Liverpool did not give Everton star James Rodriguez a great deal of time and space, but it was enough for him to hurt them.
Having snuck behind Thiago Alcantara and Georgino Wijnaldum, between Liverpool’s midfield and defence, Rodriguez brought Abdoulaye Doucoure’s header under control and then slotted a perfectly-weighted pass through to Richarlison, whose cool finish set Everton on their way to their first victory at Anfield since 1999.
It was the most significant moment of Saturday’s showdown between the two rivals. Everton would later double their lead through Gylfi Sigurdsson, who found the bottom corner from the penalty spot. But that early goal, created by Rodriguez and converted by Richarlison, was the main difference between the Merseyside foes on the day.
James Rodriguez was rather quiet after that excellent assist, the fourth he has registered for Everton in the Premier League this season. Having struggled with injuries of late, the Colombia international was withdrawn on the hour, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin taking his place. That decision proved to be a tactical masterstroke from Carlo Ancelotti, with two dynamic forwards leading the charge, Everton offered more of a threat on the counter-attack and made sure of all three points thanks to a spot-kick won by Calvert-Lewin.
Yet while Rodriguez was not the game’s standout player, he was integral to the result. Everton have improved greatly since Ancelotti’s tenure began in December 2019, but they do not have many other players capable of producing through-balls of the quality of Rodriguez’s assist – or at least not on as regular a basis as the former Real Madrid man.
That is part of the reason why Evertonians will have been concerned by reports last week linking the Colombian with the exit door. Spanish outlet Defensa Central claims James Rodriguez has failed to settle in the northwest of England, with the weather and the lifestyle at Everton apparently not to his liking. The physical nature of English football is also said to have left Rodriguez pining for a change of scenery just a few months on from his move to Goodison Park.
“Oh he’s OK, he has no problem,” Ancelotti said last week, in an attempt to rubbish the rumours. “I talk to him every day, he’s happy here. He’s confident, motivated. He had a little problem in the last few games with his calf, but now he’s in a good condition. He really feels good here because everyone takes care of him and that’s it.
“I don’t know if he complains about the weather, but we know it’s not the best weather ever! But there are a lot of things good in this area.”
Everton fans will hope he is right. The club pulled off a coup in signing a player who has won numerous trophies during his career and he can already claim to be among the best ever Colombian players in the Premier League. He might have fallen out of favour at Madrid, but there was never any doubt about Rodriguez’s ability. It is fair to say that the playmaker would not have ended up on Merseyside were it not for Ancelotti, under whom he played the best football of his career at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Despite those injury-induced disruptions, James Rodriguez has made a fine start to life at Everton and in the Premier League. He has started just 16 games but been directly involved in nine goals – scoring five and setting up four more. If Everton want to establish themselves as top-four contenders year in, year out, attracting and retaining players of Rodriguez’s quality will be essential.
Just as important is the message that would be sent to other potential signings if Everton were to lose James Rodriguez after just one season. For all its merits, the club would be a less attractive proposition to top-class players without Rodriguez, whose presence in the squad lends Farhad Moshiri’s project a dash of genuine star quality.
That, of course, would be meaningless if the Colombian was not delivering on the pitch, but it is his profile as well as his prowess that makes Rodriguez so important to Everton. Keeping hold of him this summer will be essential to their ambitions in both the short and the medium term.