The Premier League is back after what feels like at least 4 years. As I wrote before the International break I hate international breaks. Friendlies do about as much for me as watching political shows do. Basically, I hate friendlies as much as I hate political talk, so finally we’re back baby. If you forgot which I can understand cause it was 8 years ago the last time out Liverpool had one of their best displays of the season when Mo Salah bagged 4 goals and a helper to lead Liverpool to a 5-0 win which vaulted them back into 3rd place. Liverpool is first up this weekend as they have the early Saturday kickoff as they travel to Crystal Palace. (NBCSN 7:30am est)
The Eagles are coming off an impressive 2-0 win over Huddersfield Town . The win got Palace out of the drop zone into 16th place, but only 2 points ahead of Southampton who currently holds first spot in the drop zone. I personally think Palace is much better than where they are in the standings and have more than enough talent to stay safe and in reality should be more like a mid-table squad than a squad who is fighting for their lives, but injuries have killed this team and is the main reason that Roy Hodgson’s squad finds themselves in this relegation battle. No doubt they will come out inspired in front of one of the better crowds in England and should be a tough test for Liverpool as they continue their quest for a top 4 finish as the start of a huge stretch as the Champions League quarterfinals against Manchester City begins on Wednesday.
But as I said injuries have been a problem for Palace all season and Saturday will be no different. At Thursday’s press conference Hodgson said that James Tomkins, Jeffrey Schlupp, and Alexander Sorloth are all out, while Wilfred Zaha look like he’s doubtful.
“Zaha hasn’t been training to any great extent as we’re nursing his knee problem that he has,” he told reporters.
“We will have a look at him tomorrow and hope the knee will be OK.
Zaha’s status will have a lot to say about how this game will go. They have not picked up a point this year in any of the games he’s missed. He’s started 21 of their 30 games, so you do the math. He returned to the lineup their last time out, but unfortunately for Palace he left injured in the 89th minute. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out he probably holds their keys not only this weekend but for survival. I’m not going to lie I hate to see anyone get hurt, but if he misses one more game I won’t cry over it.
For Liverpool the injury situation doesn’t look too bad. Joe Gomez who hurt his ankle playing for England looks like he’ll be a doubt for this one, but the other two injury concerns Dejan Lovren and Emre Can look like they could be good, but we should know more after Jurgen Klopp’s press conference tomorrow. Also, Nathaniel Clyne has taken part of training this week. He hasn’t played one second this season but in my mind would still have been first choice right back had he been healthy, so if Gomez is going to miss any amount of time it will be nice to have Clyne back at the very least for some depth.
The first meeting between Liverpool and Crystal Palace saw Liverpool come away with a 1-0 win on a Sadio Mane winner at Anfield back in August. It was the debut of Andrew Robertson who showed a signs of things to come with an impressive display on that day, in fact he was the Man of the Match. Other than that it was not a very memorable day. Liverpool dominated Palace outshooting them 23-4, but Palace left the Reds frustrated most of the day. In fact the game had that feeling that Liverpool was going to come away with a frustrating draw, but finally broke through with the Mane tally in the 72nd. It was never a game that I felt they were going to lose, but it was also a frustrating game at the same time.
I’ve talked about how Zaha is Palace’s best and most important player. But Zaha has missed so much time that he has only scored 4 goals this season. Luka Milivojevic leads Palace in goals with 8. Christian Benteke and Andros Towsend are tied for the team lead in assists with 5 a piece. But, Benteke’s season has to be considered a bit of a disappointment as he has only scored 2 goals in 23 starts. In his Premier League career which started in 2012-2013 with Aston Villa he has only scored single digits in a season one time which was his one season with Liverpool where he scored 9 in 29 appearances. A lot has been asked of him especially with Zaha being out and 2 goals from a man of his ability is just not going to cut. Towsend on the other hand has been a fairly consistent performer for them and is definitely a player to keep an eye on come Saturday.
They’re a pretty fun team to watch. As a neutral I usually enjoy watching them, they play a fairly fun attack style of football, which can also be looked at as part of their issues. Only 7 teams have allowed more goals than their 48 on the season and their 30 goals is good enough to be tied for 12th. In case you’re not good at math that is a -18 goal differential. Their -18 is 16th best in the league, which is exactly where they sit in the standings, but their xPTS has them as a bit better of a squad, it has them as the 8th best team in the league and this is more of what I think of them as a team when they’re totally healthy. If they were healthy this year and finished 8th I would not think of it as a surprise one bit.
I don’t have any real facts to back this up, but I always feel like the week after an international break is a tricky one. I always feel like weird results are very possible especially for teams that have a lot of players that are away with their national teams, which Liverpool is one of them. This is a very easy game for Liverpool to look past, for one it’s the first game back and sometimes it take a little bit to get your head back into things, but on top of that it is easy to start looking ahead what is going to be happening at Anfield midweek. It is going to be quite the scene. Palace is a desperate team, but also a quite capable team and going to Sellhurst Park makes this game a very tricky game. Last year Liverpool won 4-2 at Palace and won 2-1 the year before that. The last time Palace beat Liverpool at home was in during the 2014-2015 season when the Eagles beat Liverpool 3-1, but as any Red fan knows Palace has been a tricky opponent for Liverpool, as Palace has a 5-4-1 edge in their last 10 meetings. Simply Palace is one of those teams no matter what the standings say is always a tough opponent for Liverpool. One of the most heartbreaking days to be a Red fan in recent memory was when Liverpool blew a 3-0 lead in the last 10 minutes at Sellhurst park in 2013-2014 which is the game that for the most part cost Liverpool the title. I know people like to blame the Steven Gerrard slip against Chelsea but the last 10 minutes of that game is where the title was lost down the stretch in my mind. Had Liverpool got the 3 points on that day they could have played for a draw against Chelsea and who knows maybe the outcome would have been different.
I think this will be a real tricky one. The early start, the first game back, and Man City on Wednesday are all things that point to what will likely be a weird game. But Jurgen Klopp knows how important these 3 points are. With the brutal emotional stretch of Manchester City, Merseyside Derby, and 2nd leg of Manchester City following this one, it is important to grab these 3 points against a team in the relegation fight, sure they are much better than where they reside in the standings, but nonetheless they still aren’t in the same category Liverpool is and they need to take a business like approach to London and get the job done. With the likelihood of Zaha missing this game and no major players being out for Liverpool I do think they will get the job done. I may have a different feeling if Zaha was playing but without Zaha and their track record without him I think they go there and get a 3-1 win. It isn’t going to be easy and I have a weird feeling about this one, but I still think they get it done.
To use the old cliche… this is a trap game for Liverpool. With one eye on the Champions League game, this will be a challenge for Klopp to keep the game focused on the 90 minutes ahead. Crystal Palace need the points and they will be focused on getting at least one from this game. I see them sitting deep and hoping for a set piece or counter goal which worked well against Liverpool in the first game where it was a struggle for the Reds to open up the defense. This is a game where you have to trust Klopp in keeping the team focused and the red hot trio up front to get the job done.
Karius, TAA, Matip, VVD, Robertson, Henderso, Henderson, Milner, Oxlade Chamberlain, Mane, Firmino, Salah
Liverpool win 2-0