Keita the lone bright spark as Liverpool's title tilt resumes with dour derby draw

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Naby Keita Liverpool 2019-20
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The Guinea international was one of few players to impress at Goodison Park as the Reds and rivals Everton played out a goalless stalemate

The world may have changed, but some things have not.

For the third season in a row, the Goodison derby ended goalless. For April 2018 and March 2019, we can add June 2020. Everton 0-0 Liverpool.

After 106 days, Premier League football returned on Merseyside not so much with a bang as a gentle vibration. 

The 'New Normal'? Let’s hope not, eh? 

Liverpool’s wait to be crowned champions looks like it will be extended after they failed to get the three points they craved here. Unless Manchester City draw at home to Burnley on Monday night, the Reds cannot now clinch the title with a win at home to Crystal Palace on Wednesday. Jurgen Klopp’s side, remember, visit the Etihad Stadium themselves the following week, albeit with City visiting Chelsea inbetween times in a game that itself could seal the title for the Anfield outfit - if Pep Guardiola's team drop points.

The permutations can wait. Liverpool were, as expected, pretty rusty here in their first competitive game since March.

"I liked the intensity of the game from my boys," Klopp said. "What I didn't like too much was the rhythm.

The visitors dominated the ball for large spells, and missed decent chances through Joel Matip and Roberto Firmino in the first half, but they were indebted to goalkeeper Alisson Becker and substitute Joe Gomez for preserving their decade-long unbeaten run in this fixture after the break.

Alisson’s saves from Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison were crucial - "world class" according to Klopp - as was Gomez’s touch to deflect Tom Davies’ effort against the post, with the keeper beaten. 

Mohamed Salah remained unused as Klopp took a conservative approach with his team selection. Liverpool still lost two players to injury, mind, with James Milner taken off in the first half and Matip pulling up suddenly in the second. Headaches, with another game arriving so quickly. 

Klopp cut an animated figure on the sideline – and not just with referee Mike Dean, who has changed his look but not his personality during lockdown. Liverpool had decent spells either side of half-time, but faded badly as the game wore on, struggling to create and, once Dejan Lovren had replaced Matip especially, unnerved by simple balls into the channels.

Naby Keita, at least, provided some glimmers of promise. The Guinea international was selected ahead of Gini Wijnaldum and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in midfield, and produced a lively enough 65 minutes. 

He twisted and he turned, he tried to create and he resisted pressure superbly at times in the middle of the field. But once he left, to be replaced by Wijnaldum, Liverpool’s momentum seemed to vanish with him. It was Everton who looked the more likely winners in the final 20 minutes. 

“Never a derby,” Blues legend Peter Reid had tweeted during an error-strewn first-half, in which the sound of an enterprising saxophonist lent proceedings a first-session-of-a-low-key-England-Test-Match kind of feel.

Firmino Gomes Everton Liverpool 2020

Some of the appeals from the players would not have been out of place at Lord’s, either. The absence of fans has plenty of downsides, and one is that we get to hear just how loudly player scream under the slightest of contact. Richarlison, in particular, had Liverpool riled up. 

Alisson denied his international colleague well early on, Matip sent a free header off target and Firmino should either have tested Jordan Pickford or played in the unmarked Keita, but did neither. The Brazil international's indecision rather summed up the game, in truth. 

And so Liverpool drop points for only the third time this season. Their potential 109-point season becomes a 107 one. Their wait for a Goodison goal now stands at three visits and four years.

Those looking for a Reds wobble will tell you that they have now won only two of their last seven games in all competitions – albeit spread over more than four months – and fans hoping to see the swashbuckling "mentality monsters" of the autumn and the winter were left a little underwhelmed.

Mane Liverpool 2020

In truth, though, this was a game entirely inkeeping with the recent history of this fixture. Liverpool may not have lost at Goodison in 10 years, but they have only won twice here in that time. Seven of the last eight have been drawn. "The games here all look the same," Klopp said afterwards. He was right.

Never a derby? It definitely was. And in the end, the fans might be glad they only had to travel to their living rooms to watch it. 

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