Jurgen Klopp had no good reason to play his first-choice starting 11 on Saturday at Goodison Park. It’s therefore ridiculous to criticize him for fielding a weakened team in a game that will be forgotten a month from now.
But for those who watched the final Merseyside Derby of the 2017-18 season, it’s OK to rue Klopp’s decision. Because it made for one of the worst matches between Everton and Liverpool in years.
It got Liverpool an acceptable point, one that took it 11 points clear of fifth-place Chelsea. More importantly, it kept several important players fresh, and all healthy, for Tuesday’s Champions League second leg against Manchester City.
But as a spectacle, it was disappointing. It was 0-0, and probably deserved to be. Everton threatened late, but for many of the 90 minutes, quality was lacking.
The most interesting development was that Klopp started Giorginio Wijnaldum in Jordan Henderson’s holding midfield role, with Henderson on the right of the midfield three. That was likely preparation for the second City match, for which Henderson is suspended.
But Mohamed Salah, who picked up a minor groin injury in Wednesday 3-0 first-leg victory, was rested. So were Roberto Firmino until the 74th minute and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain until the 68th. So were fullbacks Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson.
Klopp, perhaps surprisingly, still played his starting goalkeeper and center back pairing 90 minutes. He still played James Milner and Sadio Mane. The only reasonable criticism, actually, is that he did play those first-teamers, not that he rested others.
But in the end, the day was a success for Liverpool. It was nondescript for Everton, which is directionless at the moment, and which has now gone 17 games against its rivals without a win.
The game didn’t lack for late drama, with Cenk Tosun and Seamus Coleman both coming close to a winner as the final whistle drew near. But as far as Merseyside Derbies go, it was forgettable. And especially at Goodison Park, that suited the visitors more than the hosts.
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