Crystal Palace 1 – Liverpool 2: Match Review & Analysis

Earlier in the week I spoke to Crystal Palace fan Robbie Scotcher about how he thought the game would go. In the introduction to the piece I talked about how there were plenty of reasons why Liverpool and The Eagles are linked. Mamadou Sakho, Christian Benteke and, of course, Roy Hodgson have all got previous with us. The Belgian striker in particular enjoys scoring against us, with seven goals in nine appearances versus the Reds, whilst Sakho will have felt that he had more than a little bit to prove to the manager who let him leave the club because of poor behaviour. But one thing I forgot to mention was the small matter of Palace’s comeback against us in the 2013-2014 season. Even now, so many people think that’s the moment that we lost the title that season when that couldn’t be further from the truth. As soon as we lost to Chelsea, our only hope of winning the league was out-scoring Manchester City in our remaining matches, barring them losing a game, which they were never going to do.

There are some that remember that match with pain, but I’ll always remember it with pride. At that moment that Luis Suarez grabbed the ball out of the back of the net I genuinely believed, as I’m sure that the players did, that we could score ten. It was a moment that summed up the madness of that season, as, in a sense, was the collapse that followed. Defensive frailties were the reason we didn’t win the title, but I refuse to condemn Brendan Rodgers for that. There’s a strand of Liverpool supporters who will say something like ‘Benitez would’ve won the title from there’, but it’s unlikely we’d ever have been in that situation under the Spaniard in the first place. I love Rafa, but that sort of thrilling, attacking football was never in his locker. We should’ve won the title in 2008-2009 in my opinion, such was the talent in that side. We didn’t because we drew too many games, mainly down to Rafa’s feeling that not losing a game was the most important thing. That’s why I can’t look back at our game at Selhurst Park with pain. Would I look back at this one with regret, though?

What Did The Starting XI Tells Us About Wednesday?

Let’s be honest, whilst it felt immensely important to win this game, our main thoughts right now are very much focussed on Wednesday. The Champions League tie against Manchester City is at the forefront of all of our minds, including, I imagine, Jürgen Klopp’s. Yet if I was Pep Guardiola, I wonder what I’d be thinking today’s starting eleven tells me about how the Reds will line up at Anfield in midweek? Is Joel Matip’s presence alongside Virgil van Dijk, for example, an indication of who Klopp thinks should be the Dutch defender’s regular partner at the back? Is there much to be read into the midfield selection? Personally, I thought the manager made a mistake starting Jordan Henderson against Porto and leaving him in for the duration of the game when he would have made a big difference in our attempts to break down Manchester United’s stubborn defence, so I wasn’t delighted to see him start this one.

I was, conversely, pleased to see James Milner start as I feel like that means that he won’t start against the Cityzens. I know Milner has played well in games recently, but I still thoroughly believe that Guardiola’s side got back into the league game because Milner came on and simply couldn’t get up to the speed of the game. The absence of Emre Can might well have forced the manager’s hand on that front, but he could have opted for Alex Olxlade-Chamberlain if he wanted to start the former Man City man and our vice-captain against his former club. Surely not even Klopp, who loves to put faith in his players, doesn’t believe that Milner can play two high-intensity games in a row like this and the Champions League tie? Certainly his first-half performance was nowhere near good enough. I also thought that Nathaniel Clyne might start this match, given that an injury to Trent Alexander-Arnold will mean that we’ll be forced to play the right-back midweek, despite the fact that he’s been out injured seemingly forever.

By Sfcwiki789 (I saw him) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps, though, it’s the substitutions that tell us more about what’s in Klopp’s mind that the starting eleven. Most supporters would likely opt for the ‘win the match and then make changes’ approach, so what will the manager’s changes tell Pep Guardiola about what he’ll have to look forward to on Wednesday night? Perhaps nothing, truth be told. The decision to take off Sadio Mané was a no-brainer for the manager, given the likelihood of the Senegalese international guaranteeing himself an early bath if he’d stayed on much longer, but more about that in a moment. The injury to Adam Lallana also forced the manager’s hand, as I’m not sure he’d have wanted to take him straight back off again if he hadn’t been forced to! Was Gini Wijnaldum’s substitution a signal of something? Certainly Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s performance was good enough to warrant a place in the starting line-up; though I wonder if Klopp will have the midfielder’s performance at Old Trafford in his mind as an indication of an inability to perform in the biggest matches.

