a speed it caused a hectic, scrappy match.
One of football’s modern buzzwords fitted this game perfectly: intense. Lots of running, people lunging into tackles like they had lost their minds and little controlled football. 50-50 balls in midfield were competed for ferociously, Mike Dean could easily have produced more cards.
One player who was given a bit of leeway by Dean was Ross Barkley. The young England midfielder’s antics during the second half could easily have seen him sent off. Reckless challenging and some petulant behaviour, Barkley was clearly fired up for the occasion. His performance perhaps epitomised Everton’s team display. Completing a measly 57% of his passes, Barkley’s fiery display was just like his side’s. Paired with Idrissa Gueye and James McCarthy in midfield, Koeman set his side up to spoil Liverpool’s quick passing centrally and it worked.
The manager’s role in all of this is revealing. After their run of soulless displays prior to victory over Arsenal, the Toffees boss was vocal about his displeasure with his players. They have played like a team angered as a result, but this will have consequences. Football teams cannot function solely on emotion, it becomes exhausting. The issue, too, is that emotions cannot be heightened for all occasions, sometimes it does not work.
Everton’s crowd were given something to get off their seats for against Arsenal and that wave of noise was carried into the derby. The crowd have always played a huge part in Everton’s successes at Goodison Park, making it one of the most unpleasant places to visit for any opposition team. What is troubling, though, is that the crowd will only respond if the players give them a reason to create such an atmosphere. The flat, dreary performances of the last few weeks cannot be forgotten – this emotional, aggressive football can only be a short-term fix.
How will Everton react when they are playing a side outside the top six? The crowd will unlikely be as bellowing and the players will have to be calmer. Playing the side looking to break the game up is often easier than having to dictate the tempo and open up the opposition.
Football is a place in desperate need of emotion and Koeman should be applauded for bringing some back to Goodison Park. The real test from here for Everton is to prove that they can replicate such standards without the motivation of a particularly big game.