Selhurst Park, London
May 5, 2014; 20:00 GMT
Liverpool FC may no longer be the masters of their own destiny thanks to their defeat to Chelsea at Anfield, but they travel to Crystal Palace on Monday with a slim chance of pulling off a remarkable title triumph.
From being near certainties for the Premier League title a week ago, Liverpool could potentially travel to Crystal Palace in third place with nothing more than a slim chance of taking the title race to the last day. However, irrespective of the result of Manchester City’s trip to Everton on Saturday, the Reds must win on their trip to London in order to achieve the bare minimum of giving themselves a chance.
Crystal Palace, on the other hand, have just completed a stunning turnaround from their condition at the time of the resignation of former manager Ian Holloway. From being prime candidates for relegation way back in October, manager Tony Pulis has led the Eagles to safety with more than a game to spare. Losing at home to Manchester City could be taken as an indication that the Eagles are already thinking about next season now that their objectives have been met, but the last home game of what has been a successful season could serve as an opportunity to break into the top half of the table.
Team News and tactics
Prior to their defeat at home to Manchester City, Crystal Palace went on a five match winning streak that took them to Premier League safety with three games to spare. What makes this run of games more impressive is that the Eagles contributed to Chelsea falling behind in the title race, while also potentially derailing Everton’s push for a place in the Top 4. Without taking anything away from the effort and application on the part of the playing squad, the fact that Tony Pulis is in the discussion for Manager of the Year alongside the likes of Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez is testament to the job that the former Stoke City manager has done at Crystal Palace.
Having himself admitted that the scheduling of the fixture for Monday night is helpful regarding the fitness of his players, the Crystal Palace manager has a near fully fit squad to select from. South African midfielder Kagisho Dikgacoi could, however, be struggling for fitness ahead of the game.
In midfield, Mile Jedinak will have a fairly tough assignment in ensuring his side does not get overrun by the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling, while also providing a solid base for Palace to attack Liverpool. Jason Puncheon, on the other hand, has had a strong second half of the season on loan from Southampton, and will look to give Jon Flanagan a rough time. Given the relatively small size of Palace’s squad, most of the starting lineup will select itself.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Speroni; Mariappa, Dann, Delaney, Ward; Puncheon, Jedinak, Ledley, Bolasie; Chamakh, Jerome
“We dust ourselves off” does not have the same ring as “We go again”, but Brendan Rodgers’ reaction after Liverpool’s defeat to Chelsea at Anfield was an indication that the Reds will be looking to get that result out of their systems quickly. One week is a long time in football, and the placement of Liverpool’s trip to Crystal Palace on a Monday night creates a pressure situation that could serve as yet another test of their title credentials, if it was still possible.
Monday’s trip to Crystal Palace is by no means a shoo-in for three points to Liverpool. Palace’s winning run in March/April meant that Selhurst Park would be a tough place to play football, and winning against Chelsea would have made it an even more nerve-wracking affair. Moreover, Liverpool have not won in 4 trips to Crystal Palace, in a run stretching up to December 1997. That being said, Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool have taken on the mantle of hoodoo hunters this season, going against type in wins at Stoke City, Cardiff City, Southampton, among others.
Liverpool have no new injury worries to deal with since their loss to Chelsea except for the fitness of Daniel Sturridge. The former Chelsea striker tends to perform well against his former clubs as if to prove a point, but it wasn’t to be against Chelsea. Brendan Rodgers would also have been concerned about easing him into the squad rather than throwing him to the deep end, and one more week’s work with the Reds’ medical team will surely have helped Sturridge get back to full fitness.
Besides the issue of Sturridge’s fitness, Rodgers will also have to decide whether Lucas Leiva gets a run out in midfield. The Brazilian had a poor game against Chelsea further up the pitch, but could prove useful in similar manner to his contribution in fixtures against Aston Villa and West Ham United this season. Iago Aspas, on the other hand, may have been thrown in for a cameo against Chelsea out of desperation, but should be lucky to even make the bench this time around. Mamadou Sakho should retain his place in the centre of defence.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Mignolet; Johnson, Skrtel, Sakho, Flanagan; Gerrard, Lucas, Allen; Sterling, Suarez, Coutinho
- Liverpool have won their last 6 games away from home in the Premier League.
- Luis Suarez has scored 30 goals in the 2013-14 Premier League season, 2 more than the entire Crystal Palace squad.
- Liverpool have conceded 46 goals in the Premier League, 3 more than Crystal Palace.
- Liverpool have gained 44 points in 2014, more than Crystal Palace have earned the entire season.
Player to Watch
Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
The mistake made by Steven Gerrard in the build-up to Demba Ba striking at the Kop End was the proverbial slip between the lip and the cup that may have put paid to Liverpool’s title chances. Gerrard spent the rest of the game trying too hard to get redemption for his mistake, as the rest of the squad panicked in their attempts to pull one goal back. Rodgers has since expressed full confidence in Gerrard’s ability to bounce back; but nothing would spell redemption better than a match-winning performance at Crystal Palace. Will the pressure get to Gerrard; or can he rise above it and deliver the goods?
Crystal Palace 1-3 Liverpool
Given that both Manchester City and Chelsea could have the points on the board before the Reds even get to London, Liverpool will have no choice but to win by as large a margin of victory as possible. Their porous defence could leak more goals, but cool heads this time around should (hopefully, for Liverpool supporters) prevail. A repeat of 9-0 from yesteryear may be a bit too much to ask, but given that Crystal Palace are not in a situation of having nothing to play for at the start of May, Liverpool should be able to take their now improbable title challenge to the last day.