Man City go clear at top as Liverpool are held by Everton in Merseyside derby

THE Premier League table does not lie.

Liverpool, with nine games left, must do all the chasing now. There is no escape from that.

Liverpool surrendered top spot to Man City as they drew 0-0 with Everton
Liverpool surrendered top spot to Man City as they drew 0-0 with Everton
PA:Press Association

Jurgen Klopp’s players, consumed by nerves and anxiety and panic, will play second fiddle to Manchester City from here.

A draw at Goodison Park, against their bitter rivals from across the park, is not good enough in a title-winning season.

They had to win.

Pep, probably relaxing out on the golf course with his son this afternoon, will be happy with the scorecard.

It was only a few weeks ago, when Liverpool were seven points clear of the defending champions, when people were convinced they were bunkered.

Instead City are top for the first time since December 7.

This was a poor result and an extremely  poor performance by Liverpool.

It is getting to them because otherwise they would have controlled, dictated and dominated this fixture.

They usually do, especially ever since Klopp pitched up on Merseyside.

There is a lot of football still to be played, but this is the most pivotal moment of the Premier League season so far.

Nerves do some funny stuff to people.

Liverpool, unbeaten under Klopp in Merseyside derbies, spent the first half searching for some rhythm.

There was Jordan Henderson’s heavy touch 14 minutes in. Then Salah passed straight to Theo Walcott. Alisson sent a routine diagonal sailing into the stands.

It was all very awkward.

They needed to take ownership, to set the tempo and work out a way to win this derby.

For some reason Salah seems short of his mercurial best at the moment.

He had the best chance of the opening half, scampering on to a Fabinho through ball down the right.

He opted for a nonchalant, casual finish, giving Pickford the chance to get down to his right to save.

The follow-up arrived at the feet of Henderson, but Liverpool’s captain was blocked.

Then there was the 56th minute chance, racing on to Joel Matip’s pass, helpfully deflected off the boot of Kurt Zouma.

Punters up and down the country were clutching their betting slips and screaming at him to score.

He should have done, but Michael Keane got a toe in to turn it away for a corner before Salah could pick his spot.

Klopp responded.

He sent Firmino, returning early from injury to take a spot on the bench, out to limber up.

It was a clear message to his players to raise their game, to find the goal that would take them back to the top of the table.

Klopp has come to expect so much more from his front three.

When they are at their best, causing havoc in opposition defences by interchanging at will, they are a joy to watch.

This latest twist, with Sadio Mane in the centre and Divock Origi out on the left, seemed unsure and uncertain of their roles.

Everton were up for this.

It will be hard for them to watch their rivals finally lift the title after a 29 year wait.

The fans demanded intensity, the sort of performance they became accustomed to from their own title-winning teams.

They are short on quality, but they compensated for that in front of their own fans with an energetic performance.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin impressed, the pick of an Everton side still working it all out under their latest manager, Marco Silva.

Alisson denied him at the start of the second half, saving to his right when he headed downwards from a corner.

Change was coming.

Origi, who scored the famous 96th minute winner at Anfield against Everton, replaced by Firmino.

His first significant contribution was to ping a cross towards the head of Sane waiting inside the area.

It had a bit too much sauce on it, with Sane unable to direct it goalwards.

The final 20 minutes or so was crazy.

Fabinho was about to pull the trigger, rolling the ball down his thigh when Lucas Digne scrambled it away for a corner.

Mane struggled to bring a chance down and Matip misdirected a downward header by sending a chance wide.

Klopp, boiling up on the touchline, made his final change.

He sent for the trickery of Adam Lallana, turning to his winger for some innovation and inspiration.

Everton were ready for him, throwing bodies in the way to block everything that found its way into the penalty area in a frantic final few minutes.

They tried to win it for themselves, wasting a Gylfi Sigurdsson free-kick in the final four minutes.

By that stage an Everton win would probably have seen Silva sprinting on to the pitch to celebrate a winner.

He knows that this was a pedestrian, cautious Liverpool performance.

Much more of this and they will slip even further behind.

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