Liverpool finally got their Premier League campaign up and running with a victory over Crystal Palace in their first home game of the season.
If the recent history of this fixture was anything to go by, there was promise of goals, loads of goals. The last 8 Premier League outings between these two sides had seen 33 goals and given how Watford vs Liverpool panned out last week, there was a feeling that Anfield would be witness to a similar goal-rush.
Aside goals, the fixture has never been short of drama and excitement. After all Crystal Palace had, in recent years, established themselves as a modern-day nemesis for Liverpool. They were at the cusp of potentially extending their Anfield win streak to four, a feat no top-flight have managed since Arsenal way back in 1935.
So with that record on the line and both sides pushing for their first win of the season, it wouldn’t have been amiss to bet on a humdinger of an encounter on a Saturday afternoon at Merseyside.
However, a Palace side happy to attack on the counter and some uncharacteristically resolute defending from Liverpool paved the way for a closely fought encounter that fostered little creativity.
It took a late Sadio Mane goal in the 73rd minute to break the deadlock and give the Reds a much needed three points. The Hard Tackle takes a look at some of the key storylines to emerge from the result.
“Robertson Carlos” looks the part for Liverpool
Slotting into left-back, a grey area for much of the last half a decade for Liverpool, there would have been a considerable amount of pressure on Robertson to perform. And boy did he perform. The Scot looked assured and confident in defence with a menacing presence in attack.
Although Mane scored the decisive goal on the day, it was Robertson’s 90 minutes that would have really caught the eye of the Anfield faithful and was hence understandably awarded the man of the match. His beautifully whipped crosses showed what Liverpool missed in left-back last season when they had Milner out in that area.
For a side with the likes of Henderson, Wijnaldum, Firmino and Sadio Mane on the pitch it was 23-year-old “Robbo”, as he was referred to as by Klopp, that looked like the most creative player on the pitch. It must have been a pleasing and refreshing sight to see such a performance from a left-back. In-fact it wouldn’t be surprising if Klopp considered him for a place in the starting XI on Wednesday against Hoffenheim.
The key, however, going forward is for the left-back to keep up the intensity and most importantly, the consistency. If he can do that there is no reason why he can’t, in the long run, add to the list of great Scots to don the famous Red shirt.
Matip – Klavan Pairing Impresses
Robertson may have stolen the headlines with an impressive debut, but it didn’t do enough to take the attention off a resolute defensive performance from a much-maligned Liverpool back-line.
With Dejan Lovren supposedly rested for the midweek Champions League qualifier, the partnership between Ragnar Klavan and Joel Matip helped rest nerves of fans who’re otherwise sent into shivers at the sight of opposition attacks or set pieces.
Part of it maybe attributed to the fact that Palace exhausted all their resources in keeping the Liverpool attack at bay, hence leaving the front three isolated and in turn affording the likes of Benteke little opportunities to test his former side. But that said, it is in this area that the Reds floundered in the past.
Liverpool often tend to dominate home games in terms of possession and chances created but in games where they struggled to convert those chances, they’d somehow end up conceding instead and falling on the back foot.
Saturday though, was an exception as Matip, Klavan, Gomez and Robertson formed a resolute back-line aided by Mignolet in goal. Now Klopp will hope this avatar turns up on Wednesday as well as the Reds look to seal and secure Champions League football at Anfield.
Lack of midfield creativity
Saturday was once again evidence as to how the Reds were missing the energy and creativity of Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho at the centre of the park. Just like last week, the front three were forced to drop back to help with conjuring up something going forward.
Henderson was a stable presence in the defensive midfield position and was even instrumental in picking out a few brilliant long balls up top to Mane and Firmino. But there was little even he could do to improve his side’s imagination in the final third.
The chances did begin to flow in once the goal came though, but it’d be an ill-practice to wait for all of nearly 70 minutes to have that kind of ruthlessness and creativity flowing in. James Milner had a forgettable outing for the Reds in midfield giving away fouls and failing to deliver the killer pass during key situations in the final third.
The midfield was effective in winning back possession and putting the pressure on the opposition but they left quite a bit to be desired in terms of their creativity and that’s precisely why fans will be waiting with bated breath regarding Coutinho’s future and Lallana’s fitness.
The Dependable ‘Mane’
Two Premier League games in and Mane has already established himself as a vital member of the Liverpool attack once again, especially in the absence of Philippe Coutinho. Two goals in two outings from the Senegalese has shown fans just why he was voted as the club’s player of the year last time around.
Sadio Mane has now scored 15 Premier League goals since joining Liverpool; more than any other player at the club. pic.twitter.com/ya7W1oPG8G
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 19, 2017
With bags of pace, power and penetrability, it wouldn’t be amiss to say that Mane would and should be Liverpool’s most prized asset in attack. He will hold the key to the Reds progress through to the Champions League and to their hopes of silverware this campaign.
We’re approaching two years of Klopp’s tenure and we’re yet to see the club bring home any piece of silverware. The German more than anyone will understand that silverware is the currency that will talk so far as keeping him in the job, not entertaining football.
Escalating troubles for Frank de Boer
While his counterpart enjoyed a first win of the season, Frank de Boer is yet to see his side score their first goal under his tutelage, let alone a victory. While Palace registered a much better showing following last week’s humbling at the hands of newly-promoted Huddersfield Town, it did little to bring a smile to the travelling Eagles’ supporters.
With a lack of re-assuring first-team signings so far, there has been hardly any encouragement to draw for the Eagles especially at the back of Zaha’s injury.
The Dutchman who is at Palace to fix a managerial reputation that took a beating at Inter Milan will hope his side can open their account next weekend. de Boer lasted only 85 days as boss of the Nerazzuri after an ill-fated run of form saw his side sit 14th in the Serie A before he received his marching orders.
The Dutchman did receive his schooling and enjoyed arguably his best days as manager at Ajax and he will be fighting hard to ensure he lives up to that reputation once again. Palace will of course have to be patient with the 47-year-old even if things get murkier in the weeks to come.