How many times are they going to put us through this? I am so grateful for the heart and intensity that this team shows on a weekly basis, but it would be awesome to just put a few games away early. At this point, I can’t tell whether we are playing down to their level, or these teams are playing up to ours. I personally think it’s somewhere in between the two along with fatigue and injury. I planned on doing part of the article discussing where I was right and where I was wrong from the Pregame Warmup, but I don’t think I was right about anything except predicting the Reds to leave London with 3 points.
Crystal Palace looked very good all around. They defended up the middle as expected and Millojevic played very well on both sides. Where I was dead wrong was in the play of their left side of the field. I figured Trent to have a field day getting forward, but Zaha would have none of it. He kept Trent on his heels all day. This left Van Aanholt free to help out on their left flank. Given his recent form I did not expect Zaha to put in the effort he did on Saturday. Luckily, Klopp has the boys prepared for such an occasion. Just like against City when Trent was held back by the threat of Sterling, he would look for the switch to Robbo with acres of space. For the better part of the first half, Virgil and Lovren couldn’t get a pass forward without losing possession. Their midfield 5 held a very compact line that was mixed with selective pressing that really gave our lads trouble early on. It wasn’t until later in the first half and early in the second that our midfield 3 could find any space behind them. Eventually, the Reds began to breakthrough Hodgson’s 4-5-1. I thought Crystal Palace put on a defensive clinic for most of the match, but against the European Champions, every mistake can lead to a goal.
Offensively, I thought Palace were very sharp and I guess crisp would be the best way I could describe it. They used some quick short passing to break our press. They broke it with regularity and were able to actually come out with 40% possession on the day. They also managed to outshoot the mighty Reds with 16 shots to our 12, and 6 on target to our 4. The biggest difference in the match came down to who took their chances better. Both sides missed what are usually easy goals, but Palace missed one too many. This was most certainly a head-scratcher from a statistical point of view. Liverpool did not manage to assert dominance in the usual fashion. Crystal Palace kept the game scrappy and at their level of play.
While Zaha finally came alive this season, I believe the difference-maker on the day (for Palace) was *cough* Benteke *cough*. When he was subbed on I thought Hodgson had finally lost it. I mean I was actually happy with the sub. Then he damn near plants an overhead kick into the back of the net as soon as he steps on the pitch. Then he makes a brilliant pass to Townsend to set up Zaha’s goal. In the last few corners of the match, he provided his team an extra threat in the air as well. He most definitely made the end of the match uncomfortable for all of us watching. Zaha had one of his best games of the season netting his first goal, but his howler at in the 91st minute was a critical mistake. I won’t say that it cost them the match because Ayew found himself in front of the goal with ball on multiple occasions and could not hit the broad side of a barn. I will also commend Townsend for having a very solid performance.
For Liverpool, it was hard to really pick out a difference-maker. Virgil was as usual, a titan in the back. He also completed 92.9% of his 70 passes. Mane was a threat all day making run after run and eventually scoring. Trent had his hands full defensively and still managed 4 key passes and 18 crosses on the day. However, most of those crosses were from much deeper than usual, and few of those switches were intercepted prompting counter attacks. Henderson put in another blue-collar captain’s performance and threaded one beautiful through to Mane which ended in a missed attempt. Fabinho had another strong performance breaking up play, and played one absolute beauty of a long ball that Mane was not able to control. He did earn his dreaded 5th yellow and a mandatory rest day against Brighton. For me, Firmino was ultimately our guy. In the false 9, he made 28 passes and completed a staggering 92.9% of them. Given his forward position against a very disciplined and stingy Crystal Palace defense, I thought his passing was crucial to their success. He also took 4 shots, scoring on 1 of them. While I wouldn’t disagree with most people’s MOTM choices being Mane or Virgil, I believe Bobby quietly held the offense together.
In the end, Lovren put on a great performance for VAR, Zaha choked, my blood pressure is through the roof, and Liverpool are still top of the league! See you all for the pregame against Napoli! YNWA.