Liverpool earned their first three points of the Premier League season, with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace.
After an important win in midweek over Hoffenheim in the UEFA Champions League, Liverpool’s return to league action saw them face their first Anfield game of the season.
Manager Jürgen Klopp provided the day’s first talking points, making five changes to his starting line-up – possibly with the second leg of their European tie in mind – though there was little scoreline-influencing impact from both the five and the rest of his side, as the first half ended dull and goalless.
The second half saw Liverpool continue to be frustrated, as the Reds created the bulk of the chances, and yet still struggled to score, while their opponents growing more confident as time ticked on didn’t seem to make things any better.
However, things would get better in the 73rd minute, when Sadio Mané took advantage of a sloppy piece of defending from Palace to poke in the game’s sole goal.
It would give them an added boost of confidence, as Klopp’s side created a few more chances in the hopes of adding to their lead, though, it would end with that single goal, which saw Liverpool get off to a good start to life at Anfield.
Here are five things we learned from a sunny afternoon in Merseyside.
New boy Robertson off to a flying start
There was great concern from the Reds’ faithful when Liverpool’s first starting line-up of the season didn’t include summer signing Andy Robertson, Klopp instead going with the much-maligned figure of Alberto Moreno.
The £10 million buy from Hull City, however, finally got his chance ahead of the Spaniard as one of the five changes his manager made against Palace. If anybody wondered what all the fuss over him was about before then, he duly provided an answer.
In what was eventually a dull performance by his new side, Robertson was the brightest player on the pitch at Anfield, as he constantly flew down the left wing, supplying a quality bunch of crosses that you almost felt anybody failing to convert them deserved a silly slap on the head (eh Matip and Mané?).
The Scotsman was also vitally involved in Liverpool’s goal and could’ve put the icing on the cake by getting one of his own, had it not been for the hand of Palace ‘keeper Wayne Hennessy.
Robertson’s teammate James Milner also deserves a shout for playing the important role of covering for the fullback every time he drove forward, ensuring that Liverpool’s left-hand side looked more dangerous and less troubled.
However, all the plaudits will rightly go to Robertson, who was easily the side’s Man of the Match with a debut performance that would’ve earned him a new set of fans in the Kop.
The perfect match to start Solanke?
As impressive as Robertson’s delivery from the flanks was against Palace, it’s fair to say its overall picture was rather intriguing, as it exposed Liverpool’s alarming lack of a ‘fox in the box’ (to put it in cliché).
Add to that the fact the left-back had to consistently find himself in such a situation, as the Eagles expectedly sat tight and congested central areas – making it difficult for the home side to find attacking fluency – and you perhaps get the revelation that this was the perfect game for fellow new boy Dominic Solanke to feature in from the start.
The former Chelsea man is quite literally a stand-out.
In a Liverpool team largely consisting of short forward players, Solanke is one of the very few gifted with aerial prowess and based on the evidence of two of his three pre-season goals, could’ve converted at least one of the crosses his teammate so beautifully delivered.
Reds’ boss Klopp will understandably rely on the more experienced heads of Roberto Firmino and fit again Daniel Sturridge ahead of the 19-year-old, however, in games such as Saturday’s, where a central figure is needed, Klopp may have to seriously consider taking a gamble on Solanke (the kid may just be worth it!)
Gomez looks a solid option
It’s certainly very unfortunate that the word ‘option’ is now being used to describe a player who once looked a definite first team starter for Liverpool.
However, that is just the reality for defender Joe Gomez, whose Reds’ career has so far been made difficult by injury. Now though, the Englishman seems to be returning to his form of old after impressing with a strong performance against Palace.
You can never describe him without referring to strength, pace, composure or an ability to read the game and all these were on display on Saturday afternoon when he filled in as a right-back as part of a back four that looked largely untroubled by their opponents’ attacks.
When everyone is fit, Gomez probably takes a place on the bench at best, though he will certainly provide his boss with a solid defensive option, while he continues working on resurrecting his career.
Mané is on fire
Sadio Mané has taken on the figure of a player who is consistently making it difficult for fans and experts to keep his name out of their mouths.
Once again, the Senegalese has produced a match-winning performance for his side, that saw him score his second goal of the season. That goal was the sixth in his past eight Premier League appearances and for a player who was slandered for his inconsistency upon joining Liverpool, he certainly looks unstoppable.
Mané recently expressed his desire to achieve silverware with Liverpool and one can’t help but think that if he continues this hot form, that would be a possibility, however, having started all three of his side’s games this season, expect his manager to also be protective of him in leaving him out of a few matches for his protection.
Vital win sets Liverpool up for huge week at Anfield
As confident as Reds’ fans would’ve been towards their side winning this match against Palace, they would’ve also been wary of the toxic atmosphere that would’ve surrounded Anfield had their side failed to win on Saturday.
Thankfully, for their sake, Liverpool managed to grab the victory and it is one that sets them up nicely for what is set to be a huge week in their season – and it’s all happening at Anfield!
First, Klopp’s men face Hoffenheim in the second leg of their Champions League play-off on Wednesday (a game important to their short and long-term future in Europe) before clashing against rivals Arsenal on Sunday; a potential six-pointer in the race for top four places this season.
The Merseysiders will be demanding better performances than Saturday’s of themselves, however, and should they produce them, optimism levels at the club could be high yet again.