Liverpool 1 – Crystal Palace 0: Match Review & Analysis

It was tricky to predict how this match was going to go ahead of kick-off. On the one hand Palace have won at Anfield three matches in a row, with the Reds not having won against them at our place since 2013. On the other hand, the Eagles were beaten 3-0 at home by newly promoted Huddersfield on the first day of the season. Which Liverpool team would we see? The free-flowing one that took Bayern Munich apart at the Allianz in pre-season, or the one with a backline seemingly made of blancmange that conceded three against Watford last weekend? Would muscle memory kick-in for Palace as soon as they ran under the ‘This Is Anfield’ sign, or would they play the way the play against other top teams and simply roll over?

If the Philippe Coutinho saga was hanging over the team during out match against the Hornets then the spectre of Champions League qualification was heavy in the air for this game. A 2-0 win at Hoffenheim would have been preferable, but 2-1 is not a bad score at all in a European match. Yet Klopp will know that it all could have turned out so differently if the Bundesliga side had been more clinical. He will want to take no chances on Wednesday night, so he shuffled his deck for this match. That led to a slightly more disjointed performance than we might otherwise have witnessed, but the manager put faith in his squad to get the job done and they repaid him. It wasn’t pretty, but it was enough. Here’s my look art the major talking points.

Robertson Adds To Pride Of Youth

For a time last season it genuinely looked as though James Milner was the best left-back in the league. He was solid at the back and offered some experience going forward, meaning that many of us were surprised at just how accomplished the midfielder was in a position that he’d never played before. There were always limitations to his game, though, so no one was surprised when rumours emerged that a specialist left-back was high on Klopp’s list of priorities this summer. In fact, the only surprise was that Alberto Moreno wasn’t moved on the second the window opened, with the Spaniard having seemingly burnt all of his bridges with the manager thanks to being a brainless idiot.

Two starts in a row is suggestive of the fact that Moreno’s race might not be run just yet, however. My guess is that Klopp was hoping to have brought another midfielder in by now and the fact that he hasn’t’t been able to, alongside the injuries to Coutinho and Adam Lallana, means that Milner needs to return to the middle of the park and the manager trusts Moreno a modicum more than Andy Robertson for important matches. If that is the case then the German might well be considering his position on the matter after yesterday’s performance. The Scot looked accomplished in his performance, playing in three or four excellent crosses that we should have at least scored one from. Joel Matip has been particularly guilty of squandering good chances recently, adding weight to my theory that players have grown accustomed to poor crosses.

Putting in decent balls from wide areas aside, I was pleased to see Robertson also get involved with some nice little interchanges with the likes of Sadio Mané and James Milner as the match wore on. It demonstrates a game intelligence that we’ve been sorely lacking from the left-back spot for some time now and it leaves me hopeful that we’ve finally solved a problem position. He will face far sterner tests to the defensive side of his game than Crystal Palace, of course. That’s especially the case considering that the Eagles were without Wilfred Zaha who has caused our defence numerous problems over the last couple of years. Whatever else, though, it was a joy to see someone in the left side of our defence that neither looked as though he was running through treacle nor seemed as though he might at any moment be distracted by something shiny.

The former Hull player is still only young, so there’s a long way to go before we can start to think of him as a regular first-team player. It was a delight to see him looking so assured, however, and the combination of him and Trent Alexander-Arnold over the last two games has left me with a feeling that our fullbacks are sorted for the next few years. If you wanted to look on the negative side then you might say it’s a slight concern that our best player in each of our last two matches has been an eighteen-year-old and a twenty-three-year old, each of whom has been making their debut for is in that competition. I’m always very much of the opinion that my glass is half-full, though, so I’m going to say that it’s a solid reflection of Jürgen Klopp’s management that two malleable players have put in such solid displays.

Is Our Defence As Bad As We Think?

