Liverpool host newly-promoted Crystal Palace on Saturday afternoon. Predictably, the reds are clear favourites to secure three points, although you might be surprised to hear the Londoners have won three of the last four meetings between the two sides. The pair’s last clash came in October 2005, when Palace won two-one in the League Cup at Selhurst Park. An equalising goal from Steven Gerrard proved academic that day.
Since that game, almost eight years ago exactly, there has been a whirlwind of change at Anfield; Staff and owners have come and gone as the reds have yearned desperately for a winning formula. But one person has remained present: our leader, Steven Gerrard. Stuck on 98 Premier League goals, and without finding the net in open play since February, the 33-year-old will be desperate to add to his tally. I wouldn’t bet against him doing it at the weekend.
As for the reds’ team as a whole, manager Brendan Rodgers will be eager to improve their fluency on the pitch. Averaging 50.2% possession may seem okay for any average side, but not one led by the Northern Irishman. Liverpool’s pass success is also down at 81.2%: the reds’ are ranked 10th in the league for both statistics I mentioned. As a result of their lack of ball retention, Liverpool have subsequently conceded 15.3 shots per game in the Premier League this season: the third worst record of all 20 teams and more than their opponents this weekend, Crystal Palace. I’d expect the home side to pick up in this area on Saturday, and also as key players like Philippe Coutinho and Glen Johnson return from injury.
It’s not all doom and gloom for the reds though – far from it; we of course sit second in the league, having won four of our first six matches. It’s safe to say, results have been better than performances, which in fact, makes a refreshing change from our profligate nature in recent seasons.
Despite selecting the same eleven for the last two games, Brendan Rodgers will be forced into a change of personnel against Palace; after incredibly amassing five yellow cards in just seven domestic games at the start of the season, Lucas Leiva finds himself lumbered with the undesirable tag of being the first player in the league to be handed a one-match ban for an accumulation of bookings. Subsequently, Liverpool will field a different partnership in central midfield for the first time in the league this season. The enforced change is one which fans have been crying out for Brendan Rodgers to make voluntarily for a while now, to give the reds more energy in the middle of the park, and I happen to a agree. Hopefully the obligatory change at the weekend will open the manager’s eyes and supply him with the same belief.
Ian Holloway’s Crystal Palace travel to Anfield having failed to score a Premier League goal in 270 minutes of football. Their only win this season came against bottom-of-the-table Sunderland, and they have found the net just once in their three away league matches so far in 2013/14. Despite these discouraging statistics, Palace were unlucky to lose two-nil at Old Trafford last month, after having central midfielder Kagisho Dikgacoi sent off in the 44th minute. The counter-attacking pace of Dwight Gayle was particularly menacing to Manchester United’s high, attacking backline in that game, and Liverpool will have to be focussed to distinguish the progressing 22-year-old’s threat on Saturday.
The Eagles are also particularly strong in the air, underlined by the fact they have won an impressive 59% of their aerial duels in the league this season. Subsequently, they will likely target set-pieces as a primary route of scoring, especially given Liverpool have been victorious in just 44.6% of their aerial battles: the second worst record in the Premier League.
Despite these dangers, I fully expect Liverpool, and in particular the developing partnership of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, to be too strong for a fragile Crystal Palace defence which has conceded six goals in its first three away league games this season.