Coming off the back of a morale boosting win over Tottenham Hotspur midweek, you’d think that Liverpool would be going into their FA Cup fifth round meeting with Crystal Palace the clear favorites to come out the other end, but that might not be the case.
The Anfield outfits fine run of form — in which they’ve suffered only a single loss since the middle of December — may have those of us Stateside looking around for the best sportsbook for US players, but as of late Liverpool’s history at Selhurst Park hasn’t exactly been promising. The Reds famously gave up a commanding three goal lead last season as their title ambitions came to a crashing halt and, when presented with an opportunity for revenge earlier in the year, they bowed out tamely as the Eagles ran out 3-1 winners on the day.
When you couple their last two embarrassments in the Capital with the fact that when these sides last met in the cup back in 2003, Palace scored two unanswered goals in a replay to move on to the next round, then it’d be even safer to say that things are looking far less assured for the Merseysiders. As always, there’s no such thing as a sure thing.
While it has to be re-iterated that the Reds are in a fine run of form and won’t look at all like the same team that fell so tamely at Selhurst Park the last time out, I’d be remiss not to point out that the same can be said of the Eagles. With former Newcastle United boss Alan Pardew at the helm, they’ve taken 10 points from the last 15 on offer — including a ill-tempered draw with the Magpies midweek in which striker Frazier Campbell bagged his first goal since October.
Both Wilfried Zaha, back in the Capital for good after a short spell with Manchester United, and Jason Puncheon tested Newcastle ‘keeper Tim Krul with early chances as the Eagles cranked up the first half pressure, but it was their resilience that was the most impressive after falling behind just before the break when Papiss Cisse headed himself into double figures for the campaign. Liverpool, of course, will remember that determination well.
They’ll also remember how terrible their defense was on both occasions — something that isn’t as much of a concern anymore. Simon Mignolet, since being dropped for understudy Brad Jones, has returned looking like an altogether different ‘keeper and he continued his fine run of form on Tuesday night with an assured display at the back. As Reds assistant boss Colin Pascoe pointed out in his pre-match interview, a settled back-line has helped out a lot, though it could be upset a little bit if Emre Can, who has done a fantastic job alongside Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho, is forced to add some steel to the midfield with both Steven Gerrard and Lucas on the treatment table.
Dejan Lovren enjoyed a rare run out when the German took up a spot in the middle following the Captain’s departure midweek and the Croatian defender could take up that same spot at Selhurst Park at the weekend though Rodgers could also choose to try out Glen Johnson or even Kolo Toure, who is returning from a successful Africa Cup of Nations campaign with the Ivory Coast, in that spot instead. Mario Balotelli, who came off the bench to score the winner against Spurs, could see some action as well with Raheem Sterling still carrying a knock from the Merseyside Derby and Liverpool confirming that Daniel Sturridge’s fitness will continue to be monitored and managed to keep him as fresh as possible.
If you take a quick glance at the calendar you’ll see why; a tricky two legged Europa League tie with Besiktas is sandwiched between Premier League meetings with high-fliers Southampton and Manchester City before the Reds host Burnley on the fourth of March. Considering it’s only the middle of February, we’ve got a long way to go. Though we’ll be hoping to navigate this weekend’s trip to Selhurst Park with a relative amount of ease, I think I’d be pretty justified in saying that there won’t be anything easy about it…