If nothing else, let’s not forget that it was Crystal Palace that wrecked Steven Gerrard’s going away party. A 3-1 reversal at the hands of the Eagles in this fixture last season made the Liverpool legends last match at Anfield a less than festive event; it all kind of went flat after Adam Lallana opened the scoring and three unanswered goals from the visitors made the 35-year old’s last match in front of the Kop one to forget.
There’s no question that we owe them one, but that’s easier said that done. We don’t need to rehash our most recent history with Palace here — I’m sure you’re well aware. With the LA Galaxy out of the Major League Soccer post-season and Gerrard back on Merseyside, the mercurial midfielder could very well be in the stands on Sunday to take in what’s been a bit of a revolution around these parts since Jurgen Klopp took over.
After suffering a poor start to the season, Liverpool are unabeaten in their last six outings in all competitions with the German bagging his first win last week against AFC Bournemouth in the League Cup before following that up with victory over Chelsea in the Premier League and the Reds first Europa League triumph of the campaign on Thursday against Rubin Kazan.
“Of course it’s better if you don’t play midweek, but it’s only an advantage for Palace if we are not prepared to fight. If we wait for an easy game against Palace then we have no chance,” explained the Reds manager, brushing off any suggestion that the midweek trip to Russia could be used as an excuse should they come up short against the Eagles. “But if we fight and try to find solutions, we can do it. We are fit, we are healthy, young, and we can do it,” he continued. “I heard old stories from Michael Zorc (sporting director at Borussia Dortmund), who told me that sometimes after a midweek game, the first half is difficult, but then the second half is easier. It’s like a long warm up, but it’s only if the players are calm and focused that it can happen.”
Again, that will be easier said than done. Looking like a force to be reckoned with at Stamford Bridge last weekend, the Anfield outfit came from behind to stun the Blues with a Philippe Coutinho brace and a Christian Benteke coup de grace in the closing stages to heap even more pressure on the struggling London side. Palace, who’ve lost only once to Liverpool in their last five outings, may not be wringing their hands in nervous anticipation considering just how terrible Chelsea have been as of late, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be taking anything for granted either.
“I thought they’ve got a top-four squad in the summer, and that hasn’t changed despite the change in manager,” said Eagles boss Alan Pardew, speaking ahead of their trip to Anfield on Sunday. “They’re Liverpool, they should be top four,” he continued, matter of factly. “I think [Christian] Benteke is a terrific player, and [Jurgen] Klopp has arrived with great players there. Benteke is a different kind of threat to what they’ve had before and a great signing. There is a higher press under Klopp’s management and we know that’s coming, we can cope with that.”
After making a handful of changes for the trip to Kazan on Thrusday, Klopp is almost certain to restore Coutinho, Martin Skrtel and Lucas to the starting eleven. Benteke, who had a quiet outing against the Tartars, will almost certainly lead the line with Lallana, who replaced James Milner in the closing stages, may also earn himself a recall in place of goalscorer Jordon Ibe.
Pardew may be able to draft defender Pape Souare back into the line-up after he recovered from a knock, but he’ll be without forward pair Conor Wickham and Marouane Chamakh with the trip to Merseyside coming a bit too early for them. Considering Palace’s strikers are yet to register a goal in the league this season, their absence may not be too much of a concern, but Dwight Gayle, who has scored four in his last three appearances against Liverpool, will face a late fitness test with a hamstring problem. Yannick Bolasie, another player that loves to torment the Reds, will be ready after putting in a fine performance in the scoreless draw with Manchester United last weekend.
Games against the big boys may be the most exciting, but it those against the bogey teams that really get the heart pumping; Palace, of course, have been just that for us. It’s one that you expect to win, and when you don’t, it’s that much worse. Fast on the counter and compact at the back, the Eagles have given us problems all over the pitch, but they’ll meet a Liverpool side that’s looking increasingly unrecognisable to the side that capitulated so weakly the last three times we’ve met. Pardew says he’s ready, but we’ll have to wait and see. It’s still early doors so I’m not about to make any bold proclamations, but under Klopp and with our team looking settled, this fixture is far less nerve racking than it used to be.