Van Dijk scores winner on Liverpool debut as Reds beat Everton in FA Cup
LIVERPOOL, England -- Three quick thoughts from Liverpool's 2-1 FA Cup third-round win over Everton at Anfield on Friday.
1. Van Dijk scores winner on Liverpool debut
Virgil van Dijk made a dream debut for Liverpool by scoring a late winner in front of the Kop to seal a 2-1 FA Cup third-round victory against Merseyside rivals Everton.
The 26-year-old headed Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's corner past Everton keeper Jordan Pickford in the 84th minute after Gylfi Sigurdsson's strike had cancelled out James Milner's controversial 34th-minute penalty.
A month after Everton's Dominic Calvert-Lewin was awarded a soft penalty in the Premier League derby at Anfield, referee Bobby Madley pointed to the spot after Adam Lallana went to ground following slight contact from Mason Holgate. Sigurdsson's goal midway through the second half hauled Everton level, but Van Dijk's header capped home the side's win and left the visitors still waiting for their first win at Anfield this century.
Van Dijk will reflect on a mixed debut, however, despite his goal. Now the world's most expensive defender following his £75 million arrival from Southampton, Van Dijk is under huge pressure to perform at Anfield because defensive lapses have proved so costly for Jurgen Klopp's team in the past two years.
The former Celtic centre-half has been signed to stiffen up the Liverpool defence and eradicate the mistakes, but he seemed to be afflicted by the problems that actually prompted Klopp to sign him. Van Dijk was easily beaten on the edge of the penalty area by Yannick Bolasie after just five minutes and the same player capitalised on Van Dijk's overconfidence in possession later in the first half.
There were other errors, which can be put down to getting to know his new teammates, but Van Dijk is unquestionably the future and he will only get better for his new club. And scoring a winner in a Merseyside debut will only accelerate his acclimatisation as a Liverpool player.
2. Was this a glimpse at life after Coutinho for Liverpool?
While Van Dijk enjoyed a debut to remember for Liverpool, the absence of Philippe Coutinho posed the question as to whether the Brazilian will actually play alongside the new £75m man for the club.
The Brazilian missed this game with a thigh injury, but Barcelona are growing increasingly confident of agreeing a deal to sign him this month after failing to capture him last summer. So if this game was a glimpse into a future without Coutinho, it would have been a worrying one for Klopp.
Yes, Liverpool won the game and progressed to the FA Cup fourth round, but they struggled to break down Everton at times, ultimately scoring both goals from set pieces.
In Coutinho's absence, Liverpool lacked guile and cutting edge, so while Van Dijk has checked in to tighten them up at the back, any sale of Coutinho would immediately make Liverpool less effective going forward. In many ways, it would be one step forward and one step back.
Sadio Mane's pace gave Everton problems and it will always trouble even the best defences, but Coutinho is Liverpool's game-changer, even more so than the rested top scorer Mohamed Salah.
If Liverpool can do a deal around the £130m mark for Coutinho, they would then look to reinvest a sizable portion of that fee in Monaco's Thomas Lemar. But Coutinho is a proven Premier League and Champions League performer and, if he goes, Liverpool will be weaker.
3. Tosun desperately needed at Everton
Everton took the unusual step of confirming the £27m signing of Besiktas striker Cenk Tosun during the half-time interval of this game, but perhaps the toothless performance of Sam Allardyce's team in the opening 45 minutes hastened the decision to publicise the news.
The failure to replace Romelu Lukaku following his £90m summer sale to Manchester United was a key factor in Ronald Koeman's dismissal as manager in the wake of the club's nightmare start to the season and the goals have hardly flowed since Allardyce took over in November.
A proven striker was a priority for Everton and Tosun, 26, arrives at Goodison Park having scored 41 goals in 96 league games for Besiktas since the start of the 2014-15 season. The Turkey international will give Everton a physical presence up front and, Allardyce hopes, a reliable goal threat.
Calvert-Lewin has done his best, scoring seven goals in all competitions, but the 20-year-old lacks experience and that showed as he once again led the line at Anfield. And Wayne Rooney, despite his 10 Premier League goals so far this term, is no longer a striker and Everton cannot expect him to produce the same strike rate in the second half of this season.
Tosun is a player they have needed since the summer and it did not need this FA Cup tie against their neighbours to prove it.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_