Liverpool 5-2 Everton
- Goals: Divock Origi (£5.2m) x2, Xherdan Shaqiri (£6.3m), Sadio Mane (£12.2m), Georginio Wijnaldum (£5.4m) | Michael Keane (£5.3m), Richarlison (£7.8m)
- Assists: Mane x2, Dejan Lovren (£5.3m), Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.3m), Roberto Firmino (£9.4m) | Bernard (£6.4m)
- Bonus: Origi x3, Mane x2, Wijnaldum x1
Sadio Mane (£12.2m) put in a season’s-best performance as Liverpool crushed Everton in the Merseyside derby.
The 41.3%-owned midfielder scored one goal and set up two more to bring in 15 points – a tally which matched his output from the Gameweek 5 mauling of Newcastle United.
Mane was virtually unplayable during a first half of breathtaking goals and dodgy defending, producing a fifth haul in six Gameweeks, two of which have involved double-digit returns.
In the process he became the second player, behind Jamie Vardy (£9.9m), to breach the 100-point barrier in Fantasy Premier League (FPL) this season. And yet, somehow, he actually suffered a net transfer loss heading into the derby, with over 40,000 managers offloading him (a net loss of 3,381).
That surprising statistic likely owed much to the kneejerk reaction to his blank in Gameweek 14.
The prescient amongst us may have even been worried that Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp would rotate his squad. And that he duly did, making five changes to the side which had seen off Brighton 2-1 on Saturday.
The key moves involved two of the team’s exalted front three, with both Mohamed Salah (£12.2m) and Roberto Firmino (£9.4m) benched and replaced by Divock Origi (£5.2m) and Xherdan Shaqiri (£6.3m), who made his first start in seven months.
Salah has struggled for fitness and form since, let’s just say, a ‘typically robust’ challenge from Leicester City’s Hamza Choudhury (£4.4m) damaged his ankle in Gameweek 8. Reports have also suggested a breakdown in the relationship between manager and star, but Klopp was naming few names when he explained his decisions before kick-off.
The Liverpool boss said:
One change we had to do in Adrian for Alisson, and the other four we wanted to do, just to respect the game, to respect the intensity of the game first and foremost. I have to show the respect for the boys and I’ve said a lot of times how much I like the squad and now we have to use it. We think the game will be really intense and for this you need kind of fresh legs and we try to bring them in.
Also coming in were Adam Lallana (£5.8m) and James Milner (£5.3m). All four outfield players justified their selections, but it was Origi and Shaqiri who really caught the eye.
The Belgian striker opened the scoring when he ran on to Mane’s exquisite through ball, rounded the on-rushing Jordan Pickford (£5.4m) and rolled the ball into the empty net.
Shaqiri then doubled the lead from a sublime counter-attack. Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.3m) pinged a cross-field ball of venomous accuracy to Mane, who controlled it with nonchalance, rode a foul challenge and raced to the edge of the Everton area before releasing the Switzerland international to score with a first-time shot.
At that stage, beleaguered Everton manager Marco Silva’s decision to field a back three of Michael Keane (£5.3m), Yerry Mina (£5.3m) and Mason Holgate (£4.4m), with Lucas Digne (£5.8m) and Djibril Sidibe (£5.3m) as wing-backs, lay in tatters.
Time and again, Liverpool launched long balls from deep to exploit the space behind the centre-halves – a tactic which led to Origi’s second goal, and Liverpool’s third, when he expertly brought down a Dejan Lovren (£5.3m) punt and lobbed the stranded Pickford
But by then, Everton had somehow found a foothold in the game, Keane latching onto a loose ball in the area and smashing the ball home to make it 2-1 and usher in a brief period of supremacy for the visitors.
That also meant an eighth-straight Gameweek without a clean sheet for the Liverpool backline as Fantasy managers once again had to hope for attacking returns from their big-ticket Reds defenders.
This time it was the turn of Alexander-Arnold (who picked up his fourth booking of the season last night) to deliver when he burst forward on the counter and teed up Mane to sweep home from the edge of the area.
That concluded the home side’s scoring in the first half, although Everton were still not done.
Silva had ditched his initial defensive plan when Liverpool went 3-1 up, reverting to a back four by bringing on Bernard (£6.4m) for Sidibe, who had been tormented by Mane’s movement and skill for 35 painful minutes.
The move didn’t stem their opponents’ attacking menace, but it perked up their own offensive threat and they made it 4-2 deep into stoppage time at the end of the half when Richarlison (£7.8m) headed home emphatically from a Bernard cross
The midfielder-turned-striker now has three goals from his last four starts – a rare bright spot in a dark time for the Toffees, with the next three fixtures (CHE, mun, ARS) unlikely to lighten the mood even if Silva is finally shown the door by the Everton board.
The manager was not to be drawn on his future post-match, saying:
I am not the right person to answer about the situation, this question is for different people. We are making some mistakes which put us under big, big pressure. The type of mistakes we are making is because the players are playing under big pressure because of the position in the table.
He was certainly not helped by most of those players at Anfield.
The defence was a disjointed mess exaggerated by Pickford’s questionable positioning, while captain for the night Gylfi Sigurdsson (£7.4m) produced a display of almost laughable anonymity, with the central midfielder’s 28 passes on the night equalled by Reds goalkeeper Adrian.
But Silva’s tactics and selections are as much to blame for those mistakes, transforming an ostensibly strong squad into a collection of brittle and confused individuals.
The two goals aside, the sole positive note for Everton on the night was that Liverpool only won 5-2, with Georginio Wijnaldum (£5.4m) scoring late on after being teed up by substitute Firmino.
Then again, even that was actually down to Liverpool’s profligacy, with Mane, in particular, spurning two glorious chances to turn his night from superb into sensational.
Christmas came early at Anfield last night – for more reasons than Everton’s generosity.
Klopp’s major rotation of the squad gave the fixture a decidedly festive feel, as he was at pains to point out post-match.
The Liverpool manager said:
It was always clear this period now of the year is where we need all of the boys and I hope they will then be in the shape like Shaq and Div tonight, or Adam (Lallana) tonight. It’s really important and gives us the feeling that we can do it more often – and we will do it more often.
So perhaps nobody is now safe from a place on the Liverpool bench as the games come thick and fast over the next few weeks.
Would Klopp risk benching the in-form Mane at present, though? The Senegal international has started every league match since Gameweek 2 and has only gone more than one game without a return once all season.
A Gameweek 18 blank when Liverpool take part in the FIFA Club World Cup might prompt some to sell him on.
But where Salah was once the undroppable driver of the Reds’ attacking juggernaut, Mane is now the man behind that particular wheel, and ignoring him is to play a very perilous game indeed.
Just ask the thousands who tried it this week.
Gameweek 15 – FPL Match Reports
- Crystal Palace 1-0 Bournemouth
- Burnley 1-4 Man City
- Chelsea 2-1 Aston Villa
- Leicester 2-0 Watford
- Man Utd 2-1 Spurs
- Southampton 2-1 Norwich
- Wolves 2-0 West Ham
- Liverpool 5-2 Everton
- Sheffield United 0-2 Newcastle
- Arsenal 1-2 Brighton
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