Crystal Palace 1 – Liverpool 2 Match Report & Analysis

Form Books & Windows

Before a ball had even been kicked at Selhurst Park it felt like Crystal Palace had a mental advantage over Liverpool. No it wasn’t the ridiculous journey that the thousands of Scousers on the travelling Kop had had to make to get there, nor was it the fact that Yannick Bolasie was fit to start and inevitably put in a performance akin to Pele in the World Cup.

The advantage they had came in the guise of the form book, with The Eagles having not won a game in the calendar year of 2016 and the Reds hoping to win three back-to-back Premier League matches since February 2015.

Of course the form book suggested a walkover for the Reds, but that’s not how football works. As fans we are mostly quite negative in our assumptions, believing that if Palace hadn’t won for 200 games then of course they’d break their duck against us. You can throw the form book out of the window when it comes to Liverpool playing against Crystal Palace, especially away from home. You need to go back as far as December 1997 to see Liverpool beat them in the league in their own back yard.

When James Milner inexplicably dived in on their player midway through the second half and got himself a deserved sending off for two yellow card offences, with the Reds already a goal down, it felt a little bit like the writing was on the wall. In the stands, at least, there was something of a collective acceptance that Liverpool’s fate was to go on losing to Palace forever and ever.

At such times it’s difficult to accept that there isn’t some sort of hex against your team. We all know some players seem to love playing against certain teams, just ask Luis Suarez how he feels about Norwich, and it’s true that sometimes clubs have definite bogey teams that they just don’t know how to get past. How important, then, was this win in the context of Palace’s hex over us? How massive was it for us to do it with ten men, as far as mentalities are concerned?

From Doubters To Believers

It’s famous now, of course. The moment that Claire Rourke asks Jürgen Klopp if he’s got a message for Liverpool’s fans and he tells us that we need to turn from doubters to believers. It’s noteworthy that this victory, the ultimate declaration of belief, came against the same opposition that caused Klopp to declare himself ‘lonely’ when the Liverpool fans streamed out of Anfield with ten to go, having gone 2-1 down, last November.

It’s widely agreed that there isn’t enough out-right talent in this Liverpool side. Emre Can has the raw talent to become a top-class midfielder, of course. Roberto Firmino has the numbers to suggest he’ll be sensational when he’s fully adapted to life in the Premier League. Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge are world-class on their day, whilst Sheyi Ojo looks like he’ll be a world-beater if he carries on at the same rate he’s managed so far in his career.

But even the most fervent Liverpool fan would struggle to look at our squad and pick out many more genuinely exciting players who can change games in an instant. There are, to flog an old metaphor as much as possible, plenty of piano carriers and even a couple of people who know how to tune it, but there aren’t many who know how to play the bloody thing.

What this Liverpool team is starting to develop in abundance, however, is the belief that Klopp called for on day one. They are starting to display a mental strength that will make them a force to be reckoned with when they pair it with exciting attacking play and defensive solidity. Where Brendan Rodgers was a manager who worked brilliant with a team that was on a role but lacked the ability to stop the rot when things stopped going well for us, Klopp seems to be instilling a genuine sense of belief that means this team never really believes it’s down and out no matter what’s going on.

almonfoto / shutterstock.com

almonfoto / shutterstock.com

The Reds didn’t perform to the best of their ability at Wembley in the League Cup final and it very much seemed as though City would win the thing without even playing that well. Yet Liverpool didn’t give up the ghost; they kept fighting and probing and asking questions and as soon as Coutinho struck the equaliser it looked as if there would be only one winner. The devastation that came after missing out on the cup through penalties was largely due to the belief that, having got ourselves back into it, the cup was surely coming back to Anfield.

Despite there being a quarter of the season left to go it wouldn’t have been a total shock if that Wembley defeat had seen the wheels come of Liverpool’s season. The defeat to Aston Villa in the FA Cup semi-final there last year was followed up with a solitary win, two draws and three losses that included the 6-1 hammering at the hands of Stoke on the final day of the season.

