Some might have questioned Jurgen Klopp’s wisdom when they saw the Liverpool teamsheet he turned in to face Everton in the Merseyside derby.
With a daunting and draining festive fixture list lying ahead, Klopp has decided rotation is his only option. The clash with their rivals from across Stanley Park represented the fourth of 12 games Liverpool have to play between 23 November and 2 January, with Premier League, Champions League, Carabao Cup and Club World Cup matches piling up on top of each other.
When you are sitting pretty at the summit of the Premier League, eight points clear of your nearest rivals and in a brilliant position to win the club’s first league title since 1990, injuries cannot be allowed to derail you.
Balancing local bragging rights with the bigger picture saw Klopp settle on five changes to his starting line-up. Adrian came in for the suspended Alisson in goal, but the fresh legs of James Milner, Adam Lallana, Xherdan Shaqiri and Divock Origi were all in on the manager’s say so.
Klopp cited “respect” for the occasion and the “intensity” of the tie as his reasons. He soon proved the naysayers wrong, as his second-string side outplayed an Everton team fighting for their lives at the opposite end of the Premier League table.
Origi holds a unique place in the hearts of Liverpool fans. He’s a back-up striker, using sparingly behind the holy trinity of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah. And yet he’s so much more.
He’s a certified scorer of big goals. A 96th-minute winner against Everton in a cherished 1-0 league win last December. Two in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final on an unforgettable night at Anfield to come back from 3-0 down on aggregate against Barcelona. And, for good measure, one to wrap up the 2-0 win in the final against Tottenham.
For a man who has picked his moments so well, his two strikes in a 5-2 victory over a struggling Everton side doesn’t even get on the podium. But they were important nonetheless, helping to dispatch his team’s bitter rivals – and perhaps their manager, Marco Silva, too – and maintaining Liverpool’s stranglehold on the title race. With every passing game that eight-point gap looks more and more unassailable.
Of course Origi was no one-man band, and with Firmino and Salah rested it was Mane who ran the show for the red-hot Liverpool attack. His perfectly-weighted through ball which sent the Belgian striker around the hapless and helpless Jordan Pickford was a work of art, and he repeated the trick to give Shaqiri the simple task of making it 2-0.
Everton defender Michael Keane did grab a goal back from a set-piece, but Origi’s second – from an inch-perfect, quarterback-style ball straight over the top from Dejan Lovren – was another hymn to simplicity, the striker taking a silky first touch to control and then gently lifting it over Pickford to make it 3-1.
Mane swept in a flowing counter-attack which owed much to Trent Alexander-Arnold’s athleticism, adaptability and vision, and while Richarlison’s diving header ended an entertaining first half and gave Silva hope, nothing materialised for the away side.
Instead, Firmino rubbed salt into the wound when he climbed off the bench and set up Georginio Wijnaldum to power in a pin-point fifth goal.
While Southampton’s win over Norwich sent Everton into the relegation zone, Liverpool’s win – in which Salah was not required at all and of which Firmino played just 21 minutes – maintained their complete authority in pole position.
Over 94 minutes, the contrasting fortunes of Liverpool’s two sides were laid bare.