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Everton move closer to safety after ruining Liverpool’s title pursuit

Liverpool struggled at Goodison Park (Peter Byrne/PA)
Liverpool struggled at Goodison Park (Peter Byrne/PA)

Liverpool’s Premier League title bid was left in tatters after being bullied and beaten by a better side as Everton won a Merseyside derby at Goodison Park for the first time in almost 14 years.

In doing so Sean Dyche’s side, 2-0 victors courtesy of goals in either half from Jarrad Branthwaite and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, virtually assured their own top-flight future after moving eight points clear of 18th-placed Luton with four matches to go.

Jurgen Klopp’s much-celebrated ‘last dance’ is turning into an undignified stagger towards the exit as his first defeat across Stanley Park after two wins and five draws previously came less than a week after they were knocked out of the Europa League by Atalanta.

The club have moved on his successor – Feyenoord’s Arne Slot – by opening negotiations with the Eredivisie club but this would not have made for a happy watch from his Netherlands home.

Jarrad Branthwaite
Jarrad Branthwaite broke the deadlock (Peter Byrne/PA)

Fanciful talk of an unprecedented quadruple barely a month ago now seems like total folly as Liverpool are collapsing in on themselves, leaving Arsenal – three points ahead with a superior goal difference – and Manchester City – a point behind with two matches in hand – to fight it out for top spot.

In March 2019 Everton fans laid claim to ruining Liverpool’s title chances after a goalless draw here as Klopp’s side finished second to City by a point.

They will take even greater delight in ruining Klopp’s farewell.

A third successive home league win for the first time since September 2021 means Everton can breathe easier at the other end of the table and bask in the warmth of a derby well won – only their second in the last 30 encounters in total.

They set about dominating the visitors physically and centre-back Ibrahima Konate, in particular, struggled against Calvert-Lewin, who was only passed fit a couple of hours before kick-off.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin
Dominic Calvert-Lewin made it 2-0 (Peter Byrne/PA)

But Liverpool were losing battles all over the pitch. In midfield Alexis Mac Allister was regularly hurried out of possession while the front three did not give the impression of knowing what the goal even looked like with Darwin Nunez woefully below the level required.

The hosts’ positive approach seemed to have paid off after just six minutes when Calvert-Lewin was brought down by Alisson Becker after nicking Jack Harrison’s outside-of-the-boot pass past him but the penalty was rescinded after VAR ruled the striker was offside.

Ben Godfrey, who headed wide a Dwight McNeil free-kick, slid in to divert behind Mohamed Salah’s goalbound angled shot from Trent Alexander-Arnold’s delightfully-chipped pass into the penalty area with Curtis Jones and Nunez waiting to turn it in.

Having people in the right place at the right time was a theme of the first half as Jordan Pickford saved from Nunez, Luis Diaz and Andy Robertson – although the first two made his job easier by shooting straight at him.

The goal Everton deserved came in the 27th minute when Branthwaite forced the ball under Alisson and in off the post after Liverpool made a mess of clearing a free-kick with Konate getting in the way of Mac Allister.

Jurgen Klopp
Jurgen Klopp’s final Merseyside derby ended in defeat (Peter Byrne/PA)

Pickford then came to the fore as Nunez blasted at him rather than opting for the more open left side of the goal, then blocked Diaz’s volley with his legs from Nunez’s nod on and finally stuck out an arm to repel Robertson’s shot from a narrow angle.

Another poor performance from Salah saw him scuff a shot into Branthwaite, sparing him the embarrassment of seeing it sail wide, but then slashed the rebound into the Gwladys Street.

In keeping with the emerging pattern over recent weeks Liverpool faded after the break after Virgil van Dijk headed straight at Pickford and when McNeil’s long-range shot was tipped over, Calvert-Lewin rose unchallenged at the far post to nod home the resulting corner.

Dyche and his team had done a brilliant job of exposing Liverpool’s weakness as that was the sixth successive time Klopp’s side had failed to win the first ball at a set-piece.

Branthwaite could have added further embarrassment but headed wide while the closest Liverpool came to a response was when Diaz’s curling shot rebounded off the post and they played out the final minutes with ‘you lost the league at Goodison Park’ ringing around the ground.