To call the Liverpool’s 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace anything other than testy, intense, eventful, or fun would be incorrect. Even if the scoreline does not indicate it, the match was close and tight-knit, until the Reds iced it with a stoppage-time goal. And the games between the two will always have some added fire to it because of the links between the clubs.
Crystal Palace will always have a place in Liverpool’s head because of the Reds’ epic and detrimental meltdown, up 3-0 with less than 15 minutes left, towards the end of the 2014 season. It was one of the last games of the season and ended up costing them their chance at a title.
And Liverpool will always have a target on their backs because of the history some of the Palace players have with the Anfield side, mainly center back Mamadou Sakho and striker Christian Benteke. The duo were castoffs once Jurgen Klopp took over Liverpool. Sakho’s end of tenure with the squad did not end well, as his relationship with the club’s boss was not a healthy one. And Benteke did not live up to expectations but felt that he wasn’t given a proper opportunity to prove himself.
They’ve relished each game they have played against their former club, and you can tell from their effort and emotion. And their teammates take after them, playing a physical and emotional game with lots of tackles, physicality, and jawing with the Reds players. Even when Mo Salah was brought down by Sakho, towards the end of the first half, and awarded a penalty, the Egyptian was surrounded by a group of Palace players who tried to go after him verbally. And it was like that through a good amount of the game.
And it was a game that Liverpool needed to win if they are serious about title contention: on the road in a hostile environment, against a team that, although talented with quality players, Liverpool is clearly the superior side. And the first half was tight and bringing back memories of the past when the Anfield side struggled with inferior competition.
But Crystal Palace deserved some credit because they have class players throughout the squad and a manager in Roy Hodgson who has coached at the highest level with top-class players. And he structured Palace well, organizing their tactics to clog up the middle and force the Liverpool to attack from out wide. In turn, it rendered Roberto Firmino almost non-existent throughout the game.
Palace even created numerous chances but was unlucky not to come away with at least one score, but this is where Liverpool showed a different side to them. They won without having their front three at the top of their games; that is how they won games last year, and years prior: offense.
They won from the back and midfield. Centerbacks Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez were excellent the entire game. Van Dijk is arguably the best center back in the Premier League, but he needs a partner to help solidify the rock of the Liverpool defense, and the 21-year-old Gomez has the opportunity to entrench himself into that role. And it’s fair to say that he helped himself tremendously today.
They kept composure at the back and made crucial tackles when needed to. It’s fair to say that Van Dijk completely dominated with his height and strength, and you can expect that all year long.
But they weren’t the only standout performers. New additions Alisson Becker and Naby Keita lived up their expensive bills and proved why they were so hyped up. Alisson was tested but comfortable throughout the game, and had an excellent save on a second-half Crystal Palace free kick.
Naby Keita had one mishap, but was impressive all-around once again, and showed what Liverpool has been missing in the midfield: an athletic workhorse with pace, touch, and vision. This play says it all:
I can't stop thinking about this Naby Keita turn and pass pic.twitter.com/p0YWKS3Mh6
— Ryan Rosenblatt (@RyanRosenblatt) August 20, 2018
They all helped the Reds control the game better in the second half. Liverpool managed the game as they should have and came out on top as they should have. This is an added dimension to a team that relied so much on their offense. They have now gone into Selhurst Park and won every time out since 2015 (four straight times).
Now the pressure isn’t all there on the trio of Roberto Firmino, Mo Salah, and Sadio Mane. They have the requisite support at the back and midfield to make it less stressful. They aren’t always going to win 4-0 each time out, so winning these tough 1-0 games or 2-0 games (that feel 1-0) are going to be crucial towards Liverpool’s title hopes.
This is the type of game you can consider winning with your defense and midfield, and the type Liverpool needs to win if they want to be able to hang with the defending champs. That’s two clean sheets to begin the season, and their +6 goal differential has them in second place behind defending champion Manchester City.
Featured Image via Flickr/cchana