Jack Hallows previews the key battles likely to face Liverpool when they travel to Selhurst Park on Monday night to take on Crystal Palace.
I hate trips to Selhurst Park.
Not just because my cousin is a Crystal Palace fan but because in recent years it’s not been the happiest of hunting grounds for our boys in Red.
Admittedly, on the last three Premier League visits Jürgen Klopp has gone some way towards improving our record at the South London ground with a pair of 2-1 victories sandwiching an entertaining 4-2 in 2016/17.
That said, Palace are still a “bogey” side of sorts and the fact that they’re now managed by Roy Hodgson doesn’t aid my reservations ahead of a trip to Selhurst!
As with every good game of football, there’s a number of key little battles that will be crucial for the Reds to win if they’re to come out of the game with all three points.
Trent Alexander-Arnold VS Wilfried Zaha
Zaha comfortably won this one back when Liverpool last visited Selhurst back in March with the Ivorian’s pace and skill giving Trent nightmares.
The 90 minutes however, proved the catalyst for the 19-year old’s resurgence of sorts towards the back end of last season and the next time we saw him he looked a man on a mission, pocketing Leroy Sane in the Champions League quarter finals.
We won’t know until the day of course but it should be a rematch of epic proportions down the Reds right hand side on Monday night, with Palace likely to line up with a front three of Zaha on their left, Townsend on their right and big Benteke in the middle.
Alexander-Arnold will have to be careful one on one with the tricky winger but it’s going to be on second balls where he’ll face his biggest test.
Zaha’s movement in behind has improved tenfold over the last 12-18 months and his awareness to be on his bike every time a ball is lumped long towards Benteke has greatly aided Palace in scoring a number of their goals since Hodgson took charge.
The recovery pace of Gomez next to Trent could be a huge help for the 19-year old but if he can win the initial battle and keep Zaha isolated for much of the 90 minutes then Liverpool can be far less cautious when pushing forward.
Sadio Mané VS Aaron Wan-Bissaka
On the diagonally opposite side of the pitch, we have another quick, skilled winger VS a young, promising full-back.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka has become everyone’s go-to on Fantasy football over the last week after a clean sheet and assist performance against Fulham but Mané himself is in top form having opened his Premier League season with a brace against West Ham.
The double team of Andrew Robertson and Mané down the Reds’ left-hand side has been one of their most effective weapons over the last 9 months and 20 year old Wan-Bissaka is surely going to have his work cut out for him. Especially, if Andros Townsend is caught napping higher up the pitch.
If Mané can get inside his full-back and run at Palace’s centre halves then the Eagles could potentially have a torrid time of it and the addition of Naby Keïta – who looks to have a preference for drifting to the left in support of Mané – will only contribute further to that.
Liverpool’s front three VS Wayne Hennessey
An interesting feature of Crystal Palace’s 2-0 victory over Fulham was that the South Londoners didn’t start particularly brightly.
Welsh stopper Hennessey was forced into a number of saves throughout and while Palace kept a clean sheet, they allowed their London counterparts 15 shots at goal, with six finding the target.
It’s true that Liverpool’s attack are very infrequently short of scoring opportunities and that when they’re on form, putting four or five past opponents regularly is not out of the question.
With that said however, they’ll have to be on top form on Monday to make sure they put away the chances that do present themselves.
Despite boasting a ridiculous 91 goals in all competitions between them last season, one accusation that was thrown at the Reds’ attack was that at times they could be bizarrely wasteful with all three coming under fire at one point or another throughout the season.
It sounds strange to say but Salah and Mané in particular could probably have ended up with even more than their 64 combined last campaign had they shown a little more composure at times – especially earlier in the season.
3 goals from four efforts on goal between the two against West Ham last weekend was an encouraging showing though and Klopp will be hoping it continues on Monday night.