Liverpool late show at Everton sends a warning to Chelsea
Reds show they have the stomach for the title fight as Sadio Mane settles the Merseyside derby in injury time
Everton 0 Liverpool 1
While others have fallen by the wayside in the title race of late, Liverpool sent a message to league leaders Chelsea with a precious goal deep into stoppage time at Everton. Their last-gasp victory in the Merseyside derby earned them three points and moved them into second spot, six points behind the Blues.
It wasn't a pretty match, one that is likely to have slipped from the memory of the neutral before the Christmas turkey is finished, but all that matters for Reds' fans is that Sadio Mane managed to put the ball in the net four minutes into injury time.
The goal summed up the scrappy game, Mane reacting quickest to the rebound after Daniel Sturridge's scuffed shot had rattled the post. It was probably what Liverpool deserved with the visitors creating most of what few chances there were on a raw Merseyside night.
But other than the dramatic late winner there was little to talk about after the match, other than Ross Barkley's shocking tackle on Jordan Henderson, which incensed the Liverpool players. The Everton midfielder was perhaps lucky to escape with only a yellow card on an evening that was in stark contrast to the celebrations last week, when the Toffees came from behind to beat Arsenal 2-1.
That victory showcased Everton's grit but on Monday evening it was Liverpool who displayed admirable endurance to keep going to the bitter end in search of the all-important goal.
"I think we were the clear better team today," said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. "That doesn't mean we had to win, but if we talk about a deserved win or not it would have been LFC."
While the mettle of Arsene Wenger's squad is open to debate following their recent slump in form, Klopp can take immense satisfaction from what his players have achieved in following last week's win away at Middlesbrough with victory in the 227th Merseyside derby.
"Of course it is [about] character," he replied, when asked if that was a factor in the late victory. "But I was never in doubt about the character."
Liverpool next play Stoke at home, on 27 December, before hosting Manchester City at Anfield four days later, a match that is likely to have a significant bearing on the title race. City are a point behind Liverpool and if Chelsea continue their winning form the match could be an eliminator in the race to catch them.
What's also important, said Klopp on Monday evening, is that his side keep drawing lessons from every encounter. "We learned it in the game and that's what I really loved tonight - that we did it so much better in the second half, that we learned from the first half. That's really important, but in the end you need to fight for every single ball - and that's what we did too. Good!"
Liverpool's title hopes could depend on 'war' with Everton
The first Merseyside derby of the season will be a "war" according to Liverpool striker Divock Origi, who was stretchered off after a terrible challenge from Everton's Ramiro Funes Mori the last time the two sides met back in April.
The meeting will be Jurgen Klopp’s first game at Goodison Park, 14 months after he took over as Liverpool boss, and will be Ronald Koeman’s first experience of the fixture.
"It will be a war," said Origi, “so we go there in a very positive way. You want to win this game, you know it will not be easy, it is a derby so it will be special and a very big and important game for us as a club also. We have to prepare it well.”
While Origi compared the game to a war, understandable after the knee ligament injury he sustained in April at Anfield, Everton boss Koeman has told The Sun that the game is bigger than El Clasico in Spain.
"The Everton versus Liverpool derby in the city where I work now is bigger with emotions because of the incredible football culture in this country," said the Dutchman.
And the stakes are certainly high, for Liverpool in particular, says Amitai Winehouse for Mail Online. The game "offers so much more than bragging rights", he says. "Supporters demand a result, but victory holds an even greater significance for the Reds.
"Given the importance to Liverpool and their hopes this season, it will not just be the north west but the entire division watching."
And after Everton rediscovered their bite against Arsenal in midweek, Origi's prediction could come true, with the Toffees looking to outmuscle the Reds.
"Everton have made no secret that they will look to bully the Reds just as they did Wenger’s fragile Arsenal team, but Klopp believes his team are less timid in the face of hostility," says David Maddock of the Daily Mirror. "And he warned opposite number Ronald Koeman that he will fight fight with fire if it comes to a typical derby punch up tonight."
It should make for a fine game, says Jason Burt of the Daily Telegraph. "If – and it surely will be a given that they will – Everton can summon up an atmosphere similar to the win over Arsenal then this could be one of the classic Merseyside derbies. Liverpool arrive fresh from a thumping away victory and wanted to impose themselves again on their noisy neighbours. Could be epic. Or attritional. Or both."