Everton 0 Liverpool 0: Jurgen Klopp’s men edge closer to first-ever Premier League title despite derby draw
SO the inevitable coronation must wait.
After a bloodless, goalless Merseyside derby on a silent night at Goodison Park, Liverpool continued where they had left off before the lockdown - their once-imperious season having hit a belated blip.
If Manchester City keep winning, the Reds will go to the Etihad on July 2, having not yet stolen the crown of Pep Guardiola’s men.
Jurgen Klopp’s men had been defeated in four of their last six matches before the season’s suspension - including exits from the Champions League and FA Cup.
And despite dominating possession, the runaway Premier League leaders failed to make many clear-cut chances - with Everton’s Tom Davies coming closest when hit the post ten minutes from time.
It is now 22 derbies without a win for Everton - who had been humiliated by Liverpool’s kids in the FA Cup in January - but they will have enjoyed delaying the celebrations on the red half of their city.
Liverpool have now failed to win - or score - in their last four away matches.
Yet they had been too dominant for too long to leave the title in any doubt. This was still only the third time they had failed to win in the Premier League this season.
It is still only a matter of when, not if, the Reds will be champions of England for the first time in 30 years.
Without the passions of a crowd, this team built on superhuman intensity is not quite the same.
Even Klopp, who takes such energy from the electricity of a live audience, is a shadow of his usual self.
Klopp had admitted to genuine fears over the season being declared null and void, which, after such an extraordinarily dominant campaign, would have been a supreme injustice.
More likely might have been an asterisk against Liverpool’s name, indicating an incomplete campaign.
Still, those concerns were unfounded, as were the more recent concerns over the Reds being banished from Merseyside for the remainder of the season because of worries about mass gatherings.
Klopp was without the injured Andy Robertson, with Mo Salah only fit enough to start on the bench. Ancelotti handed a full Premier League debut to teenage midfielder Anthony Gordon.
The leaders were forced to change in a portacabin in the Goodison car park, snuck in through a tradesman’s entrance in the corner of the ground and kicked off beneath a rainbow.
There were concerns over how these born entertainers would cope without a crowd - especially theatrical ref Mike Dean.
And, as with so many post-lockdown matches, the early stages were largely flat.
There were still plenty of Liverpool supporters present at Goodison Park - including Sky’s Jamie Carragher, John Barnes, Kelly Cates and her father Kenny Dalglish.
But without the usual derby-day atmosphere - which usually allows Everton to claim a draw in this fixture, despite that long winless run - there was precious little snap and crackle about it.
Richarlison, who had voiced the sacrilegious opinion that Virgil Van Dijk is not the best defender in the world, was lively - attempting to back up his words with actions and fired across the face of goal.
Takumi Minamino, making his first Premier League start in place of Salah, had been wildly off target earlier on and Joel Matip headed wide when picked out by a Trent Alexander-Arnold free-kick.
Roberto Firmino dragged one wide after Jordan Henderson had made a burst forward.
Michael Keane was booked for chopping down Sadio Mane but Alexander-Arnold’s free-kick was comfortably saved by Jordan Pickford.
James Milner, starting in place of Robertson, had been booked for a challenge on Richarlison before he was forced off by a hamstring injury before half-time.
Liverpool were beginning to stroke it about in velvety fashion but there was no penetration.
Everton have improved under Carlo Ancelotti but were yet to defeat a big-six side since the Italian arrived and they were showing little ambition or guile here.
Klopp threw on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in place of the ineffectual Minamino at half-time and Naby Keita soon volleyed wide after a one-two which included a cushioned chest-down from Firmino.
On a rare Everton break, Richarlison was released by Dominic Calvert-Lewin, only to be forced wide by Joel Matip and blaze wide.
When Liverpool countered, Lucas Digne made an outstanding tackle on Mane only to be booked by Dean, with Alexander-Arnold’s free-kick deflected over the bar.
Everton’s big chance arrived on 80 minutes - Richarlison crossing low from the left, Calvert-Lewin’s brilliant back-heel, pushed out by Allison and Davies shooting against the far post from the rebound.