Sanjay Nair brings you Rousing the Kop’s match preview for Liverpool’s very, very important Premier League clash with Crystal Palace at Anfield.
All matches towards the closing stages of the English Premier League season have immense consequences for the teams involved, more so for those lying at opposite ends of the Premier League table.
Liverpool’s quest for Champions League qualification faces another stern test this weekend when they host in-form Crystal Palace at Anfield.
When the Reds visited Crystal Palace in October 2016, they were in the middle of a purple patch having won five out of their previous six games. The Eagles, on the other hand, were in free-fall and in the middle of a six-match losing streak.
That match, despite the contrast in form of both sides, was utterly chaotic with Liverpool eventually prevailing 4-2 thanks in large to the mesmerising Philippe Coutinho pulling the strings once again with his wonderful passing and setting up two goals. But the defensive frailties were there for all to see, both Palace goals coming from mishaps at the back.
The return game, however, should be a much closer encounter given the fact that Crystal Palace are a much better defensive unit now and Liverpool are without the chief architects of that early season form – Henderson, Lallana and Mané.
In fact, our captain made a match-high 65 passes that day, with 84.6% accuracy and was a commanding presence in midfield. Pace offered by Lallana and Mané would have been one of the biggest assets against Palace’s big men and will be sorely missed.
On a positive note, Coutinho has gradually worked back to his brilliant best and so has Roberto Firmino, who has provided back-to-back match winners in tough away encounters against Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion.
Emre Can is finally showing some consistency and much-needed steel at the heart of our midfield and Liverpool fans will hope for another good game from the young German.
Much will depend on how these three, together with Origi and Wijanldum can unlock a tight Palace backline which has been superbly marshalled by on-loan and out-of-favour Liverpool defender Mamadou Sakho. Fortunately for the Reds, he will miss the game due to the nature of the loan agreement between Crystal Palace and Liverpool.
A pacy start to proceedings without giving time for Palace to settle in would seem Liverpool’s best option to gain an early advantage.
Another former Red Christan Benteke, Palace’s leading scorer with 12 goals, will be out to give the shivers to our defence. The Eagles have an excellent support cast playing off him, with the likes of Cabaye, Puncheon, Townsend and the exciting Zaha all capable of taking full advantage of the mayhem Benteke’s physical presence creates in and around the 18-yard box can create.
We can expect another ‘direct’ style of approach from Big Sam who is a master at these tactics and has time and again motivated his teams during the end of the season when caught up in furious relegation battles. Five wins in seven games, with Chelsea away and Arsenal amongst those scalps is ample proof of how he has transformed this side of late.
Liverpool will still have to put in a tremendous shift at both ends of the park if we are to avoid this potential banana skin and not give Manchester United or Arsenal a sniff at snatching our Champions League spot.