Shoves and Shouts Mar a Winning Debut at Anfield

Shoves and Shouts Mar a Winning Debut at Anfield


After calming Holgate, Madley consulted his fourth official, Jon Moss, who then passed the information along to Klopp, though the Liverpool manager said he did not “understand” the nature of what he was being told until Moss reiterated it after the game.

His counterpart, Everton Manager Sam Allardyce, would not be drawn into commenting on his understanding of what happened, stating after the match that his responsibility extended only to soccer, rather than to “controversial incidents,” and that he preferred to let “whatever systems are used” establish the truth of what happened.

A Liverpool representative, meanwhile, said both “club and player will fully cooperate with the relevant authorities to make sure the facts are established in a thorough manner, if deemed necessary or requested.”

Photo

Virgil van Dijk, right, celebrating James Milner’s first-half penalty kick. Van Dijk, whose recent acquisition from Southampton turned him into the world’s most expensive defender, made his Liverpool debut in Friday’s F.A. Cup match against Everton.

Credit
Carl Recine/Reuters

Madley will include details of the incident — he was standing between Firmino and Holgate when it occurred — and the charge of racial abuse in the match report he will submit to the Football Association on Saturday. At that point, it will be up to the F.A. to determine if an inquiry is merited. If so, the organization will write to the clubs, asking for their versions of events.

The process is sadly familiar to Liverpool. In October 2011, the Manchester United defender Patrice Evra accused the Liverpool striker Luis Suárez of using a racial term on multiple occasions during a Premier League game. Suárez and Liverpool, initially, vehemently denied the accusation.

But a seven-day F.A. hearing found that Suárez had “on the balance of probabilities” used “insulting words including a reference to Mr. Evra’s color.” He was barred for eight games and fined 40,000 British pounds (about $54,000).

That Klopp understood the seriousness of the allegation was apparent in his mood in the immediate aftermath of Friday’s victory; for a manager who had just witnessed such an uplifting moment, the usually bombastic German was distinctly subdued.

That he was delighted for van Dijk, of course, should go without saying. He acknowledged it was a “higher risk than normal” to hand van Dijk his debut in this game, given its traditional ferocity. He said he had only decided to do so a few hours beforehand. Merseyside derbies are no place for ring rust — van Dijk was afforded an impromptu winter break as the details of his move from Southampton were completed — and certainly no place for baby steps.

All central defensive partnerships take time to blossom, for the two component parts to learn each other well enough to function smoothly, and as Klopp had warned when the transfer was completed, at Liverpool it is more complex still. Klopp’s intense playing style places particular strain on his back line. Defending for Liverpool carries a different risk profile to defending for Southampton, van Dijk’s former club. Van Dijk, his manager had said, would need time to get used to it.

The scale of his transfer fee, however, mitigated against that — $101 million does not buy you any patience as you settle in, any leeway in your early performances, any understanding that these things can take time. Klopp and van Dijk will have known that every mistake, every misstep he makes in his time at Liverpool, will be subject to scrutiny. The glare of the spotlight will be fixed upon him for some time yet, searching for flaws.

A single goal will not deflect it, of course, but it might dim it just a little. Liverpool did not purchase van Dijk for his attacking prowess — though it might have helped inflate the fee a little — so much as for his defensive, and organizational, abilities. But his goal, and his status as an immediate derby match winner, may afford him the thing he needs most: a bit of space.

All new players are judged, if not straightaway, then quickly. That narrative can then take hold, and frame the way their performances are presented for months, or even years afterward. The risk with van Dijk was that no matter how elegant or assured his defending, the first time anybody really noticed him would be when he could not make a difference to Liverpool. His task — living up to an eye-watering fee, in a position not designed to help him do so — seemed a hiding to nothing.

Until, that is, he rose highest to meet Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s corner, restoring Liverpool’s lead, winning a derby, delighting the Kop. It was the perfect start: not a fairy tale, not really, given the cost involved, but certainly a good first chapter.

That is what Klopp, and Liverpool, will want to remember from this game. The sadness, for everyone involved, is that — depending on what the F.A. finds in any investigation it opens — it may go down in history for reasons they will want to forget.

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