Liverpool 1 – Crystal Palace 2: An Analysis

Going into the game with the knowledge that Chelsea and Manchester City had both dropped points over the course of the weekend should have been an inspiration to the Reds. A chance to move an incredible 9 points clear of last season’s champions and two points closer to this season’s champions elect was an opportunity they really shouldn’t have missed.

The only thing standing in the way of Jurgen Klopp’s men and their mini-revival since he arrived on Merseyside was the club’s modern day bogey team, Crystal Palace. Alan Pardew might be a bit of a prat, but he’s a grossly under-estimated manager who has got the Eagles playing good football, especially on the counter-attack. He took them into yesterday’s game with the knowledge that Liverpool’s legs would tire after their exploits in the Europa League during the week and he got them to execute their game plan perfectly.

Here we’re looking at some of the key talking points from the game at the weekend. As always we’re keen to hear from you, so if you think we’ve missed an obvious talking point or you’re not impressed with the ones we have gone for then do let us know. You can leave a comment below the article or you can send us a tweet, whatever’s easiest for you. We deliberately try not to repeat things in our blogs, though, so do have a look at our past articles too to see if we’ve already discussed some stuff there.

Lucas – The Phoenix From The Flames

Let’s start with one of the most positive positives, the performance of Lucas Leiva. The Brazilian has endured any number of set-backs during his Liverpool career; from arriving under Rafa Benitez and being the player on the pitch most closely associated with the Spaniard’s worst tactical traits through to getting to the point that Brendan Rodgers was going to release him, Lucas could have been forgiven for leaving Liverpool before now.

He hasn’t left, though, and instead has stuck at it and won over the majority of fans in the last couple of years. Admittedly there are still a fair few people who aren’t convinced that he’s a good defensive midfielder and they’ll always shake their head dismissively when he gives away a stupid free-kick on the edge of his own box. But generally speaking it is accepted by those who watch the Reds regularly that he’s got better and better over the years.

When the Brazilian midfielder fell to the floor during Liverpool’s match against Chelsea in 2011 it seemed like an innocuous moment that he’d soon get up from. It turned out, however, that he’d injured the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and would miss the rest of Liverpool’s season. When he did come back he didn’t look like the same player and always lacked an extra yard or so; no mean feat when you consider that he wasn’t the fastest player in the first place.

At the start of this season it seemed as if his time in Red was at an end, with Brendan Rodgers desperate to get him off the books in order to justify another purchase of his own. Lucas was all but ready to fly out to Galatasaray to sign for the Turkish club when an injury to Jordan Henderson caused Rodgers to re-think his plans.

Lucas warming up before the home games against Crystal Palace

Lucas warming up before the home games against Crystal Palace

From being on the verge of leaving Liverpool just four months ago to captaining the club in the Premier League this weekend is one hell of a comeback, even for a man with Lucas’s ability to bounce back from adversity. Ok he was only captain because Henderson and his vice-captain James Milner were both injured, but make no mistake: Lucas has earned that armband.

It’s easy to put an armband over your kit, of course, but quite another matter to play like a captain. One of Steven Gerrard’s best traits was the ability to grab games by the scruff of their neck and force players around him to up their game as a consequence. Given that he’s a defensive midfielder by trade and isn’t exactly a prolific goalscorer for the Reds, the Brazilian was hardly likely to influence the match quite like Stevie G used to do.

If he wasn’t a threat going forward, though, he was definitely an influential figure throughout the 90 minutes, tying with Jordan Ibe – another player who has found his fortunes revived under the new manager – for the man of the match award. Lucas was able to control the midfield, whip passes around the pitch, break up play and general be exceedingly influential as the game went on. He is an intelligent player who knows how to be in the right place at the right time in order to stop the opposition from getting too much of a foothold in the game.

It was telling that when Klopp decided to take off Emre Can and introduce Roberto Firmino he didn’t do too much to help Lucas out in the middle of the park. Instead he seemed to get the team into something like a 4-1-4-1 formation, with Lucas being the sole defensively-minded midfielder on the pitch. Equally as noteworthy is the fact that, despite getting more of the ball in the middle of the park when there was only Lucas there to control it, Palace’s goal came from a set-piece rather than open play.

