LIVERPOOL, England — It was Bill Shankly, the legendary former Liverpool manager, who once claimed that the two best teams in the city were Liverpool and Liverpool reserves. He might have been joking, but it is no laughing matter for Everton because, in 2020, it may well be the truth.
It is now 7,405 days and counting since Everton last won at Anfield and, having lost 1-0 to a team stacked with Liverpool’s kids in the FA Cup third round, who knows when their nightmare will end against their annoyingly successful neighbours?
This was supposed to be the day when Everton finally claimed their first Anfield victory of this century. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp had made nine changes to his team, including the selection of teenagers Curtis Jones (18), Neco Williams (18) and Harvey Elliott (16), and did not even include the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Mohamed Salah or Roberto Firmino in his squad.
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Liverpool’s team cost a grand total of £43.95 million, Everton’s £221.06 million, yet even though Everton were at full strength, Liverpool still claimed the win to book their place in Round 4. It was men against boys, but the boys won.
The killer blow on this occasion was delivered by Jones, a Liverpudlian from the suburb of Toxteth, who became the youngest scorer in a Merseyside derby since Robbie Fowler in the 1990s, when he beat goalkeeper Jordan Pickford with a stunning 20-yard curler on 71 minutes.
Just imagine being an Everton fan right now. Carlo Ancelotti’s appointment as manager last month undoubtedly lifted morale at Goodison Park, especially as fans were fearing the return of David Moyes, but what else is there to cheer if you are a blue rather than a red?
Everton have not won at Anfield since 1999. Since then, they have played 24 games here against Liverpool, drawing 10 and losing 14.
This was Day 7,405 since Kevin Campbell’s fourth-minute goal sealed a 1-0 Everton win in September 1999 — three players, including Steven Gerrard, were sent off that day — and it might well be another 7,405 if they cannot even win here when everything is seemingly in their favour. But it was the same old miserable story for Everton. And just to rub salt into their wounds, Liverpool fans taunted them with songs about being champions of the world and singing, “You haven’t won a trophy since 1995” to the Evertonians in the away end.
Liverpool are world and European champions, coasting at the top of the Premier League with a 13-point lead and, after beating Everton, are still on course for a domestic double to add to their haul of continental silverware. It is difficult to imagine a more pained and suffering fan base in world football than Everton’s at this moment in time. Not only are they constantly failing to deliver, their local rivals are blowing everyone else away and winning the big trophies, too.
In many ways, this game was a glimpse into the future for both clubs.
For Everton, the performance of some players will have made it clear to Ancelotti just how big of a challenge he has in front of him in terms of making the club competitive for the top honours. Theo Walcott, Morgan Schneiderlin and Gylfi Sigurdsson have all been expensive signings at Goodison, but they have all failed to live up to their fees and all three were abject at Anfield. Ancelotti must clear out the underperforming high earners and find hungrier, better players to replace them. Only then will the Italian be able to point Everton in the right direction, but it won’t be easy and it never is for a club in the shadow of Liverpool, who, right now, are doing everything right and reaping the rewards for doing so.
And that was evident in this 1-0 victory, which was illuminated by Jones’ late goal. Jones and Elliott stood out with their confidence and ambition, the exuberance of youth that Sir Alex Ferguson always cited as a crucial element in the success of Manchester United’s fabled Class of ’92. Williams was also impressive at full-back, while Pedro Chirivella (22) in midfield also looked as though he could be a useful addition to the Liverpool team in the weeks and months ahead.
Takumi Minamino, the £7.25 million January signing from FC Salzburg, showed some neat touches on his debut — the game was too frantic at times for the Japanese to settle into the action — but the big positive from the afternoon for Klopp was the performance of his young stars.
“They played brave football,” Klopp said. “Unbelievable individual performances from the kids, and the adults as well.
“It was a sensational game and a sensational goal from a Scouser — who could ask for more? You cannot perform like the boys performed if you think you should not perform in that team. They all think like that. I am so happy they all showed up tonight.”
It was a different night for Ancelotti, whose honeymoon period at Goodison is now over after back-to-back defeats against Manchester City and Liverpool. The former Chelsea, Real Madrid and AC Milan coach was brief and to the point about his team’s performance.
“I’m not used to speaking with the players after the game,” he said, “but I will tell them that this was not good enough.”
There was a lack of belief, conviction and quality about Everton, a sense that they were intimidated by playing at Anfield. The next time they visit, they simply have to be better. But the reality is that Liverpool will probably be better too, so this chance might have been as good as it gets for a long time for Everton.
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