The following season started well, only for a home loss to West Ham to result in us winning one of the next seven games in normal time. None of which is to denigrate Brendan Rodgers, a manager who I believe will be judged more kindly by history than he was by our fans at the time. Rather it’s to point out that, for whatever reason, Liverpool was a team full of mental fragility when Jürgen Klopp arrived on the scene. The fact that the Reds had not come from behind with ten men to win a game of football since records began in the early nineties shows just that.

Vlad1988 / shutterstock.com

Vlad1988 / shutterstock.com

The tide is turning now, though. The players might not have the requisite skill to make us the best team in the land, but they’ve got a mental strength that will stand us in very good stead indeed. Klopp might not get everything right all of the time as far as tactics are concerned, but he’s instilling something in this squad that can’t be as easily assessed as assists, goals and crucial interceptions. The players believe that they’re never out of a game and that is something that you can’t put a price on.

Lovren Makes You Feel Good

Has Dejan Lovren now completed his renaissance for Liverpool? This time last season most people would have been more than happy to see the Croatian sold to the lowest bidder, if not merely thrown out of the back door at Melwood and left to fend for himself.

The solid, impressive defender that we thought we were buying from Southampton was nowhere to be seen, replaced instead by a moron of a man who didn’t seem to be able to judge the flight of the ball and thought it was acceptable to attempt step-overs on the halfway-line in spite of the fact that he was the last man and really isn’t very good at step-overs.

mooinblack / shutterstock.com

mooinblack / shutterstock.com

It’s difficult to think of a player who has enjoyed more or a turn around in his fortunes since the arrival of Klopp than the 26-year-old. Put in a defence that is offered some protection from midfield, much as he was at St. Mary’s, and he looks like a completely different player. He still had his dodgy moments against Palace, of course, but which Liverpool defender doesn’t when up against Bolasie, the best player to ever play in the Premier League if not the entirety of football?

The very idea of Lovren playing as a right wing-back last season would have made grown men cry, yet somehow it worked perfectly at Selhurst Park. He marauded forward, he smashed into tackles, he looked calm and composed at the back; in short he was everything we’ve always wanted him to be and more.

With the arrival of Joel Matip in the summer it will be difficult to figure out Liverpool’s strongest backline until we see whether or not the Cameroonian international is able to make any solid partnerships. For the first time ever, though, it’s fair to say that Lovren’s name on the team-sheet won’t make heads fall off all over the place. I don’t think any of us saw that coming a year ago. If Klopp can make Lovren a dependable defender just imagine what he’ll be able to do with some of our more talented players. Stick your money on Ibe as top-scorer next season whilst you can…

Paying The Penalty

There have been many times that Liverpool have got a bit of luck for a penalty decision, whether for us or against us. Refs have missed blatant fouls or trips on our players and have somehow contrived to ignore outrageous handballs by our defenders at one time or another.

By Delval Loïc (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Delval Loïc (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Yet right now, in the aftermath of Christian Benteke’s penalty against Palace, I’m struggling to remember a time when a penalty caused such outrage and uproar. Alan Pardew looked like his head was going to explode in his post-match interview; Crystal Palace fans took to Twitter to express their disgust at the Belgian’s behaviour and newspapers have uniformly referred to it as ‘controversial’.

Well I must have missed something because it was a stonewall penalty. Delaney might have pulled out of the challenge, but his knee very clearly catches Benteke’s standing leg and the striker goes down. Done.

Did Benteke make the most of it? Yes, of course. But he was still caught and I’d love you to give me the name of one player in the Premier League, never mind a striker, who doesn’t do exactly what Benteke has done in that situation.

We’ve benefited from poor refereeing decisions numerous times in our existence as a football club, but this wasn’t one of them. Let’s knock the faux-outrage on the head, hey?

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