Scorelines often taint your opinion of the match when you look back at it and perhaps we’re being unfair when we suggest that Lucas was the only positive to be taken from the game. Liverpool were actually excellent for vast periods of the match, with only their lack of defensive solidity and their inability to be more decisive and accurate in the final third letting them down.

Yet there can be no question that Lucas’s revival under Jurgen Klopp is one of the standout achievements of the season so far. He simultaneously looks younger and more sprightly than he did last year whilst also using his experience to help others in the team and looking genuinely statesmanlike. Lucas has bounced back many times before, yet here’s hoping this time he doesn’t drop down to a position that he needs to bounce back from.

Emre Can’t But Allen Key

There is plenty to admire about Emre Can, Liverpool’s German midfielder who has started 17 out of the 18 games that the Reds have played in all competitions so far this season. He is a young lad, for starters, with his physique causing some people to forget how youthful he actually is. Born on the 12th of January 1994, at 21 he’s only eighteen months older than Jordan Ibe, a player everyone is quick to demand time for because of his youth.

Can is capable of doing some sublime things in a game, from controlling the ball perfectly to executing an exquisite sliding tackle, he’s guaranteed to do at least one very impressive thing during every match he plays in. Yet he’s also prone to doing some truly ridiculous things, too. Run the ball out of play when no one is near him? Yep, he’s done that a fair few times. Pass the ball to an opposition player even though he’s under no pressure? He’ll do that at least once a game.

Emre Can In The Centre Circle v Rubin Kazan

Emre Can In The Centre Circle v Rubin Kazan

The German midfielder has talent and is a promising player, there’s no question about that. But, according to Opta, he’s already made 3 mistakes that have lead to goalscoring opportunities so far this season; the same amount of mistakes that most midfielders make over the course of an entire campaign.

Let’s not beat around the bush as far as last night is concerned, either. Emre Can was directly responsible for Crystal Palace’s opening goal. He essentially passed the ball straight to Yannick Bolasie, Liverpool’s bogus player in their bogus team. What he was thinking is absolutely anybody’s guess. Most sensible players in that position just put their boot through the ball and see if sail off into the distance, but Emre figured it would be better to gently control it in the hopes that someone else would get rid.

It was the worst of his misdemeanours, but by no means the only one he committed. Too many times he gave the ball away or was too slow to move it on to someone else, wanting too much time to think through his options before, inevitably, choosing the wrong one. He was sloppy in possession, slow on the counter and well of the pace in tracking back. It was genuinely surprising that he even emerged for the second half given how badly he’d played in the first 45 minutes.

Joe Allen, meanwhile, sat forlornly on the bench after what must have approached to being a man of the match performance in Russia during the week. Perhaps damned by association to the club’s former manager, the Welshman doesn’t get anywhere near the credit he deserves for his performances. He is not spectacular, of that there can be no doubt. But he is metronomic, keeping things ticking over in the middle of the park and allowing Liverpool to control games that they might otherwise be overrun in.

The question must be asked, then: why didn’t Allen replace Can when the German was substituted after an hour or so of play? Perhaps Klopp felt that Allen would be too tired after his performance against FC Rubin on Thursday night, though that seems unlikely given how many of the other starters from Russia Klopp kept in his XI. It is more likely that the former Borussia Dortmund manager wanted to go all out for the win and felt that Roberto Firmino would offer more of an attacking threat than the diminutive Allen.

Togetherness

Togetherness

Unfortunately, as poor as Can was, the removal of the midfielder meant that Lucas was sat in the middle of the park on his own and that Crystal Palace were able to turn us over relatively easily on the counter-attack. Had Klopp opted for Allen over Firmino we might have had a combination of solidity in the middle of the park as well as a good link between attack and defence.

For some Joe Allen will never be good enough for Liverpool Football Club in the same way that Brendan Rodgers will always be called a ‘fraud’. People often see what they want to see, whether that be the confirmation bias of Sakho being uncomfortable on the ball or Allen being too lightweight for Liverpool’s midfield.

Football is not binary, though, no matter how much people might want to make it so. Can is neither a disaster of a footballer nor the second coming. He is a young player learning his trade who, at just 21, has probably played too much football so far this season and could probably do with a rest. Equally Joe Allen is not a lightweight shirker in the same mould as Stewart Downing and nor is he a future captain of Liverpool. Both players can offer a lot moving forward, if only the crowd could see them for the players that they really are rather than seeing them through the prism of pre-judgement.

