Everton vs Liverpool clashes have almost always been fiery affairs, but the 235th Merseyside Derby was anything but as the Toffees cancelled out the Reds in a drab 0-0 draw at Goodison Park on Saturday.
Despite knowing that a win would see them leapfrog second-placed Manchester United, Jurgen Klopp, perhaps forced by the prospect of a midweek continental clash with Manchester City, opted to rest most of his big guns and there was an alarming drop in quality as a result.
Everton were second-best for most parts, save a frantic final 10 minutes in which they put their illustrious neighbours under immense pressure but in the end a scoreless draw was inevitable.
Despite the lack of goals, however, there were a few notable incidents that raised eyebrows.
Here are the five major talking points from Saturday’s early Premier League kick off:
Jurgen Klopp prioritises European ambitions over domestic ones…
When the team lineups went out, a majority of Liverpool fans were up in arms while the ‘sensible’ lot perhaps understood their manager’s decision to leave out some of their biggest names.
While top scorer Mohamed Salah’s absence was expected, Roberto Firmino and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s was not, but with a midweek continental tie against Manchester City looming large, Jurgen Klopp’s hand was forced.
Those living on Merseyside may not like it, but the battle for bragging rights in the city of Liverpool has lost its significance a fair bit in recent years, what with the Red half so dominant.
Especially with the Toffees not in contention for the European spots and Liverpool almost assured of UEFA Champions League qualification, Klopp had to rest some of his key players.
What transpired was a listless affair, with a considerable drop in quality, especially if one goes by previous clashes.
One wonders if this tie had come a couple of weeks earlier.
Would Klopp have rotated so heavily? Probably not.
Blue half of Merseyside far behind the Red despite stalemate
Despite the aforementioned rotation policy enforced by Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool were by far the dominant side.
They didn’t have Everton pegged back inside their own-half for large swathes of the tie, but the possession stats (Liverpool had 66 per cent) and the shots on goal stats (Toffees had just one on target) showed which team had more attacking endeavour.
Everton, in stark contrast, put out their best XI but the fact that they were technically outplayed on their own turf will require some serious thought in the weeks to come.
Apart from Yannick Bolasie’s curler in the first-half and a flurry of attempts from Cenk Tosun and Dominic Calvert-Lewin in the second-half, Loris Karius was largely untested for the entirety of the tie.
The 2017-18 season has been a painful one, despite the fact that they are likely to finish in the top-half.
Any campaign in which your manager has been sacked cannot be termed a successful one and for all the decent results under Sam Allardyce, is this ‘primitive’ brand of football really what the fans and the board want?
Ragnar Klavan at left-back? Klopp’s gamble pays off
When the teamsheets came out on Saturday, Liverpool fans could have been forgiven at being worried over one name in particular.
Ragnar Klavan was playing and to further add to the mix, he was playing at left-back as Klopp gave both in-form Andy Robertson and first-team outcast Alberto Moreno the night off.
Klavan’s never quite looked like he would cement his place in the Liverpool XI, even in his favoured centre-back position and up against Everton’s resident speed-demon—Theo Walcott—it was a mismatch of the highest order.
Against all odds, however, the lumbering Klavan managed to hold his own, in an unfamiliar role no less, against the jet-heeled Everton winger and barring the hosts’ late surge in the second-half, kept him quiet without much fuss.
Lack of quality depth worrying sign for Liverpool
Technically a draw in an away Merseyside Derby would be a good result for Liverpool, but considering Everton’s indifferent form and the gulf in class between the sides, the draw will feel like two points dropped for the Reds.
Danny Ings and Dominic Solanke finally got starts but the duo was quite average, it must be said.
It’s easy to criticise players who have not been playing regular football this season but Solanke, in particular, was guilty of missing a few gilt-edged chances.
Sadio Mane was the only first-choice member of Liverpool’s famed attacking trio to start but the Senegalese needed quality support from his partners in crime, which wasn’t forthcoming.
Oxlade Chamberlain’s introduction injected some life into Liverpool’s flagging attack, but it was too little too late and clearly, the Reds are heavily dependent on Mo Salah.
Naby Keita is scheduled to arrive in the summer but going by their performance on Satruday, Liverpool are in need of some attacking reinforcements, especially if they wish to be in contention for silverware on several fronts.
But Nathaniel Clyne’s return bodes well for Reds
Clyne’s been out of action for so long this season, you could have been forgiven for forgetting he’s a Liverpool player
Technically their first-choice fullback on the right, Clyne was thrown into the deep end by his manager and the 27-year-old put in an assured performance, in a Merseyside Derby no less.
Considering it was his first game of the current campaign, Clyne could have been forgiven for looking rusty but the pacey fullback was anything but.
Yannick Bolasie was unable to strut his stuff, apart rom that one shot that saw Karius make a stunning save, and that was largely down to Clyne’s tight marking on the night.
With the 2018 FIFA World Cup not too far away, Clyne’s return to first-team action bodes well for England and Liverpool both and don’t be surprised if the former Southampton man stakes his claim in Gareth Southgate’s squad by the time the season concludes.