The Premier League weekend got off to a flying start after the international break as Everton and Liverpool's Merseyside derby thriller provided further proof that the "new normal" in 2020-21 is having bona fide classics served up on a weekly basis. And we are here for it.
On the 10th anniversary off Everton's last derby victory, Carlo Ancelotti's side came into the game as England's form side, while defending champions Liverpool were still licking their wounds from the 7-2 defeat at Aston Villa which capped off a wild Sunday two weeks ago that still has us scratching our heads now.
So, naturally, it took just three minutes for the hosts to fall behind as Sadio Mane snaffled the Reds in front.
Mistimed that one ever so slightly, Jordan Pickford pic.twitter.com/x4YaKVjBpE— Tom Williams (@tomwfootball) October 17, 2020
If Pickford had punched Van Dijk then, he'd have been sent off, regardless of whether the whistle had gone or not. But that challenge was just as dangerous and reckless and he's got away without even a warning.— Mark Ogden (@MarkOgden_) October 17, 2020
Some cheeky scamps posited that Pickford staying on the pitch may actually prove to be a boon for Liverpool for the remaining 80 minutes of the match.
Sigh of relief for Liverpool as Pickford avoids a red card.— Kristian (@vonstrenginho) October 17, 2020
As it transpired, the VAR review was actually to check whether Van Dijk was offside in the build-up and nothing else, thus allowing Pickford to wriggle out of what looked like a clear and obvious red card.
Clarification on Pickford/Van Dijk.... we all get one wrong now and then.— Dale Johnson (@DaleJohnsonESPN) October 17, 2020
Pickford could have been sent off (probably should have been).
Had it confirmed that the VAR, David Coote, did NOT check for a red card. Appears he was too concerned with the offside. #EVELIV
The VAR, David Coote, should have checked there was a genuine attempt to play the ball by Jordan Pickford.— Dale Johnson (@DaleJohnsonESPN) October 17, 2020
But after the offside was cleared, the check was complete and play restarted. There was no review for a possible red card against the keeper for the challenge. 🙄 #EVELIV
It would appear that even some of Pickford's teammates had begun to notice that their 'keeper was starting to boil over.
Rodriguez turns and gestures at Pickford to calm down after the goalkeeper lumps one forward to Calvert-Lewin— Adam Jones (@Adam_Jones94) October 17, 2020
All a bit rushed from Everton so far in possession
Everton regained their composure and hauled themselves level midway through the first half as Michael Keane headed home a James corner.
The parity then lasted until the 72nd minute when Mohamed Salah volleyed home a milestone goal for Liverpool.
The instinctive finish from just inside the box was Salah's 100th goal for the Reds in just his 160th appearance.
Mohamed Salah scores his 100th Liverpool goal on his 160th appearance.— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) October 17, 2020
He's the third fastest player to reach the milestone behind Roger Hunt (144) and Jack Parkinson (153) 👏 pic.twitter.com/3WOP0Mofi2
With that, the Egypt forward became the third fastest player to bring up a century of goals for Liverpool, behind Jack Parkinson (153 games) and the great Roger Hunt (144). Rarified company indeed.
Despite Liverpool regaining the lead, the match remained a engrossing battle -- not that you wouldn't have known that by looking at Liverpool's reserve goalkeeper, Caoimhin Kelleher.
That Merseyside derby all got a bit too much for Liverpool's Caoimhín Kelleher 🤣😴 pic.twitter.com/HM0MaFzP1R— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) October 17, 2020
The celebrations were dampened just a few minutes later when Dominic Calvert-Lewin extended his impressive goal-scoring start to the season by drawing Everton back level for a second time.
The England striker rose high above the defence to head home Lucas Digne's cross and score his 10th goal of the campaign thus far -- more than any other player in Europe -- to make it 2-2 with eight minutes left to play.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin has scored more goals than anyone in Europe's top five leagues this season 🔥 pic.twitter.com/4DFtPXzu97— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) October 17, 2020
Going into this match there had been 21 red cards in the previous 54 Merseyside derbies, and Everton's Richarlison clearly felt he had to make his own contribution to the violent history of the so-called "friendly derby" with a reckless slide into Thiago Alcantara's leg.
Pickford and Richarlison today pic.twitter.com/OL3bDvHKX4— ODDSbible (@ODDSbible) October 17, 2020
The controversy didn't end there though, as Liverpool believed they'd pilfered a stoppage-time victory when Pickford made a hash of repelling Jordan Henderson's low effort. The elation was fleeting, thanks to another questionable interjection from VAR.
Much to the chagrin of jilted Reds fans around the world, the goal was chalked off following a prolonged review that adjudged Mane to have crept offside moments before Henderson's fairly tame effort went bobbling over the Everton goalkeeper.
A second look showed that perhaps the very tip of Mane's elbow or heel was behind the last man as he turned to latch onto Thiago's delightful no-look through-ball.
Such are the ridiculously fine margins by which football is played these days.
Indeed, it was another bad day at the coal face for the increasingly unpopular Video Assistant Referee system, with the VAR even getting a hammering from Van der Sar.
I hate VAR. I know people get bored of complaining about it but bloody hell, football was miles better without it.— Michael Cox (@Zonal_Marking) October 17, 2020
This feels so not like football these decisions made by computer programs! Should be there to restore a mistake or a clear and obvious off side missed by referee but not this. #VAR— Edwin van der Sar (@vdsar1970) October 17, 2020
Klopp was understandably angry postmatch, airing his grievances on both Pickford's non-dismissal and Mane's minutely stray appendage.
"The performance was top. We were dominant against a side full of confidence."— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) October 17, 2020
"I didn't see offside. Sorry, maybe somebody can explain it to me."
Jurgen Klopp gives his take after an eventful Merseyside derby full of talking point...
🎙 @TheDesKelly pic.twitter.com/cVQdx7aFSD
"Pickford kicks him completely," the Liverpool manager grumbled to BT Sport. "I need to watch it back. I've seen the disallowed goal at the end and in the picture I saw it wasn't offside. Can someone explain that to me?
"I'm a big supporter of VAR but you expect them to make the right decisions. I've done 10 interviews and everyone has told me it's not offside. That doesn't lift my mood."
No, we don't imagine it would for a second, Jurgen. Let's just hope he can gather himself together in time for another go through the wringer against Sheffield United next weekend.