Sometimes, when I hear criticism of individual players or the squad as a whole, I wonder whether people honestly expect a football team to never put a foot wrong. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that our performance in the league against Watford last week was wholly acceptable. Yet no club in the history of sport has ever gone a full-season without conceding a goal. It simply doesn’t happen. Sometimes that is because the opposition side plays so well that they cut you open, whilst on other occasions it’s down to an individual error. Often, though, it’s little more than bad fortune. Against the Hornets last week you could say that we saw all three of those things in play, of course. Here’s a stat for you to mull over, though: we’ve kept five clean sheets in our last six games in the Premier League.

That’s right. This Liverpool team, that is ‘defensively terrible’ and ‘underperforms so badly’ at the back that there’s a large selection of fans who would happily see Mamadou Sakho return to the starting eleven despite his numerous indiscretions, has only conceded in one league game out of the last six. Is there, then, an argument that we’re not as bad at the back as some people seem to think? The system isn’t perfect, the personnel aren’t the best we’ve ever seen and we’re prone to our fair share of brain farts at the back, but you don’t keep five clean sheets in the top-flight without having at least a little bit of nouse about you. It’s also important to acknowledge that you don’t get the exciting, attacking football offered by Klopp’s side without offering up opportunities.

Jurgen Klopp watches over Christian Benteke in training

On another day Christian Benteke would have scored, having been on the end of a golden opportunity in the second-half. Still, the Reds generally managed to limit the number of chances Palace were given and restricted the attacking players to feeding on scraps. A big part of the improved performance at the back did seem to be the absence of Dejan Lovren. The Croat is nowhere near as bad as some supporters make out, but he’s at his best when he doesn’t need to think about anything except his own game. He’s never allowed to do that when Alberto Moreno plays, such is the Spaniard’s lack of consistency and tendency to lash dopy challenges or merely not deal with the simplest of balls.

Ragnar Klavan might not have impressed at times last season, yet the Estonian is actually part of the most stable partnership at the back that Klopp currently has available to him. He is a no-frills defender who works best with a partner who is willing to go ranging up the pitch as Joel Matip is wont to do from time to time. Again, the fact that Moreno didn’t play and a more dependable left-back allowed the left-sided centre-back to focus on what he needed to do and what he needed to do was deal with Benteke. As I said at the start of this segment, there’s no pretending that Liverpool’s defence doesn’t have a few dodgy moments. The stats suggest, however, that we’re nowhere near as bad as some people are determined to make out. If we sign van Dijk then we’ll be even stronger again.

Shaking Off The Negativity

There was a bloke behind me on the Kop who genuinely sounded like he might burst a blood vessel shouting abuse at Jordan Henderson. “Worst captain I’ve ever seen”, he said at one point. “Shouldn’t even be in the team”. This was after the England international had tried to play a pass but misunderstood where the player on the receiving end was going to be, so it went out. Never mind that he had played several sensational balls before that or continued to do so afterwards. He made one poor pass to the abuse rained down from the stands. There was a similar moment when half of Anfield seemed to be furious with him for not playing a really tricky pass, even though we were 1-0 up and there were only ten minutes left on the clock. Henderson was on the receiving end of negativity that seems to be building amongst all of our supporters.

Sometimes the negativity is less obvious than the moron on the Kop. It’s more subtle, merely a feeling or suggestion that Liverpool will ‘do a Liverpool’ and throw a game away. We all do it from time to time. It’s natural. Yet it’s not the sort of thing that teams that win regularly have to put up with from their supporters. Manchester United fans don’t look at Swansea away as a tricky fixture but rather one that they’ll win easily. Sometimes that attitude might backfire, but more often than not the team does what the supporters expect. We need to develop a similar attitude. Yes, Palace have won a few times at Anfield and they’re a difficult team to face, but they lost 3-0 on the opening day of the season as the players try to learn Frank de Boer’s system. Surely we can go into a game like that feeling some belief in our side to get the job done?

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