The German tactician faces the most daunting Everton game since he took charge, and his top attackers need big performances to secure a win
Just in case you missed it, Aston Villa 7-2 Liverpool really did happen. Jurgen Klopp’s ‘Mentality Monsters’ lacked the strength of character against Dean Smith’s side to fall to the German manager’s biggest defeat in any dugout before the international break.
Ask past and present footballers and their reaction to such humiliations are usually the same: to put such a heavy hammering behind them by either playing shortly after or facing off with a really good opposition in the next game.
For the Reds, the former didn’t go as intended as they’ve had to stew on the defeat for a fortnight, but Saturday lunch-time’s opponent in Everton represents the perfect opportunity to prove that what went down at Villa Park was a one-off.
In the last few years for the neutral, the Merseyside Derby has felt like a let-down in every sense of the word. You know, one of those games really hyped by pundits in England but always seems to end one way — Liverpool winning, or at least not losing.
Indeed, you’d have to go back 10 years for the last time Everton picked up a win over their fierce rivals — a 2-0 success courtesy of Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta — emphasising the one-sidedness of this rivalry.
However, the mood is different this time. Carlo Ancelotti’s team have been the Premier League’s early high-flyers going into gameweek five and ought to smell blood following Liverpool’s sketchy run of performances that culminated in that dispiriting result two weeks ago.
It’s for this reason Klopp needs Sadio Mane — absent in that embarrassing loss vs Villa — and Mohamed Salah — who’s been one of the standout individual players so far this season. Despite the strength of the Reds, any team would miss the influence of Alisson, arguably the best goalkeeper in the league and Mane, who’s one of the top wide attackers in Europe.
Still, the pair’s absence in that 7-2 hammering doesn’t quite mitigate for the obliteration that ensued. Mane’s non-appearance due to testing positive for coronavirus was felt in that the effervescent Senegal attacker’s pressing from the front was missing while his deadly prowess in the attacking third couldn’t be called upon in the West Midlands.
While Liverpool are far from a one-man team, not having the West African forward for any battle will handicap any side. What wasn’t foreseen was the degree to which the Reds will be hamstrung against the Villans. Of course, the greater issue on the day was defensively, however, the champions’ inability to press effectively was also telling on the day.
Admittedly, having Mane in the side wouldn’t have suddenly solved all of Liverpool’s issues in pressurising the opponent in possession, still, the away side would have shown a more concerted effort to win back possession or prevent the Villa man on the ball from easily picking out a teammate had the former Southampton winger played.
Per Fbref, the 28-year-old applied pressure on the opponent with the ball more times than all but three of his teammates last season — including Jordan Henderson who was an unused substitute. Being shorn of two of their top pressing components evidently affected Liverpool off the ball.
As for Salah, the events from October 4 were an anomaly and most certainly unprecedented. For someone who rarely ends on the losing side when he scores, that encounter was the first time the ex-Chelsea man will lose in a Liverpool after scoring twice.
It was uncharted territory for the two-time Golden Boot winner who’d always come away with three points after hitting braces since the 2017/18 season on Merseyside.
The halting of that run threatens to undermine what has been a brilliant start to the 2020/21 campaign in front of goal where the wide forward has been outscored by only Heung-min Son and Dominic Calvert-Lewin (six).
Having lost his top scorer’s award to Jamie Vardy last season, Salah has seemed to be on a mission this year, scoring some well-taken efforts in the first and fourth gameweeks. While the preceding match’s strikes counted for nothing, the return of Mane on Saturday certainly injects fresh energy into the side following their Villa humiliation.
Against a rival who have lived in their shadow for the last decade, Liverpool will want to prove that they remain kings of Merseyside when both sides go head to head at Goodison Park, exactly 10 years since the Toffees’ last victory over their neighbours.
Everton will reckon it’s their date with destiny but Klopp, welcoming back a virus-free Mane, and in-form Salah will look to engineer a reaction to what was an unprecedented defeat for a Premier League defending champion.