Scott Groom discusses team news, potential lineups and key battles as Liverpool gear up to face Crystal Palace at Anfield.
Liverpool welcome former manager Roy Hodgson and his Crystal Palace side to Anfield on Saturday in what is another game that the Reds can ill-afford to lose.
Jürgen Klopp’s side shook off any potential hangover after suffering back-to-back defeats at the hands of title rivals Manchester City in the Premier League, before being dumped out of the FA Cup in a 2-1 defeat to Wolves, with a 1-0 victory over Brighton last weekend to see them remain as league leaders.
Manchester City ensured Liverpool only retained a four point cushion at the top, as they dispatched Wolves with a 3-0 victory, so the Crystal Palace game is once more a fixture in which anything less than three points for Liverpool is simply not good enough.
On paper, it is a match that the Reds are heavy favourites to win. Liverpool’s unbeaten league run at Anfield now stretches back to 23 April, 2017 (when they actually lost 2-1 against Palace) on and they have only lost once all season, conceding only 10 goals in the process.
Palace, on the other hand, find themselves languishing dangerously close to the relegation zone having won only two of their last five league games. They have also only won four of their away fixtures this season – although one of those was at The Etihad.
While Palace have proved a bit of bogey side in recent times for the Reds, that 3-3 draw in the 2013/14 season and their 1-3 win in Steven Gerrard’s last game at Anfield spring to mind immediately, Liverpool will undoubtedly be looking to avoid any similar slip ups this weekend to ensure they stay in the driving seat in the title race.
The fact that Liverpool’s defence has been so solid all season will not give Palace much hope, although injuries may once again force Klopp into one or two changes, combined with the fact that they’ve now scored 50 league goals will also add to the belief that the Reds will come away with a win.
However, Liverpool’s attack will need to be on top of its game as well, as Palace boast the joint-fifth-best defensive record in the league in terms of goals conceded, having shipped only 28 goals so far. This may also be tested considering that Hodgson has a goalkeeping crisis on his hands and may be forced to play 39-year-old Julian Speroni or, if his loan deal from Sao Paulo goes through in time, debutant Lucas Perri.
Liverpool find themselves short on defenders at present, with Joe Gomez not expected back until next week, and Trent Alexander-Arnold now out for around four weeks with a knee ligament injury.
After Nathaniel Clyne was allowed to leave on loan, Klopp now has no traditional right-backs fit for this game aside from teenager Rafa Camacho, who only made his senior debut the FA Cup loss at Wolves recently.
In better news, Joël Matip was on the bench at the Amex last weekend and is expected to partner Virgil van Dijk at the heart of Liverpool’s defence.
The question then remains as to whether it will be James Milner or Fabinho who deputises at right back. Fabinho has played there on a number of occasions for Brazil, but Klopp may prefer to use Milner there given his stint at left back a few seasons ago.
This would also free up Fabinho to play in the middle, as Gini Wijnaldum remains a doubt with a knee problem sustained against Brighton. The rest of the midfield is up for debate; will it be Henderson, Shaqiri or Keita that misses out?
The front three, as always, picks itself.
Predicted Liverpool line-up: Alisson, Milner, Matip, van Dijk, Robertson, Fabinho, Henderson, Shaqiri, Salah, Mané, Firmino
Predicted Crystal Palace line-up: Speroni, Wan-Bissaka, Tomkins, Sakho, van Aanholt, Kouyaté, Milivojevic, McArthur, Townsend, J. Ayew, Zaha
- Andrew Robertson vs Wilfried Zaha
Without a shadow of doubt, Wilfried Zaha is Crystal Palace’s main threat. The Ivorian is a dangerous, tricky forward who is capable of producing match-winning moments out of nothing – and Andy Robertson will have to keep his wits about him to ensure he keeps him quiet.
Such is the threat posed by Zaha, it could see Robertson be more reserved in his marauding runs forward, but if the game is going Liverpool’s way and sees Palace camped in their own half, it will be the other way around.
Likewise, if Zaha isn’t disciplined in his defensive duties, Robertson could cause Palace some big problems down their right flank.
- Fabinho vs Luka Milivojevic
As I’ve predicted, I think Fabinho will be used in his preferred central midfield role on Saturday, meaning that he’ll be expected to dictate play and disrupt Palace’s rhythm with his trademark tackling and interceptions. Milivojevic will look to do the same for Palace, so the battle will be an intriguing one.
If Milivojevic allows Fabinho space and time, Fabinho will begin to pick passes and drive at Palace’s defence, encouraging Salah, Mané and Firmino to make their clever runs in behind and potentially causing all manner of issues.
- Roberto Firmino vs Mamadou Sakho
This is a battle that I can only see going in Firmino’s favour, as the rashness and unpredictability of Sakho (which is well known by Liverpool fans) doesn’t match against Firmino’s guile, creativity and quick feet.
We all know that Firmino operates best centrally to feed into the runs of Mané and Salah, so will looking to be running right at Sakho, causing the Frenchman a problem: does he go out to shut him down or hold tight and hope to dispossess him as he gets closer to his goal?
It’ll be an interesting one depending on how deep Firmino continues to drop as he can do, but he’ll certainly be keeping Sakho on his toes. I can, actually, see him running him ragged all afternoon.
The Red Machine of Liverpool I would expect will continue to roll on this weekend, brushing Palace aside with the pragmatism that we have become very accustomed to seeing this season. It may not be spectacular to watch at times, as Hodgson’s side will dig their heels in and sit tight, but I fully expect Liverpool to come away with three points.
Prediction: Liverpool 2 – 0 Crystal Palace