Brainless

We’ve covered the optimistic side of things with Lucas and the part negative part positive stuff with Allen and Can, so now let’s have a look at the out-right negative side of last night’s match. Too many times last night, in too many parts of the pitch and on too many occasions did Liverpool seem to be absolutely brainless.

There are plenty of times when it would be great if you could freeze-frame the match and ask the player what they thought the next phase of play would be after they’d played their ball. Christian Benteke is one of the best attackers in the league at holding the ball up and looking for a team-mate to play a pass to. Yet time and again certain players would smash the ball up to him as if that was a catch-all solution to the team’s problems.

When your sole striker is surrounded by four or five defenders and their aren’t any other members of your team anywhere near him, what good do you think is going to be achieved by hitting the ball long for him to do something with? What do you think is going to be the next phase of play?

Jurgen Klopp watches over Christian Benteke in training

Jurgen Klopp watches over Christian Benteke in training

There were also plenty of times when players tried to play a pass only to see it intercepted. Some might think that’s unlucky, but often it begged the question, if the pass had come off what were you hoping would happen next? There was no one in the place that the pass was going time and time again, so even if it hadn’t have been intercepted nothing good would have come from the movement.

Meanwhile in goal Simon Mignolet once again excelled himself. There was a moment when the Anfield crowd may well have torn him limb from limb if only they’d been able to get hold of him. He remains one of the best ‘keepers in the world at making it look like he’s trying to see a quick break whilst he’s actually doing the exact opposite. On three or four occasions there seemed to be a counter-attack on the cards only for the shot stopper to hold on to the ball for far too long and allow the opposition to re-gain their shape.

Whilst Mignolet could do nothing about the first goal it’s difficult not to think that he should have done much better with the second. Scott Dann’s first header might just have been too strong for the ‘keeper to hold on to, but it’s a big might. Why Mignolet decided the best course of action was to push it straight back on to the head of the Palace defender is another matter, however. It was yet another example of the brainless play that Liverpool seemed to excel in for the majority of the 90 minutes.

mooinblack / shutterstock.com

mooinblack / shutterstock.com

Mignolet isn’t the only brainless player, of course, with Can, Moreno and even Benteke being far from blameless. At some point questions must be asked about why players seem to be so reluctant to push centrally in the final third. Too often players looked to go wide instead of going through the middle, with Benteke alone having more than one chance to put a shot in on Wayne Hennessy’s goal only to try to find a pass that was never on.

Jurgen Klopp is keen to get his players to realise that they need to be ‘cooler’ when trying to find their way to goal, and a more relaxed approach to goalscoring seemed to be the key to both Coutinho and Benteke’s goals against Chelsea last week. There’s a difference between remaining cool and being dopey, though, and the Reds really need to master that difference if they harbour any genuine plans of competing at the right end of the table before the season is over.

Early Darters

We’re not going to say too much about the atmosphere because we’ve covered it before and we’ll doubtless discuss it again. How wonderful, though, that Jurgen Klopp came out after the match and called people on their decision to leave the ground early.

Streams of people headed for the exit when Scott Dann’s header hit the back of the net, despite the fact that there were 8 minutes plus stoppage time left of the game. That ended up being 12 minutes in total, with Liverpool only needing 6 minutes to score 3 goals in Istanbul.

The Kop in full flow

The Kop in full flow

Did the team ever look like scoring an equaliser? Not really, no. They could perhaps have played for another 21 minutes without scoring, never mind 12. Yet surely they would also have been more likely to hit the back of the net if people were keener to sing and shout and encourage the team than they were to beat the traffic away from the ground?

It’s a sad state of affairs that Liverpool fans feel the team is so unlikely to score than they may as well shoot off with time to go. It’s a sign, perhaps, of how the mentality at Anfield has so completely changed from how it was in 2013-2014 when it seemed as if the Reds could score 3 in the last 5 minutes.

Klopp stopped himself from going for an all out attack on Liverpool’s fans, suggesting that it’s the team’s job to make people feel like something can still be done even when time’s running out. The Anfield crowd needs a kick up the backside, though, with the ‘famous atmosphere’ of which people often speak now little more than a distant memory.

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