The one thing that did occur to me is that the manager has made changes to move us to a back five a number of times recently. When Dejan Lovren came on for the injured Lallana I did find myself wondering if Klopp should’ve gone more attacking. It wasn’t a game that we needed to win, but it was one where the win could prove to be very helpful in our attempts to finish second. With that in mind, I found it staggering that we were going to end the game with three centre-backs on the pitch. That, though, is why I’m not a professional football manager! I do wonder if the German might pull a surprise in one of the legs against City and opt for a five at the back formation from the start. There’s an extent to which it allows us to be slightly more attacking as both fullbacks can push higher up the pitch, plus it allows more solidity at the back. Might that be something else that Guardiola needs to think about before the Champions League double-header gets under way?

Winning Games We Might Not Have In The Past

For me, that ranks up there alongside the win over Burnley at Turf Moor as one of our most satisfying results of the season. Not performances, mind, but results. Against both Palace and Burnley we really weren’t at our best, yet we’ve emerged from the two fixtures with six points. Those were the sort of matches that we’ve lost in the past, no question of it. It’s a solid indication of the manner in which the manager has been able to change the mentality of his players and, to some extent, the supporters. Scrolling through my Twitter timeline, there seemed to be a lot less of the usual moaning and complaining that I’ve seen in the past at the same point in similar games as before Mohamed Salah made it 2-1. The team believes that they can still win and we we seem to be believing with them. It was a really poor performance from numerous players, but we did enough and that’s what matters.

It helped that we were up against a team managed by Roy Hodgson, of course. If this Liverpool team is an embodiment of Klopp’s spirit and sense of belief then Hodgson has also instilled his own nature into the Palace side. Prior to today, The Eagles had opened the scoring in eight games and won only four of them, so perhaps it was somehow inevitable that we’d find a way to win. They were 2-0 up against Manchester United, don’t forget, but still found a way to lose 3-2. Before the game I was saying that I didn’t think we’d be able to do what Chelsea, Spurs and United did, of waiting until towards the end of the game before snatching a winner. I honestly don’t think we’d have done that last year, so I’m delighted that we were able to this time around. That is especially the case considering how much the players must have been thinking about Wednesday night, however much the manager might try to tell us otherwise.

The Referee Was Dreadful – For Both Teams

It was announced earlier in the week that England wouldn’t be asked to send any referees to this summer’s World Cup. I’m not sure that anyone who has watched Premier League matches so far this season will find that even remotely surprising. I genuinely can’t remember a game of ours I’ve watched all through the campaign when I thought the referee did a good job. That isn’t Liverpool bias, either. Today was a case in point, perhaps summed up best by the moment in the second-half involving Sadio Mané. The attacker was clearly fouled by two Palace players, yet Neil Swarbrick didn’t give him a free-kick. Mané assumed he was getting one and so grabbed hold of the ball, committing a deliberate handball. Now, contrary to what some people seem to think, a handball isn’t automatically a yellow card offence, yet I have to say that in that instance it should’ve been.

If the referee thinks it’s a foul on Mané he should give the free-kick. If he doesn’t, he should book him and send him off for two bookable offences. Instead he did neither. It was a moment that showed exactly why so many people are fed up of the refereeing levels in this country and why so many of us are keen for the arrival of VAR. I also don’t think Mané should’ve been booked in the first instance. I think it was a penalty, given that there was clear contact and if players don’t go down then they don’t get anything. The referee decided that it wasn’t a penalty, but that doesn’t mean that it’s automatically a booking. It was just an awful performance and one of the reasons why I’m never going to be persuaded that the addition of the Video Assistant Referee is a bad idea. Aside from anything else, it’s really boring to talk about referees all the time. Yet when they’re as bad as that, it’s impossible not to mention it.

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