Liverpool 1 – Crystal Palace 2: Match Review

Say what you want about Liverpool this season but one thing you can’t say is that they’ve been dull. Heading into the two games we had against Stoke and West Brom on the road, many of our supporters were fearing the worst. They were the sort of teams we’ve struggled against for years, especially when playing away from Anfield. If you’d offered Klopp six points from nine before a ball was kicked at the Bet365 Stadium and I reckon he’d have happily taken that. When we emerged from both matches with maximum points, the mood around the fanbase was as positive as it’s been since December.

What could possibly happen to spoil that mood? Crystal Palace definitely fit into the bracket of team that we’ve failed to deal with convincingly, but that’s mostly been a problem on the road. At home we’ve put those sides to the sword, with Swansea being the only ones to get anything out of us and even that came in the middle of a terrible run of form. Surely we’d be able to get another three points here on our way to Champions League qualification, putting all the pressure on Manchester United and Arsenal to win every single one of their games in hand? As I say, Liverpool are many things but they’re rarely dull…

Mediocre Players Cannot Be Relied Upon

One of the main arguments of Liverpool and FSG’s critics is that the squad isn’t strong enough. There’s an extent to which I agree, but I’d like to see how the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City look if you removed the number of first team players from their sides that we’ve been without for much of this season. To be clear, we’re currently lacking Danny Ings, Daniel Sturridge, Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana and Sadio Mané from either our starting eleven or the substitute’s bench.

Whatever you may personally think of some of those players, there’s little question that they would have played a part in games such as yesterday’s if they were fit. Henderson, Lallana and Mané are first team players and Sturridge and Ings are the sort of lads that can make a difference when called upon. When it was clear that Philippé Coutinho’s legs had gone around the hour mark, who could we turn to? Ings and Sturridge would have been the obvious options, yet instead we had Ben Woodburn and a seventeen-year-old Rhian Brewster. So yes, I accept that our squad looks thin right now, but if those five players had been fit then the bench and first-team are both improved markedly.

Photo-Works / Bigstock.com

Where I think we’ve got much bigger issues is in the mediocrity of our first-choice players in far too many positions. Dejan Lovren, for example, should not be one of our top two centre-backs. Unlike some I don’t believe that the former Southampton player is uniformly dreadful; he has the ability to play well for a quite a while. Yet the reason he’s playing for us and not a side like Chelsea is that he can’t do it consistently. You know that if you get four or five good matches from him then there’s a real chance that his head will inexplicably go in the fifth or sixth game. He was largely at fault for both goals yesterday and that’s not the first time in his Liverpool career that we’ve said that.

The real problem is that he’s not the only player you can say that about. Simon Mignolet is always a favourite topic of mine, though his recent resurgence means that any criticism of him is met by a chorus of ‘he’s looked much better this season’. Yes, he has. In the two games we had away from home he made points-winning saves and deservedly got plaudits for it. His positioning for Palace’s second goal, however, was abysmal. Benteke is practically able to nod into an empty net, such is Mignolet’s refusal to leave his near post. Mignolet has been better this season but we’re still on target to concede close to 50 goals for the fourth season running with him as our number 1.

mooinblack / shutterstock.com

Supporters say in one breath that we’re terrible at defending corners and set-pieces but then announce in their next that Mignolet has done enough to have another season. It amazes me that fans don’t realise that a goalkeeper has a huge job to do in marshalling his line, communicating with his players and being big for set-pieces and corners and that if we consistently concede from them then maybe the goalkeeper is something to do with that. He’s not helped by his backline, of course, and the combination of a mediocre goalkeeper with mediocre centre-backs is never likely to fill knowledgeable supporters with confidence when we go up against the likes of Crystal Palace. So I’m not for one second laying it all at Mignolet’s door, merely pointing out the folly of the latest trend of thinking we’ll be fine with him between the sticks next season.

Lucas Leiva isn’t a first-choice starter, so it’s not fair to go too heavy on him. He’s also played well recently and has been impressive at times when some expected him to be poor. What I would say, though, is that he’s just as guilty of having a lack of consistency as the likes of Lovren and Mignolet. He’s had too many injuries and is too slow to be relied upon to perform at the top of his game week-in, week-out. Divock Origi and Emre Can are both too young to hope they’ll play at the top of their game every time they play, too. The longer we continue to think that we can rely on players who are proven to be inconsistent, the longer we’ll be waiting for a trophy.

Lack Of Clinical Finishing Lets Us Down Once More

Much like in 2013-2014, Liverpool have scored more goals than any other team in the league. We’ve notched up two more than the next highest team in Tottenham Hotspur. The trouble, as it was three seasons ago, is that we’ve also conceded significantly more goals than any other team in the top seven. We’ve let in twenty more goals than Spurs, which is a remarkable number when you think about it. It’s fairly obvious, then, that the defence is to blame for our current situation, isn’t it? Well, yes and no. Obviously we’re not good enough at the back, but we’re also nowhere near clinical enough in attack either.

I can understand why some are wary of Liverpool bringing in a focal point striker this season considering just how good Firmino is when he plays through the middle, but matches like yesterday also show that when the team doesn’t function in an attacking sense then we lack the killer instinct to make teams fear us. For the opposition to have two more shots on target than us at home is really very poor. Yes Palace are excellent at defending deep under Sam Allardyce, but they also conceded three at Southampton and two against Leicester last week. They’re not exactly invulnerable at the back.

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

Meanwhile Christian Benteke does exactly what you’d expect Christian Benteke to do, especially against us. He’s not the sort of striker that would fit into our system, so I can see exactly why Jürgen Klopp decided to let him go in the summer, but he is the kind of player who can get himself up for games when he’s got a point to prove. In my pre-match betting tips piece I recommended that punters should go big on Benteke to score anytime, such was the predictability of our former number 9 getting his name on the scoresheet. Who do we have that you can so consistently imagine scoring against tricky teams?

On the one hand it’s entirely fair to point out that we’re the highest scoring team in the division, so we must be doing something right. Yet on the other you can point to game after game where we’ve had the lead but not put the game to bed by pressing our advantage. A killer striker helps you to do that and it would be folly not to be looking to strengthen in the final third this summer. We should be closer to 100 goals scored this season than the seventy we have got, such has been our domination in the majority of matches we’ve played. Instead we end up with what Arsene Wenger referred to once as ‘sterile domination’. Yesterday is the perfect example of that, with the Reds having 72% possession and fourteen shots, but getting just one of them on target.

Klopp

Champions need to be tight at the back and ruthless in the final-third. I’m just Jürgen Klopp is more than away of that, so I hope we make moves in the transfer market in the summer to take care of our issues at both ends of the pitch. Once again he allowed Roberto Firmino to be pushed wide yesterday in order to accommodate a Divock Origi who has looked far too toothless for the majority of the campaign. For me, that’s a mistake. Firmino is excellent when going through the middle and that’s how we get the best out of him in the current set-up, though that is mostly because Origi isn’t intelligent enough in his movement or pressing to help the Brazilian out by creating space for him. We need to bring in a forward this summer who is able to work alongside Firmino and Coutinho to cause teams like Palace plenty of headaches. Without that, we’re destined for another year of frustration in games that we dominate.

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