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Monday, March 20, 2023

Liverpool stop the rot, but are helped by Jordan Pickford’s latest Anfield blunder

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Jordan Pickford hasn’t been a favourite of Liverpool supporters since the moment he clattered into Virgil van Dijk’s knee, but he might be due a few thank-you cards after his latest Merseyside derby clanger.

The England international knows more than most when it comes to producing moments of madness against Everton’s biggest rivals, and it was his decision-making – or the absence of it – which ultimately gifted the hosts a vital breakthrough at Anfield and, eventually, a 2-0 victory.

Mohamed Salah may also be tempted to send a card of his own; if anybody needed an open goal presented to them, it was the Egyptian. Outscored since the World Cup in league terms by Wout Faes own goals before tonight, Salah looked incapable of even remembering how to shoot, let alone doing so with any consistency or accuracy.

His touch, in the first half hour or so, was often heavy or uncertain, his attempts to dribble were – as in so many recent games – lacking in conviction and his only real shooting chance saw him crumble to the deck while seeming to try and play a pass instead.

And then he scored, and everything changed – for Salah and, just maybe, for Liverpool.

A long overdue performance here was as important as the victory itself, but among the midfield muddle and defensive absences, last season’s joint-Golden Boot winner being utterly absent game after game was up with the most concerning problems facing Jurgen Klopp.

To see Salah wheel away in celebration was one minor victory; to see him then fashion further openings for himself, almost score a second and be heavily involved in the build-up for the crucial second goal might end up being the far bigger one.

Everton barely laid a glove on Liverpool in truth, on a night when gloves – and hats, scarves and everything else – were definitely needed.

But even the absence of a continuous threat still almost saw Liverpool concede first yet again; after a dominant half-hour, it was Everton hitting the post which sparked the move that ended in Salah ending a run of six league games without a goal. Salah was involved in the counter after that set-piece at the opposite end of the pitch, helping the ball onto the marauding Darwin Nunez – then busting a gut to get into the attacking penalty box.

Pickford, presumably only with eyes for Cody Gakpo, darted out toward the left edge of his area, leaving the goal utterly empty for Salah to nip in and knock home a right-footed finish after Nunez’s excellent clipped cross. Around 15 seconds between a potential sucker-punch style, isn’t-that-typical moment of negativity, and a euphoric release at the opposite end of the emotional spectrum.

Post-match, Toffees manager Sean Dyche labelled it a “misread” of the situation by his goalkeeper; the Kop’s late-game chant of Divock Origi’s name served as the reminder that it was far from Pickford’s first at Anfield.

(Getty Images)

Gakpo himself notched the vital second just after half time, but it was again Salah who proved crucial in the build-up, finding Trent Alexander-Arnold on the overlap down the right before the low cross to the far post, where the Dutchman awaited.

Later, Salah might have twice notched his brace. A run in off the right saw him denied, then Stefan Bajcetic – brilliant on the night and comfortably Liverpool’s best player again – burst forward late on after winning possession and fed Salah for a shot. The pass lacked just a touch of pace, and the shot was deflected up and over as a result.

But even without a second goal, this was Salah being dangerous, Salah being involved, Salah being the conduit for his team’s attacking play again.

Just as one goal cannot mean Salah is back to his best, a single win isn’t enough to turn around Liverpool’s dismal campaign overall – but it can be used as a starting point.

Further reason for the first shoots of optimism are seen in the comebacks by both Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino from injury, while Virgil van Dijk was also an unused substitute. The rot has been at least temporarily stopped; now any lingering hopes over European football next season – and perhaps even this season, with a tie against Real Madrid fast approaching – become about something Liverpool have lacked throughout the year: consistency.

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