Liverpool robbed or Everton defiant?


This was a Merseyside derby that felt like it might just have every element of drama that, at its best, this historic fixture affords but when Jordan Henderson scored a 90th minute winner there was just one more protagonist who had to make his presence felt.

That was Var, feeling perhaps a little forgotten, in these days of Project Big Picture squabbles and Covid stadiums shut-outs, but here he was once more, wading into the melee and getting it wrong when it mattered most. Hard to say what the Var, David Coote, saw on this occasion to deny Henderson’s winning goal when he judged Sadio Mane offside in the moments before it was scored – because he could not have been looking at the same lines on the same pictures as the rest of us were shown.

They appeared to reveal that Mane was onside before he crossed for the goal that would have given Liverpool victory against the ten-men of Everton. It might have been a rather harsh outcome for the home side, who had matched the champions, but it looked every bit as if Mane was onside before he crossed for Henderson to score.

Coote had appeared to get it wrong before then, in the opening stages of the games when he failed to see Jordan Pickford’s red card foul on Virgil van Dijk that forced the Dutchman out the game. What a day Pickford would have – that foul, two brilliant saves and then an error for Henderson’s goal for which he was absolved by the Var. Richarlison was sent off, correctly, by referee Michael Oliver who himself had a good game in spite of the Var advice in his ear.

Twice Jurgen Klopp’s players took the lead through Mane and then Mohammad Salah and twice Everton equalised – first through Michael Keane and then their young English goal machine Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Everton were the beneficiaries of the two Var decisions but it was hard to think of them as lucky – they lived with a Liverpool side that are returning to their very best title-winning form.

A game of extraordinary intensity which begged the question: what would it have been like if they were allowed to admit fans to Goodison Park? For the first time in a generation the two sides looked well matched, although once Klopp’s players felt the pressure there was no doubt that they too raised themselves and this became a match of some quality.

There were mistakes too and vulnerable figures but for most of it, the occasion walked a fine-line and Oliver, the referee, had some unenviable calls to make. Most of all within six minutes when a marginal call of offside against van Dijk early in a phase of play seemed to cancel – in the officials’ mind – the possibility of punishing Pickford’s dreadful challenge on the Dutchman moments later.

It ended van Dijk’s involvement in the game, at a point at which Liverpool were already ahead, and it was pivotal. Pickford’s charge at the Liverpool man would have been a penalty and a red card in any other circumstances. Oliver had evidently not see the extent of the violence with which Pickford connected but more confusingly was the reluctance from the Var, Coote, to request the referee to review.

Once Coote had established the offside he seemed unwilling to see whether Oliver wished to decide whether this foul was one of those exceptional items, punishable even after play had stopped. Van Dijk would miss his first minutes in the league for Liverpool in more than two years.

A frantic game of moments of great quality, starting with Mane’s hammered first touch goal inside the area for a goal within three minutes. The ball from the left was from Andy Robertson who had gone past Seamus Coleman, the Everton captain, with his first touch and snapped a ball into the box that Mane met with formidable power. The quality was also there in the delicate touch with which Calvert-Lewin stunned a long ball forward from Keane in the 17th minute and headed towards goal.

The new England international led the line alone with some conviction. In van Dijk’s place had come Gomez to pick up the thread of a fierce game. Later Coleman appeared to feel the hamstring problem that he had carried into the match, replaced by new signing Ben Godfrey for his Everton debut. On 19 minutes Calvert-Lewin powered down the right channel and forced a near-post save from Adrian. From the subsequent James Rodriguez corner, Keane out-jumped Fabinho to head in the equaliser.

There was much left in this game for both sides, including two fine Pickford saves of the kind he is much more confident making: the split-second flings to stop what look like goalbound certainties. He stopped Trent Alexander-Arnold’s free-kick that way last in the first half and then somehow saved Joel Matip’s header with 13 minutes left.

Everton had played so well that by the time they conceded the second goal it felt that as if they had been up against anyone other than the champions they would be in the lead. A Yerry Mina mistake did for them, an insubstantial flappy clearance with the outside of his right foot that fell straight into Salah’s stride for a left foot dispatch.

That might have been it but this Everton team look much more capable. On the sidelines, Coleman and Klopp seemed to be in dispute over an aspect of the game. There was that Pickford save from Matip and then came the equaliser. It was Calvert-Lewin’s 11th goal in ten games for club and country this season, a big leap, hang and downward header while Robertson looked up at him in despair.

Then came the finale – first the red card for Richarlison, a decision over which there could be no doubt when he wiped out Thiago in midfield. There were around six minutes left then and Liverpool smelled blood. It was Mane who ran down the left channel for what the Var Coote would later decide was an offside position, turning the ball back to Henderson for a shot that Pickford should have saved but failed to do so.

Only then did attention turn to the screens and a call on offside that inexplicably, given the evidence, ruled Mane offside relative to Minamino. As they lined up for the restart, Oliver was told the news and took them back to the free-kick – the last action of a remarkable day.