OLIVER HOLT: Jordan Pickford was the most relieved man in Goodison Park… Everton and their nervy keeper were saved by VAR after his brutal foul on Virgil van Dijk and late gaffe both somehow went unpunished
- Jordan Pickford was a big talking point during Everton’s 2-2 draw with Liverpool
- He was fortunate to remain on the pitch after his challenge on Virgil Van Dijk
- Pickford did show his shot-stopping ability with a great save from Joel Matip
- He made a mistake which could have cost Everton a point in the dying minutes
- Jordan Henderson’s goal was ruled offside which saved the English goalkeeper
- Pickford will need to improve his form if Everton are to keep a top four push
For a time, it seemed as if Jordan Pickford might be Everton’s match winner in the Merseyside derby.
Not because of the saves the England goalkeeper made – although there was one magnificent flying stop from a Joel Matip header in the second half – but because of his brutal early challenge on Virgil van Dijk.
Liverpool had started the game in a manner that suggested they were keen to re-establish their authority and their reputation after their 7-2 humbling by Aston Villa in their previous match and Van Dijk set the tone, spraying the ball around and imposing himself on Everton’s attack with some uncompromising challenges.
Jordan Pickford was a relieved man as Everton walked away with a point against Liverpool
The English goalkeeper was lucky not to be sent off for this challenge on Virgil Van Dijk
Van Dijk went off injured and Liverpool missed the Dutchman’s aerial presence in the game
But in the minutes after Liverpool had taken an early lead through Sadio Mane, Van Dijk tried to latch on to flick in the Everton box and Pickford came flying out to meet him.
He launched himself at Van Dijk, feet first, off the ground, out of control and felled him like a giant oak. Van Dijk was given lengthy treatment but could not continue and was replaced by Joe Gomez.
And the truth is, Liverpool never looked quite the same again. They never quite regained that early authority and that initial assurance.
And a Liverpool defence faced with a striker in Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who is in such supreme form, and a prompter in James Rodriguez, who is such a clever player, never looked as comfortable.
It looked like a straightforward red card, a challenge that was a potential leg-breaker, but the fact that Van Dijk was ruled offside appeared to confuse the VAR decision even though it was a clear example of serious foul play. Pickford was spared and he was central to the outcome of the match.
If Van Dijk had been on the pitch, for instance, would Michael Keane have been allowed to rise and direct a superb header past Adrian for Everton’s first equaliser?
Pickford showed his best side when making a fantastic save from Liverpool’s Joel Matip
If Van Dijk had been on the pitch, would Calvert-Lewin have been allowed to rise so majestically, unmarked, to nod home Everton’s second equaliser?
There were the saves, too. If Pickford’s panicky challenge on Van Dijk spoke of a man whose confidence is shaky, whose place is under pressure both for club and country, he produced moments of quality that showed us why both Gareth Southgate and Carlo Ancelotti are sticking with him for now.
There was one brilliant save from a Trent Alexander-Arnold free kick in the first half and the reaction stop from Matip in the second half.
As Liverpool pressed for a winner later in the game, Pickford came hurtling out of his goal to block an effort from Mane that would have given the visitors the advantage.
However a late error nearly handed Liverpool the three points before VAR called for offside
But Pickford exudes a sense of nervousness at the moment. It feels as if there is always a mistake waiting to happen and that some of that nervousness, at least, is being transmitted to the back four in front of him.
If Everton are to sustain an attempt to stay in the top four or better, he has to rediscover the dependability that he has lost.
Pickford stayed central to the plot right until the very end. As the match entered time added on, Pickford had kept his team in the match with his saves but then his vulnerability resurfaced.
When Jordan Henderson clipped a left foot shot goalwards in the 92nd minute, Pickford should have saved it.
Carlo Ancelotti will need Pickford to improve if Everton are to maintain their top-four push
He got his left hand to it but instead of parrying it or gathering it, it ballooned up off his wrist and looped up in a lazy arc that took it just under the crossbar and over the goalline.
For a couple of minutes, it seemed the narrative would be dominated by his fallibility again. The debate about whether he should keep his place was about to redouble.
Then VAR intervened. Most of football might have been exasperated by the decision to rule Henderson’s goal out for the most marginal of offside decisions against Mane but not Pickford. He was the most relieved man inside Goodison Park.
The debate about whether he should keep his place can be shelved for another day.
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