Sunday, April 14, 2024
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Local hero! Jones stars as Klopp’s kids break Everton hearts


The Reds boss named a youthful team in the FA Cup and his inexperienced players repaid that faith with an assured performance.

“We always said we had the two best teams on Merseyside – Liverpool and Liverpool reserves.”

Maybe Bill Shankly was right all those years ago.

And as Robbie Williams once said, “the kids are alright.”

More than alright, in Liverpool’s case.

The 235th Merseyside derby, fittingly, was settled by a Scouser. Curtis Jones wasn’t even born the last time Everton won at Anfield but here, in the heat of battle, it was the 18-year-old, making just his second start for his boyhood club, who stuck the knife into Carlo Ancelotti’s side.

He could play until he’s 40, Jones, but one doubts he will ever replicate the feeling he experienced when, 71 minutes into a tight, entertaining FA Cup third-round tie, he collected a pass from Divock Origi on the left corner of the penalty area, took a touch and unleashed the most perfect of right-foot curlers past a despairing Jordan Pickford, the ball kissing the underside of the crossbar on its way into the net.

He became the youngest player to score in a Merseyside derby since Robbie Fowler, 26 years ago, and only the third 18-year-old to score for the club in the FA Cup. “I can’t sum up my emotions,” he said afterwards. “I’ve basically been begging to play.”

This was just how he’d have dreamt it last night. He has a penchant for big moments, this kid. His only other senior appearance at Anfield came against Arsenal in the Carabao Cup in November, and he ended that by scoring the winning penalty in a shootout in front of the Kop. He doesn’t lack confidence, that’s for sure.

This was even more special, even more surreal at times. This was Liverpool’s second string, a team packed with teenagers and fringe players, beating an Everton side supposedly brimming with confidence following the arrival of a world-class manager. Liverpool lost their captain, James Milner , to injury inside six minutes, and gave pretty much all of their star men the afternoon off.

And look, they still found a way to win.

Evertron, meanwhile, seem to find ways to lose at this ground. This, perhaps, was the most painful of all. Ancelotti’s team had big chances in the first half but couldn’t take them. Their second-half display, to put it mildly, was dreadful. The Anfield Road end, which had housed 8,000 noisy Blues throughout, emptied faster than a cracked petrol tank. Only Djibril Sidibe, to his credit, took the time to acknowledge them.

No wonder. Everton were favourites going into this game, but will they ever get a better chance to end their Anfield hoodoo? Kevin Campbell, the last man to score a winner here for the Blues, hates his place in Toffees history, but he will have it for a while longer yet.

As for Liverpool, they can reflect on a remarkable collective performance. They gave three debuts here, new signing Takumi Minamino joined by centre-back Nathaniel Phillips, who was playing for Stuttgart against Sandhausen in the German second tier a month ago, and Yasser Larouci, a Frenchman signed from Le Havre as a flying winger, since converted into a rough and ready full-back by Barry Lewtas, the under-18 coach.

Larouci, like fellow teen Neco Williams on the opposite flank, was outstanding, so confident, and oh so fearless. Remember those names, whatever you do.

Ahead of them, 16-year-old Harvey Elliott gave Lucas Digne a chasing. The French international ended the game booked, unable to handle the touch and intelligence of the England under-17 star. Elliott, like Jones, has star quality.

Everton looked like they might overpower Liverpool at times in the opening 45 minutes, when they utilised the brute strength of Dominic Calvert-Lewin. But Adrian, the Reds’ back-up goalkeeper, stood firm when needed. He denied Calvert-Lewin, Mason Holgate and Richarlison expertly.

And after the break, the game was dominated by Adam Lallana and Pedro Chirivella, the unlikeliest of midfield duos. Both were exceptional. Liverpool received two concrete loan offers for Chirivella from Championship clubs on Friday. They’ll be fielding loads more after this, although given their injury list, they might be wise to hold onto the 23-year-old until at least the end of the month. If he can deliver performances like this, he’s got a use at Anfield.

There are some who believe Jurgen Klopp didn’t want to be in this competition, that he’d rather go out.

Don’t listen to them.

Klopp kicked every ball from the sideline, watching and encouraging like a proud parent. When the ball made its way into the Main Stand, 90 seconds from the end, he implored the Liverpool fans to keep hold of it, to waste away a precious few seconds. At the final blast of referee Jon Moss’ whistle, his grin could have lit a million Christmas trees. The fist pumps in front of the Kop were back.

Liverpool ride on. For Everton, this will take some getting over.

And for Curtis Jones, this was his wildest dream made reality.

“Sensational game and a sensational goal from a Scouser – who could ask for more?” grinned Klopp afterwards.

The local derby got a local hero.