By Ritchie Slack (@Slack_9)Embed from Getty Images
The Premier League champions travel down to London once again where they meet a resilient and tough opponent in Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace. Selhurst Park has always been a difficult and challenging place to visit, especially with their fans always in full voice, a problem Liverpool won’t have to deal with this time around after Londo was put in to tier 3 last week. The only noise the Liverpool players will hear is Klopp’s booming vocals in their ears, although I’m not sure which they would prefer!
Liverpool and Palace have both played Tottenham in the past week, with Liverpool triumphing thanks to a last minute bullet header from Roberto Firmino, and Palace did well by gaining a draw in a well fought battle. Palace will have to be a lot less exposed this time out though if they are to get a similar/greater result against The Reds; if it was not for the superb efforts from goalkeeper Vincente Guaita, Spurs could have been out of sight by the half time whistle. Whilst Liverpool struggled to be more clinical against Spurs, often hitting the ball too cleanly at Lloris, you would expect there to be improvements in the final third this weekend.
Congratulations to Jurgen Klopp, who was named FIFA Coach of the Year for the second time running on Thursday. Klopp will be boosted by the news that the sensational Thiago Alcantara is in training, and even more so that James Milner and Xherdan Shaqiri will be joining the Spanish star in full training next week. For Liverpool it is as you were against Spurs on Wednesday; Virgil Van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Kostas Tsimikas and Diogo Jota are still out, but Joel Matip could feature against Palace after Rhys Williams did a spectacular job in the week against a Spurs side who have been free scoring this season. Williams has been assured and composed since his stint in the Liverpool team, and whilst he won’t want to give up his place in the heart of defence, Matip may be needed against the Palace front three.Embed from Getty Images
Crystal Palace though, are also struggling in terms of personnel, especially now that former Liverpool man Christian Benteke is suspended after his red card against West Ham. Benteke has found some form recently and I am sure Fabinho and his defensive partner will be glad not to have to encounter the powerful and perilous Benteke this weekend. Other former Reds in Mamadou Sakho and Martin Kelly could also be absent for The Eagles due to injury. Long term absentees Connor Wickham, Wayne Hennesey and Nathan Ferguson will not make the fixture.
The wily, wise and tactical master Roy Hodgson will certainly have a plan for the league leaders; the silky Wilfred Zaha will have to be watched closely, but that could prove an interesting and immense battle in itself. The balance of attack vs attack down the flanks between Palace and Liverpool, with Robertson and Trent Alexander Arnold bombing forward at any opportunity, Hodgson will have to trust both Zaha and Eze to be called upon for their defensive duties, as well as their attacking prowess. If they don’t cover and track the runs of TAA and Robertson, they could find themselves far too exposed on the flanks with Mo Salah and Sadio Mane ready to pounce on any afforded sniff at goal. Sadio Mane will face another ex-Red in Nathanial Clyne on the wing, who may know about his former teammates, but you would feel he needs to be at his best to stop the big red machine rolling over his new teammates.
Curtis Jones has been colossal since his emergence in the team at the back end of last season and the duration of the current campaign. His direct attitude and play has been wonderful to witness, his confidence on the ball grows greater with every game, his passing range is improving and he is showing that eye for goal he has always had since his academy days. Whilst Klopp will be buoyed by returning midfielders Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and soon to be Milner and Thiago, he will face a difficult decision to drop the Scouser from the midfield. Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum are both fit, and you would expect them to play alongside either Jones or Keita. A note on the Palace midfield, Jeffrey Schlupp had a notable game against Spurs last week, and he will need to be nullified in the middle of the park where his direct runs and creativity may prove a danger, but should captain fantastic Jordan Henderson keep an eye on him, that threat should be annulled.
Liverpool have not been as ruthless on the road as they are at fortress Anfield, picking up only one win their last six away games. The Reds will have to be far more alert than they were last time out against Fulham in the first half, Jordan Ayew, Zaha and Eze have the ability to punish them if not. Liverpool are the only team in the league to score in every game thus far, and Palace have failed to keep a clean sheet in 12 PL games since the opening weekend, a fact the Liverpool front men will be salivating at. Although Liverpool have only lost once game in this enigmatic season, Palace are robust and industrious at home, and five of their last six wins at home have come by a single goal margin.
I seem to write something about the Egyptian King, Mo Salah, every preview, purely through his outstanding records since joining Liverpool. To add another, Salah has scored 17 goals and has provided 9 assists in the month of December since joining Liverpool, in only 21 games!
Jurgen Klopp’s side have only lost one of their 13 most recent top-flight fixtures in London, winning eight and drawing four. Hodgson knows all about Liverpool, all too well. He has lost all six matches against the Merseyside club since he left in 2011. Liverpool will remain top of the league this weekend with a win, and with some key clashes at the top of the table in the other games, this could be the week where Liverpool extend their lead and begin to pull away from the pack. City, Chelsea, Spurs and Leicester all dropped points in the midweek games, giving Liverpool a three point cushion at the summit; to extend that further in this congested pile up of injuries and fixtures would really enhance Liverpool’s chances of securing a second title in as many years.
As omens go, Liverpool have won their last five games at Selhurst Park, are unbeaten against London clubs this season, and Sadio Mane (who is due a goal) has netted in each of his previous six games against Palace.
London is the hunting ground once again, where the Liverbird meets the Eagle, where Liverpool hope to remain at the top of the tree again this weekend and give the Liverpool faithful, something else to cheer about.
Up The Reds, YNWA.