Alexander-Arnold 23 Salah 44 Fabinho 55 Mane 69
CRYSTAL PALACE 0
BY SAM SMITH
If the performance by Crystal Palace in Saturday’s victory against Bournemouth was solid, structured and cohesive, then the one in this defeat against Liverpool was the complete opposite.
It seemed from very early on that this match arrived too soon after that energy-sapping display on the south coast. There were unusual defensive errors, a failure to even touch the ball in the Reds’ penalty area and a Wilfried Zaha injury as Palace quickly unravelled on Merseyside.
There will be periods during the closing stages of this Premier League season when Roy Hodgson’s small squad will be exposed with matches so close together squeezing every ounce of energy from each player. Christian Benteke missed out because of a muscle injury and it meant Palace lacked a focal point up front. Jordan Ayew played centrally and struggled against the imposing Virgil van Dijk.
Vicente Guaita was absent and was replaced by Wayne Hennessey. At times, the Welshman seemed nervous. There were lapses of concentration, although they were coupled with a few good saves. It perhaps did not help that this was his first time starting a game with centre-back pairing Gary Cahill and Mamadou Sakho.
The Frenchman had replaced Scott Dann to play alongside Cahill for just the fourth time.
This was their second 4-0 defeat when paired together – the other was against Tottenham Hotspur in September.
Luka Milivojevic’s ability to intercept possession in front of the back four was missed. For all James McCarthy’s running and strong tackling, the Irishman does not have the same impact on games as the Palace captain. The Serb only made the bench, having been withdrawn at Bournemouth, and played the final half an hour. Hodgson only named eight substitutes instead of the permitted nine.
Sakho almost gifted the ball to Roberto Firmino on the edge of his own penalty area inside 20 seconds – it set the tone for a performance that lacked impetus and composure.
Zaha limped off on 15 minutes to inflict a further blow for the Palace boss.
It was not long after that Trent Alexander-Arnold whipped a wonderful free-kick into the top corner of Hennessey’s goal. There can be questions over the large size of the Palace wall – and the goalkeeper’s positioning – but even without those conditions there was little the 33-year-old could have done to prevent the strike by the England right-back.
The caveat to this below-par, almost lackadaisical performance is that it was against the Premier League champions-elect. By the time you read this, Manchester City may have dropped points against Chelsea to present Liverpool a first league title in 30 years. They have blitzed the division and only once have they suffered defeat.
Players who visit Anfield speak of being suffocated by Jurgen Klopp’s side. The opposition are allowed little time on the ball and matches are largely played on Liverpool’s terms. They control possession and swarm so high up the pitch that it is difficult to spend any extended period in their half.
That was no different for Palace. No doubt Hodgson would have wanted his side to be frustrating but instead they made this too easy for the hosts. The early substitution of Zaha limited their ability to carry the ball into the attacking third.
It was not until the 42nd minute that Max Meyer was prompted forward and had the Eagles’ first shot, but his effort was well wide. Maybe a lack of confidence from the German – whose only league goal for the South Londoners was in this fixture last season – was the reason it seemed he wanted to pass right up until the moment when he had no option other than to shoot.
Two minutes later, Patrick van Aanholt had too easily allowed Mohamed Salah to take down a pass and score a second goal. From then, Liverpool cruised through the rest of the game.
Fabinho lashed in a third from 30 yards 10 minutes into the second half. Sadio Mane sprinted through on goal and calmly placed the ball beyond Hennessey soon after.
Other teams have visited Anfield this season and been pulled apart piece by piece – even second-placed Manchester City were eased aside.
But Palace’s form in the build up, and their strong performance against Bournemouth, provided a sense that they would offer Liverpool a tougher test than they did. However, that there is disappointment in such a defeat to the European and soon-to-be Premier League champions is evidence of just how successful this season has been for Hodgson’s side.
Crystal Palace (4-3-3): Hennessey 5, Ward 5, Cahill 5, Sakho 5, Van Aanholt 5, McArthur 5 (Riedewald 66, 5), McCarthy 4, Kouyate 5 (Milivojevic 66, 5), Townsend 4, Ayew 5 (Pierrick 84), Zaha (Meyer 15, 5). Not used: Henderson, Tavares, Dann, Mitchell.
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