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Liverpool

Klopp continues to roll the dice but Origi & Shaqiri gambles pay off again

23:45 WAT 04/12/2019
Origi Mane Liverpool 201
The manager took a major risk by resting some key players for Wednesday's Merseyside derby but the Reds still thumped Everton 5-2 at Anfield

If Jurgen Klopp ever takes up poker, he’ll certainly be worth watching. 

The Liverpool boss proved once more he is an ace gambler as his shuffled pack produced all the right cards on a night of high drama and madcap entertainment at Anfield.

The 234th Merseyside derby is one which will live long in the memory. Painfully so, for Evertonians, who watched their side slip into the relegation zone after a ninth defeat in 13 league games. The away end had emptied long before the final blast of referee Mike Dean's whistle, and no wonder.

If this was to be Marco Silva’s last match as manager, then at least it was a thrilling one, one in which his side competed for long periods. Not that it’ll be much consolation to the Portuguese, who is surely on the thinnest of ice now. How does his Goodison reign recover after this?

"Bad game for us, really bad night as well," admitted a dejected Silva afterwards. "They deserved the three points, no doubt and we were not good enough."

So much for the tight, cagey affair many – including this correspondent – had predicted. There were seven goals, six of them scored in a breathless first-half as Liverpool cut through Everton like the December wind, while simultaneously ensuring the game remained just about in the balance.

The pace was unrelenting, mistakes and mischief everywhere. It was 4-2 at the break. Liverpool had managed only five shots to Everton's eight, but the Reds were clinical when they attacked. At times they were breathtaking.

When, one wonders, will fans learn to trust Klopp’s judgement? No sooner had Liverpool’s teamsheet dropped than the doom-mongers had surfaced. He’d gambled again, he’d rolled the dice when all he needed to do was collect the points. 

There was no Mohamed Salah in the starting XI, you see. Or Roberto Firmino. Jordan Henderson was benched and so was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Alisson Becker, of course, was suspended.

What was Klopp thinking? Why open the door to the chasing pack? Why offer Everton encouragement? Why take a risk in a game like this, when every point is so precious?

‘What risk?’ he would argue, and with good reason.

As they always seem to do, Liverpool’s supporting cast came up trumps. "Changes can lead to problems," Klopp said, "but I didn't see any."

Instead, he saw players seizing their opportunities.

There’s certainly something about Everton which brings out the best in Divock Origi, for example. The Belgian has now scored more goals against the Blues than any other opponent, taking his derby tally to five with two superbly-taken first-half strikes here. Origii completed only seven passes in his 73 minutes on the field, but his performance was a decisive one. 

"Outstanding," agreed Klopp. "What a game he played."

This was only Origi's fourth league start of the campaign, but it was Xherdan Shaqiri’s first since January.

The Swiss star had only 15 minutes of competitive action this season prior to Wednesday night, but you’d never have known. Shaqiri, as he did in that memorable Champions League win over Barcelona, came out of the shadows to hog the limelight. He scored Liverpool’s second goal, a Salah-esque run and finish from a sublime Sadio Mane pass, and looked as sharp as he ever has in a red shirt. With games coming thick and fast, his performance was excellent news for Klopp.

Adam Lallana and James Milner, too, made contributions having been handed starts, bring energy, aggression and, when needed, patience too. Joe Gomez emerged from the bench and looked robust and confident too.

Liverpool’s squad strength is often talked about as a potential weakness, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Here, they didn’t even use Salah or Oxlade-Chamberlain, or Naby Keita even, and Firmino and Henderson were needed for only 18 minutes apiece – Firmino still found time to register an assist, by the way, setting up the excellent Gini Wijnaldum in the final minute.

And so the Klopp gamble paid off. No clean sheet, granted, but ask the Kop if they are bothered. If every game ends like this, they'll be smiling.

“Merry Christmas, Everton,” they sang as they left. That short walk back across Stanley Park will have been a long one for the Blues. Where do they go from here?

They will surely be looking for a new manager soon. Silva looked lost as the game got away from his team, Everton’s promise undermined by a defence which didn’t know if it was Wednesday or Sunday.

Michael Keane, Yerry Mina and Mason Holgate all had nightmares, while Djibril Sidibe was hauled off after just 35 minutes. "We were not strong enough," Silva said. "We should be more brave."

Liverpool won’t care, though. In a week where Manchester City won and Leicester won and Chelsea won, the league leaders went and won too. That’s fourteen wins from 15 now, if you’re still counting. 

Klopp keeps on rolling the dice, and the numbers keep coming up.

Five goals plus three points. What does that equal? An eight-point lead.

Catch them if you can.