Saturday evening saw Crystal Palace host Liverpool, a fixture that has often entertained in recent seasons.
This would prove to be no different, particularly during a baffling half an hour during the first period, but the match would eventually see Jurgen Klopp’s side run out victorious and remain joint-top of the Premier League.
Club captain, Scott Dann returned to the side having missed the last four league matches through injury. Summer signing, Andros Townsend, was dropped with Lee Chung-yong replacing the former Tottenham and Newcastle winger.
For Liverpool, Alberto Moreno made his first league start since the opening game of the season in the absence of the unwell James Milner. Emre Can held on to his place in the starting 11 despite Georginio Wijnaldum making a full-recovery from the injury he sustained during the last international break.
And despite two goals in the midweek League Cup tie against Spurs, Daniel Sturridge had to settle for a place on the bench alongside fellow forward, Divock Origi.
Calm before the chaos
For the first 15 minutes there was little to report. Liverpool had the majority of possession but were unable to breakthrough a fairly organised Palace side who themselves had offered nothing in attack.
Then Can scored following some neat build-up play by Philippe Coutinho and Moreno down the left-hand side. Coutinho had tucked inside as he often prefers, before clipping a pass for the attack-minded Moreno to run onto. The full-back found Can with a first-time ball and the German midfielder slotted home via a slight deflection.
But that goal didn’t just open the scoring, it opened the game, as it triggered half an hour of madness that could rival any soap opera.
Just two-minutes after taking the lead, Liverpool, specifically Dejan Lovren, relinquished their advantage. Lovren’s miskick inadvertently teed up James McArthur for a header as Loris Karius was left stranded. The Reds’ keeper has come in for some impatient criticism since his summer arrival but he should have raised his arms as he tried to literally save his teammate’s blushes.
A few minutes later, Lovren showed his character when he rectified his mistake with his second goal of the season. His header from a Coutinho corner went between Steve Mandada’s legs as the Croatian defender outmuscled Dann six-yards from goal.
Moments after, Coutinho and Moreno combined again down the left, resulting in the latter smashing the outside of the post with a strike from the angle.
With a little over half an hour played, Crystal Palace levelled for the second time through yet another McArthur header. This time, Lovren was first beaten by former Liverpool player, Christian Benteke, before Wilfried Zaha picked out McArthur who pipped Lovren to the ball.
It was Palace’s first two attempts on goal and Liverpool’s control of the game was being undermined by some frailties in defence.
Much has been made about Liverpool’s backline but as a team they’ve defended very well. In fact, they’ve conceded the fewest number of shots per game this season with an average of 7.8. Of course, the high press has an impact on that with many opponents pegged back in their own half, not to mention the performances of ‘holding’ midfielder Jordan Henderson.
During the game at Selhurst Park, Liverpool’s captain won eight tackles, more than any Liverpool player in any league game this season. He also sits joint-second in the league for number of tackles with Leicester’s Danny Drinkwater, trailing Everton’s Idrissa Gueye by one.
The away side managed to take the lead for a third time a couple of minutes before the break. It was the other Liverpool centre-back, Joel Matip, who benefitted from further abject defending on corners. Alan Pardew, along with most football fans, thought that his side might be able to cause the opposition some trouble from set-pieces given Liverpool’s record this season, but it turned out to be Crystal Palace’s undoing instead. Matip lost his marker, James Tomkins, and was able to bullet his header past Mandada without a challenge in sight.
With such poor defending on display, it’s no surprise that these sides have managed just a solitary clean sheet combined (Liverpool against Man Utd).
Can and Coutinho
In terms of individual performances, Can and Coutinho stood out for different reasons. The former has more pressure this season with the arrival of Wijnaldum, who had kept Can out of the side until his recent injury. But the ex-Bayer Leverkusen midfielder has staked his claim and appears to be getting stronger with each passing match.
Against Palace, Can finished top for ball recoveries (14, six more than second place), second for attacking aerial duels (three, albeit a long way off Benteke’s 11) and fourth for both passes (48 from 62) and attempts at goal (two). The 22-year-old now needs to try and introduce more goals to his game having only scored four since his arrival in 2014.
Coutinho, meanwhile, has really started to consistently dictate games. Before, the little magician would show flashes of brilliance or go on runs of form, but now he’s providing a constant threat and has already racked up four goals and four assists in the league.
During this fixture, Coutinho finished top for chances created (four) and attacking third passes (23 from 30). He was joint-second for take ons (three) and fourth for tackles (four from eight). One area he does need to improve on is his shot conversion, with the Brazilian often guilty of taking a few too many shots from distance, although they are spectacular when they go in. Only Sergio Aguero and Zlatan Ibrahimovic average more shots per game this season.
It wasn’t just Coutinho who was guilty of missing opportunities. Sadio Mane should have scored at least one of his two very good chances, particularly his first-half effort that went over the bar after some great awareness and composure by Nathaniel Clyne.
One player who didn’t squander his clear chance was Roberto Firmino. The versatile-forward provided a delightful dink finish to Henderson’s well-weighted through ball to all but seal victory with 20-minutes remaining.
Crystal Palace on the other hand created only one clear chance which fell to Benteke who side-footed straight at Karius.
All the talk before the game was the Belgian’s aerial prowess against Liverpool’s vulnerable keeper and defence but it was The Reds who actually attempted and succeeded with more crosses – five from 17 against three from 15. With this in mind, it made less sense that Townsend – who is seventh in the league for average number of crosses per game – was left on the sidelines until the 66th minute. Jason Puncheon’s restricted involvement of just 15 or so minutes due to injury was also a hinderance given he ranks third in the league for crosses.
Clearly both sides have to sharpen up defensively, but it would seem that’s an easier task for Liverpool given how few chances they concede and the first goal in particular being a bit of a freak incident.
Pardew needs to find a balance to his side that will allow both Zaha and Townsend to excel. He mentioned during his post-match interview that Townsend wants to play on the right but Zaha is difficult to displace given how well he’s currently playing there. Perhaps a few position swaps during the game would solve that issue? He’ll also hope for some consistent performances over their next few fixtures which include Burnley (a), Man City (h) and Swansea (a).
Liverpool continue to impress with their entertaining brand of football – hence why they’ve regularly featured on this blog. The Reds are top for average number of shots on target and only second to Tottenham for shots per game. And despite the impression that they’re a counter-attacking side – they are, just further up the field then is commonly associated – only Per Guardiola’s Man City have averaged more possession.
Klopp’s side face Watford (h), Southampton (a) and Sunderland (h) over the next several weeks which could conceivably see them extend their unbeaten run, which currently stands at 11. Maintaining this momentum and energy could be more important than niggling defensive issues as the season progresses.
EPL Results (Gameweek 10):
Sunderland 1-4 Arsenal
Man Utd 0-0 Burnley
Middlesbrough 2-0 Bournemouth
Tottenham 1-1 Leicester
Watford 1-0 Hull
West Brom 0-4 Man City
Crystal Palace 2-4 Liverpool
Everton 2-0 West Ham
Southampton 0-2 Chelsea
Stoke 3-1 Swansea