Liverpool-Crystal Palace the good, the bad, and the ugly
Timucin already did a game recap already so I’m just going to focus on the major aspects of the game.
Dealing with Route 1 football
Early in this game I was having flashbacks to the Manchester United game as Christian Benteke was playing the role of Romelu Lukaku and Wilfried Zaha was playing the role of Marcus Rashford, it’s a simple way to play, you play long to your target man striker, he wins the ball in the air and flicks it on to a speedy winger. This was the formula that Manchester United used for both goals and this was the same formula that Crystal Palace used for early success today against Liverpool. It led directly to the penalty drawn by Zaha and another great chance right before the penalty that it took a huge save from Loris Karius to keep Palace off the board. It’s obvious Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson watched that game or someone on his staff smarter than him (more likely scenario) scouted the game and pointed out to him that this was an area Liverpool has struggled with. So, why do you ask is Liverpool struggling in this area? It has a couple layers to it.
It starts with the long ball. In both of these games Lukaku and Benteke have been winning a fair share of these battles. In both games for whatever reason Liverpool has let the opposition dictate the match-up. Against Manchester United they sent Lukaku after Dejan Lovren and against Palace Benteke went after Joel Matip. I’m sure most Liverpool fans are wondering why Jurgen Klopp isn’t having Virgil van Dijk make sure he has matched up on the oppositions number 9. To be honest I’m asking the same question. This is becoming a recurring issue for Liverpool and something has to be done to fix it, there are other things that need to be done that I will address, but they have to do a better job winning the ball and it doesn’t make sense as to why your best Center Back and best player in the air isn’t in the middle of these battles. This can complicate things as it may force van Dijk to switch sides with whoever his partner is and maybe Klopp doesn’t want to add that confusion to things.
Another area that can help with this recurring issue is if your deepest midfielder who is always Jordan Henderson if he’s playing or Emre Can if Henderson is out that game is to drop deeper, park himself right in front of the target man to almost sandwich him between Henderson and the Center Back which will make it harder for the target man to win the ball.
The other issue Liverpool is having with this is Trent Alexander-Arnold is getting beaten regularly on these plays. Sure, Rashford and Zaha are outstanding players, but they are beating him with a straight run. I’m not sure what TAA’s issues are on these plays. I don’t think he’s judging the ball very well, but his anticipation has to be better he has to anticipate the flick on put himself in a better position to defend better one on one in these situations. I love TAA going forward and he has a great future with the Reds, but his lack of cover on these plays is more than enough reason to sit him down. It complicates things with Joe Gomez out and yes Nathaniel Clyne is back on the bench but I don’t necessarily trust him to go a full 90 right now, but if TAA doesn’t improve in this area they are going to have to try Clyne until Gomez comes back. I hate to say it but TAA is too much of a liability right now.
Good, Bad, and Ugly
Sadio Mane had quite the interesting day, he was involved in a lot to say the least. In the first half alone he was given a yellow for simulation, scored a goal that was correctly ruled offsides, and then was robbed of a goal from Crystal Palace goalie Wayne Hennessey.
The simulation call was interesting. I felt like it was a definite penalty, but Mane was his own worst nightmare on the play. Had he not thrown himself to the ground in a pathetic fashion he may have gotten the call, but by throwing himself down in the manner he did referee Neil Swabrick saw it as simulation. But the thing is he was fouled too. No doubt it was simulation but it was also a foul and Liverpool should have been rewarded a penalty. I almost wish that in football they did what they do in hockey. If a guy simulates but is fouled at the same time, it is a penalty but the player also receives a yellow at the same time. It’s almost necessary cause I don’t know if people realize but it can be a foul and simulation at the same time, just as not every time a player goes down but isn’t fouled it isn’t always simulation, sometimes a guy just loses his balance.
This just started his frustration then you add the offsides when he scored an equalizer and Hennessey robbing him I’m sure he was a frustrated lad and we all know Sadio can run hot sometimes and make poor decisions on the pitch that get him in a bit of hot water with the officials.
The day got better for him as he made a great run to get goal side on his defender as James Milner slid a perfect pass to him as he neatly tucked home the equalizer.
But after this his day would end early. He intentionally handed the ball which should have given him a second yellow and been sent off, but lucky for him Swabrick gave him a break. This would have been huge Liverpool would have been a man down with 20 minutes to go. This is the type of thing that can’t happen, Mane was lucky he wasn’t sent off. I love Mane, he’s a great player but he could use his head more at times, so he doesn’t put his team in a bad position.
Klopp was right to remove him after this. And you could tell by Klopp’s comments after the game that he was not pleased with Mane, it’s all said and done now we need Mane on Wednesday but he has to learn from this. On a good note Mane continues to look better with his play then he did earlier in the year. I thought he was real good today, but he needs to calm down a bit at times, I get it was a frustrating game at times for him and things weren’t always going his way, but you have to play through that stuff and not let it get to you.
