Following their exploits in the EFL Cup on Tuesday against Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool return to Premier League action at their least favourite hunting ground, Selhurst Park.
They will face a Crystal Palace who have suffered back-to-back defeats against struggling sides in West Ham & Leicester – but the Eagles will be looking to cast that aside against a Liverpool side who have only won once in the Premiership at Selhurst Park.
The Reds’ only victory in the Premiership against them was in March, when Christian Benteke (then-Liverpool striker, now at Palace) converted a late but controversial penalty, that riled Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew.
But the hosts will face an uphill task if they want to defeat a Liverpool side unbeaten in 9 league games – which was extended to 10 when they deservedly defeated Tottenham 2-1 in the EFL Cup at Anfield. Tuesday’s game was no more than an exercise for Jürgen Klopp, who kept faith with a propitious crop of young players – a few even may have been staked a claim for a start against the Eagles.
So who should be given an opportunity against Crystal Palace on Sautrday evening? I’m going to start off with the key players.
James Milner. His replacement on Tuesday, the much-maligned Alberto Moreno, in fairness was a solid alternative for his compatriot. However, Milner has been functioning effectively as a left-back, can convert penalties & looks a threat with his crossing too.
Georginio Wijnaldum. Wijnaldum has been integral to the “Gegenpressing” philosophy that the Reds have adopted this season under Jurgen Klopp, and made a vital contribution to our 2-1 win against Spurs in midweek, assisting Sturridge with a perfect through-ball for Daniel’s second. He provides the balance & proficiency in being on the same wavelength as the game flow.
Jordan Henderson. Henderson provides good service for attackers, and always is a threat with his accurate & glossy passing. Silenced the English who jumped on the “We don’t want Henderson as captain” bandwagon.
Daniel Sturridge. I wasn’t a huge fan of Sturridge this season myself – having not scored a league goal this season. I even implied on Twitter that he isn’t a Klopp player, having struggled to win with the German manager. It was a debate that divided opinion, but then everyone’s views on Sturridge polarised for the good – the Englishman netted a brace to ensure Liverpool’s progress in the EFL Cup, and looked lively through. A start will give him a chance to open his league account for the season, as well as increasing his confidence further. He had more opportunities against Spurs, but couldn’t put them away. If he is less profligate on the day & starts, he is clearly trying to make a statement of intent.
Roberto Firmino. He hasn’t scored every game/regularly, but he is still a bright spark in the team – he’s made up for his lack of goals with assists. His vision for the first goal was superb, and if he starts, he & Henderson could be key to providing good balls for wingers such as Mane, Coutinho & attacking-minded players like Lallana.
Sadio Mané. Offers direct pace & threat on the right wing, and contributes a lot of goals. Expect him to give Ward a tough time.
What is needed?
Physicality & pace. The likes of Benteke pose problems with their pace & physicality in the box – Liverpool not need worry about that though, and Joel Matip’s height & physical prowess can eliminate Benteke’s ability to tower ahead of defenders for a header.
Pacey, sharp defending. They have skillful & fast defenders who can shoot past you in an instant – Wilfried Zaha & Andros Townsend are examples of those. Sharp defending is needed by Nathaniel Clyne & James Milner. The only thing that concerns me is Milner’s lack of pace which could allow Wilfried Zaha to be more potent attacking-wise on the left. Clyne is known for his awareness and composure as well as consistency.
Starting XI (4-3-3):
In case you can’t be arsed reading my reasoning for selection, the team is unchanged from the 2-1 win against West Brom last week, expect Wijnadum is coming in for Emre Can.
In goal, you have Loris Karius. He’s taken scrutiny from parts of the Liverpool fanbase following some jittery moments in the commencement to his Liverpool career. However, I believe he needs time – it’s easy for it to escape people’s mind that he’s a young keeper, and is adapting to a different backline to the one he was a part of in the Bundesliga. But it is worrying, in some aspects that he’s making identical mistakes.
The backline to stay unchanged from the one that beat West Brom last week in the league – Lovren & Joel Matip’s CB partnership has been billed as “outstanding” by manager Jurgen Klopp, and indeed it is. Matip’s physicality has proved key for Liverpool, especially against WBA last week.
The midfield is tweaked slightly, with Georginio Wijnaldum coming in for Emre Can, who was favoured in midfield. Wijnaldum is key for getting Liverpool’s midfield balance right, and he can read the well brilliantly to. His aptitude to break the game up is second to none.
The front three has little change – despite implying Sturridge may be a key player, in my team he will have to settle for a place on the bench. Firmino seems to be adapting seamlessly to the 4-3-3 system, but that doesn’t change the fact that I believe Sturridge is one of our, if not the best, finishers.
Sadio Mane, who bagged a fantastic goal last time out in the Premier League, continues on the right with Coutinho, who also scored a fine individual goal last weekend, on the left.
Substitutes to consist of the likes of Divock Origi, Simon Mignolet, Grujic & Sturridge.
Games like these may sound irrelevant, but they are actually big in their magnitude. It’s not because this is a “smaller team” and you need to be picking points up against this level of opposition, but it’s about exorcising the demons once and for all.
Liverpool did that for the first time in the league in March last season, but you can’t be a one hit wonder. The mark of champions’ menality is not letting physcological blows & the past get to you during occassions like this. Klopp, for example, after the Capital One Cup final defeat against Manchester City last season, said “‘You have to feel a defeat, you can’t say it wasn’t important because it was. If my press officer would allow me to say s***, I’d say s***. That’s normal, but only silly idiots stay on the floor and wait for the next defeat.”
Obviously you cannot underestimate certain defeats, but you have to pick yourself up – we did that last season. We need to start doing that again at Selhurst Park, to banish the idea that we can’t win often there, and also the idea it is a fortress.
Can we do that? I’m confident we can. We’re in sublime form, unbeaten in 9, in the league & we are the second highest scorers. Also, considering the fact that Palace have lost their last 2 against struggling opposition, we should be able to capitalise on their low confidence.
Oh, and Alan Pardew’s comparison of us being similar to the Rodgers era annoyed me – we need to show him we have more threat to offer than the one Rodgers’ side produced against Alan Pardew at Palace when we lost 3-1 at home in Gerrard’s emotional & final home game for us.
Prediction: Crystal Palace 1-3 Liverpool (Firmino (2) & Sturridge)
Written by Stephen Lindell