GUEST: Let’s hope new Palace meltdown doesn’t spark another long wait for glory 

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By Paul Harper (@PaulNHarper)

I had a flashback during Liverpool’s nervy victory over Crystal Palace, prior to the winter break.

As Palace attacked again and again with frightening ease in a nightmare spell from around the 35-minute mark, my mind cast back to the famous FA Cup semi-final against the same team in 1990.

This Liverpool side, with stars such as John Barnes, Peter Beardsley and Ian Rush, were overwhelming favourites as they headed for their 18th league title, but they ended up being humbled by the South Londoners.

Every Palace cross and set-piece filled you with a sense of dread, with the defence appearing completely unable to deal with anything. This wasn’t meant to happen – we’re Liverpool. 

The defenders were a bag of nerves and Bruce Grobbelaar wasn’t inspiring any confidence either. Even when we retook the lead thanks to a Barnes penalty after another slightly contentious decision, we looked there for the taking. 

Alan Pardew’s late winner had an air of complete inevitability and the Eagles deservedly went through to the final (they added insult to injury and lost to United).

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On Sunday, unlike the Liverpool side from 31 years, we didn’t capitulate. Alisson Becker was absolutely sensational and made a string of vital saves to keep us in the tie.

But for his contribution, a game that ended up 3-1 to Liverpool could have quite easily instead been a 4-2 loss. 

The Brazilian international proved to be the difference for Liverpool in their nervy league visit to Selhurst Park.

Not since pre-Virgil van Djik days have Liverpool looked so vulnerable and easy to attack against and this was a team that included the imperious Dutchman, Joel Matip and the normally impenetrable Fabinho.  

Jurgen Klopp himself alluded to the breakdown in the post-match interview: 

“If someone had a proper explanation for what happened after 35 minutes they’d be a billionaire overnight. The relief after 2-0 after an intense week was just so big that we wanted to have a break on the pitch? But that’s not possible.

“It was Jekyll and Hyde football. It showed how insanely good we can be and how bad as well.  

“I said to [Alisson], ‘Thank you for saving our backside again.’ He said, ‘That’s my job.’” 

Liverpool are often accused of playing too high a defensive line and with such attacking fullbacks that they can leave their centre-halves exposed – it’s why Fabinho is such a vital cog in the machine protecting the defenders and clearing up danger as an extra layer.

And also Thiago Alcantara; one telling stat revealed we’ve won every game the Spaniard has started this season.

The absence of Thiago’s creativity in the middle of the park has been addressed in part by the return of Curtis Jones from an unfortunate eye injury.

January has been a strange month. One where we’ve coped admirably without Mo Salah and Sadio Mane, despite all the fears surrounding their AFCON-enforced departure, with seven goals in the last three games alone. That being said, we’ve defended terribly at times.

There’s obviously been a lot of talk about what could happen in the summer to make up for what isn’t happening in January, with names such as Raphinha constantly linked, but Liverpool’s focus should actually be on another defensive-minded midfielder. 

This week John Barnes rightly talked up the prospect of signing Yves Bissouma because he would be a perfect candidate; the Brighton star is an all-action midfielder who is solid defensively but with the right amount of craft and level of experience to slot into the side and perform immediately. 

That Palace defeat at the time 31 years ago, as Barnes will recall, was a chastening blow and in the last title-winning season for 30 years.  

If Liverpool defend and play like they did for part of the Palace game on Sunday, it will be another long wait for any honours. 

And with so much still to play for this season, let’s hope that’s not the case.


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