It wasn't so much a lack of effort from Jurgen Klopp's side, but just like its game against Man United, Liverpool was unable to deliver in the final third against Everton - and that's nothing but good news for Man City.  

By Jonathan Wilson
March 03, 2019

Advantage Manchester City. Pep Guardiola’s side is only a point clear at the top and it probably has the harder fixtures still to come, and it may be that in the fullness of time, this comes to look like a good point for Liverpool, but the bare fact is that it is City that now tops the table, City that will win the league if it wins every remaining fixture. Worse than that, this is a Liverpool that, for whatever reason, has stopped winning games.

Context shades everything. Was this just a normally scrappy, hard-fought derby, or was this evidence of the anxiety that seems to have infected Liverpool of late. That’s five draws now in seven games in all competitions for Liverpool, four in six in the league, and the forward line, such a slick and lethal unit at this stage of last season, has begun to misfire at the worst possible time.

After Wednesday’s 5-0 win over Watford, Jurgen Klopp had been dismissive of talk of nerves after that game, and it’s hard to argue after a victory that emphatic, but then the very fact he seemed to be irritated by the discussion seemed telling. That’s the problem at this stage of the season: everything has significance, everything takes on extra meaning. As it stands, the victories over Bournemouth and Watford stand as Liverpool’s only two convincing performances of 2019.

Form is a nebulous concept, hard to define and even harder to manipulate. It may be that Liverpool has not dipped especially. There were a number of games before Christmas that it won without playing especially well – or at least without playing with the sort of verve that had characterized its play in the latter part of last season. Klopp had, fairly clearly, reined his side in, de-intensified the press so fatigue was not such an issue. But perhaps this is the consequence when the forward stop firing: Liverpool does not lose, but neither does it win.

Mohamed Salah, after a slow start to the year, had looked back to something rather closer to his best against Watford, but here he was a strange mix. There were elements of the Salah of last season, wriggling through spaces that seemed not to exist or suddenly charging clear of his full-back Lucas Digne, but at other times his touch was heavy, and he failed to take either of the two chances that came his way before the break.

The first looked like classic Salah as he shuffled in from the right and worked the ball onto his left foot, but his shot was tame and comfortably saved by Jordan Pickford. Then, on 28 minutes came a golden chance as Morgan Schneiderlin was caught in possession and Fabinho slipped Salah clear. But with time, he seemed to hesitate and Pickford made an excellent save to his right. That lack of ruthlessness was apparent again 12 minutes into the second half as an opportunity opened up on the right side of the box; this time, Michael Keane made an excellent block.

It’s not just Salah, though, worrying as his run of one goal in seven games must be. Not for the first time, there were doubts about this Liverpool midfield and, in particular, its lack of creativity. Fabinho has settled in and is a composed presence as the deepest-lying of the three midfielders but Jordan Henderson had one of those games his critics suggest he has every week, his work-rate impeccable, his end-product minimal.

Sadio Mane has been the most productive of the Liverpool forward line in recent weeks, with six goals in his last seven games but, that Watford game against notwithstanding, he never seems as effective playing centrally, as he did here in the absence of Roberto Firmino, when he is less able to use his pace as he does on the wing. Divock Origi, meanwhile, having scored his second league goal of the season on Wednesday, was largely peripheral on the left. Restored to left midway through the second half after the introduction of Firmino, his bothersome foot evidently on the mend, he immediately looked more dangerous.

Liverpool may reflect that it created the only handful of chances in the game and on another day Joel Matip might have connected better with a late header to win it. But this was in no sense a freakish result. This was tight game of few chances, the second Sunday in a row in which it had tied 0-0. And that failure to score, to find a way to win these dogfights might, in the long run, be what proves its undoing.

You May Like