BY SAM SMITH
Usually, a thrashing as severe as Crystal Palace’s 7-0 defeat against Liverpool is the culmination of a series of negative events.
They are often part of a period of poor form in which such a heavy hammering has almost seemed inevitable. Easily avoidable goals are conceded with regularity. Squad morale will appear completely shattered.
There are rumours of player unrest and the manager is already scrambling to keep their job. Those facets come together to cause the team to unravel while the opposition – perhaps themselves in completely contrasting form – take advantage.
But what made the Eagles’ hammering on Saturday so unique is that none of those had occurred before Jurgen Klopp’s side arrived at Selhurst Park. At worst, given the Eagles’ form in the build-up, a narrow but battling defeat seemed likely.
It is what makes comparing the 7-0 to similar results so difficult. It is what makes predicting the response at Aston Villa tomorrow almost impossible. It is what makes the scoreline feel so utterly bizarre.
Had it directly followed November’s disappointing defeats against Burnley and Newcastle United then there would be a stronger inquest. Conclusions would be easier to draw. Blame would be easier to apportion.
Instead, it followed three matches without defeat. There had been seven goals during that run and the defence was typically resolute.
At no point had it seemed that this heavy defeat was about to happen. Perhaps it should cause concern that this Palace squad is capable of such a disastrous drop in performance, but them dwelling on it too much might have an adverse effect. This is the first time it has happened during Roy Hodgson’s reign.
Compare it to similar drubbings Palace have suffered in the past and there is no direct correlation.
Only a win against Bournemouth in the midweek prior had halted five straight defeats, and a longer run of eight matches without a win, before Sam Allardyce’s Palace were walloped 4-0 by Sunderland in 2017. Another reverse at Stoke followed before results finally improved.
A 5-0 loss at Manchester City later that campaign had come amid an injury crisis and was the end of three straight defeats – including a disappointing home beating by a Burnley side who had not won away.
Go back further to Ian Holloway’s tenure and there was a 4-0 defeat by Birmingham City in late March. That had followed a 3-0 loss at arch-rivals Brighton and a period of five games with only two wins. The Eagles would not win again until the final day of the season to confirm a play-off place.
Other big, devastating defeats follow a similar pattern. Saturday’s result was even compared to Southampton’s 9-0 thrashing by Leicester City in October 2019, but the Saints had won just two of their opening nine matches. They had started the campaign with a 3-0 defeat against Burnley and had been convincingly beaten by South Coast rivals Bournemouth.
There were signs that those negatives would finally unravel in one disastrous evening. That is incomparable to Liverpool’s win in South London.
The dilemma for Hodgson is how his side rid themselves of the anxiety and the overthinking that could be caused by such a heavy and unexpected defeat.
It is too nuanced a topic to suggest that the vast experience in the Palace squad will be enough to earn them a positive result against Aston Villa on Boxing Day.
“We have a lot of experience in the group but the problem is we don’t have players with those kind of experiences – to concede that many goals,” captain Luka Milivojevic concluded in the immediate aftermath on Saturday.
That quote is telling. This is new territory for most of Palace’s players. Now it is Hodgson’s job to ensure that confidence is not lost. After all, there were so many positives to take from the 5-1 win against West Brom and the two draws against West Ham and Tottenham Hotspur.
Although the Liverpool result was not the culmination of a series of negative events, the risk is that it might be the cause. A hangover from a bad game can be the start of form spiralling out of control.
Palace’s recent Premier League record at Villa Park is poor since promotion. They have won just once, drawn once and lost twice. Although those who believe in good omens will point to the fact that the solitary victory came on Boxing Day in 2014.
They will also be facing a confident, high-flying Villa side who have beaten rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers and West Brom in their previous three games.
A Palace defeat would not necessarily be intrinsically linked to the heavy loss last weekend. But it must be ensured that a far better performance is produced. Only then will onlookers believe that the effects of the Liverpool match have not caused long-term trouble.
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