Ugly (Well Ugly for Palace not Liverpool)
It’s been a pretty rough season for Benteke as he only has two goals on the season, he does have 5 assists and this game was a great example of what he provides for his team. He was great in the air, as I mentioned earlier he was terrific with flick on’s to Zaha, this is definitely a positive aspect of their attack, but he also showed how poor of a season he is having finishing. That’s obvious with 2 goals for a player of his ability. Within a minute of each other in the second half he had two excellent chances that he wasn’t able to convert. Liverpool probably feels like they deserved the 3 points, but if Benteke would have been on his game they may be singing a different tune after this.
Just when it was starting to look like Adam Lallana was regaining his form and was going to give Liverpool a solid option from midfield, a player that we don’t currently have in midfield, a player with skill, who can turn a game with his one on one ability he goes down with another injury. It appeared to be his hamstring and according to Klopp postgame that this looks like it is a significant injury. I wouldn’t be shocked if we didn’t see Lallana the rest of this season and to be honest I wouldn’t be shocked if we didn’t see Lallana in a Liverpool shirt ever again. It’s a real shame I think he could have given this team something down the stretch, and it also may hurt his chances to going to Russia to represent England in this summer’s World Cup. I’ve always liked Lallana, but this is rough and this is a season he’s going to want to forget and hope he can find some health heading into next season wherever he is playing.
Klopp’s tactics going to a 3-1-4-2
Klopp’s first move was to take Mane out and bring Lallana in I think mostly because he knew he had to get Mane out before he got himself sent off as I mentioned earlier, but as I just mentioned Lallana only lasted a couple minutes before his hamstring went. From there Klopp brough in Lovren for Lallana and went to what looked to me like a 3-1-4-2. I’m not sure if he made this change because he didn’t like his options on the bench or he did it for tactical reasons. But either way this was a brilliant move. Going to 3 in the back gave them protection against the long ball, they were in a much better position to handle Benteke on long balls and deal with Zaha running behind him. It gave TAA much needed with Zaha as we talked about he wasn’t dealing with him., moved Salah more to the center of the attack, and allowed Liverpool to play more on the counter. This took away Crystal Palace’s biggest threat. It also put Robertson and TAA as wing backs and allowed them both to get farther up the pitch and they both were terrific going forward in the late stages of the game, especially Robertson (more on him in a second) who assisted on Mo Salah’s 84th minute winner.
At this stage I feel like a broken record singing praises to Roberston. I can’t think of him having a bad game since he’s taken the left back spot. He is always bombing up and down the left side, providing width and crosses for the attack and getting back and being solid defensively. He was my man of the match in this game. He controlled his part of the pitch, he was constantly a threat on the attack and finally all his worked paid off when his one time volley cross to Mo Salah who calmly settled it to give the Reds the lead and the winner. Like I said I feel like a broken record. The price Robertson was sold to Liverpool for and for his performance is absolutely insane, he looks like he is going to be looked at as a steal for years to come and a mainstay as the Reds look to climb to greater heights.
Salah was the hero on the day again. Just like with Robertson I feel like a broken record talking so much about him. It’s like every game he does something spectacular. No Red has had a better season since Suarez in 2013-2014. Ian wrote something great about that if you want to go back and read. On the season he has 29 goals now in league and 37 in all competitions. He’s likely going to win the golden boot, should win player of the year in England, and may finish Europe with the most goals in all competitions for the 2017-2018 season. Not bad for a new signing. No one expected this in their wildest dreams. This goal today was one of his biggest. This looked like it was going end in a draw, but he somehow was able to get the perfect settle to bring down Robertson’s cross and calmly deposit it in the back of the net giving the Reds a huge 3 points.
Today was by far one of his best ball stopping days as the Liverpool backstop. He made a huge save on Zaha in the first half and made another diving stop in the second. Those were the only 2 saves he had to make but those were two huge saves that show his improvement from where he was when he first took the shirt from Simon Mignolet. I don’t think those are saves he makes earlier this season. We are watching him grow, improve, and gain confidence each and every game. I’ll admit i was wrong on this one. I really didn’t see him as an upgrade from Mignolet, but I was wrong and I’m glad I’m wrong. With Liverpool having other needs this summer, maybe forking out the money for Allison isn’t the right play at his point with how well Karius has played.
This wasn’t easy, you can argue if it was deserved or not, but it was huge and exhilarating. Winning games like this put you on a much more emotional high than crushing Watford 5-0 and honestly wins like this resonate through the squad much more than blowouts do as well. This didn’t feel like a win all game. I think most of us knew this would be a grind, it always is when we go to Sellhurst Park, so to come away with the 3 points in the dramatic fashion they did is a great feeling and hugely significant and important win when it comes to finishing in the top 4. Now we can relax for a couple days, enjoy Chelsea/Spurs and hope for a draw and get ready for the big night Wednesday night as Manchester City comes to Anfield for the quarterfinals of the Champions League.