15:00 KO (BST); Saturday 19th August; Anfield (Liverpool, England)
Liverpool have become a team of two halves in recent years. While they possess one of the most lethal attacking combinations in Europe, their defence always appears to be more deficient than efficient. With Jurgen Klopp again failing to re-enforce his sides defensive personnel in this transfer window so far, the Reds still look like an unbalanced team that are more than capable of producing entertaining football, but sometimes for all of the wrong reasons.
With Palace recording a shock win at Anfield in April, Liverpool are unlikely to underestimate their opponents as they look to exact some form of revenge and entertain their fans, for all of the right reasons.
As Premiership debuts go, it was a baptism of fire for Frank De Boer last weekend. His team were jeered from their home pitch after he watched them capitulate spectacularly to a team earmarked as league underdogs. Sacked by Inter Milan after only 85 days in charge, De Boer is a manager who will be desperate to prove he can be a success in a top European league. After last weeks defeat Palace are also in need of proving themselves capable and in travelling to Liverpool, they have a perfect opportunity to show they can perform against one of Europe’s top sides.
LAST TIME OUT
Hoffenheim 1 – 2 LIVERPOOL (Champions League Qualifier)
An unchanged team from the Watford draw was fielded by Klopp and it was generally an improved performance in most areas of the pitch, however, there remains questions hanging over this team. One potent question must now be how much longer before Klopp introduces new £10m signing Andrew Robertson in place of Alberto Moreno.
The much-maligned Spanish left-back was again found wanting defensively and was often caught out of position, exposing his team in doing so. While the Reds often appeared cumbersome at the back as epitomised by Dejan Lovren’s clumsy 11th-minute challenge, Moreno was often the main culprit for Liverpool’s defensive lapses.
With Philippe Coutinho again sidelined from the game, it was Sadio Mané playing the Brazilian’s usual left-attacking position who really impressed. Providing skill, determination and a directness of play with his electrifying pace, Mané was a constant source of menace to the German side.
It was one of his runs which resulted in the free-kick that Trent Alexander-Arnold converted to change the complexion of the game and on this showing, it could be the Senegalese forward who makes Coutinho’s absence of less importance in the future.
CRYSTAL PALACE 0 – 3 Huddersfield (Premiership)
An unfamiliar formation, a new style of play, early season rustiness. There are several elements which can conceivably have played a major role in Palace’s downfall against the Premier League’s new boys, however, one other factor was arguably the more dominant reason. Energy and determination. Put simply, Huddersfield looked like a team who wanted the three points much more than the home side.
An accomplished display by Ruben Loftus-Cheek was one of the few brighter notes for De Boer. Completing 94% of his passes, the Chelsea loanee looks set to thrive with his new manager’s style of play. He also looked equally adept at playing in different areas of the pitch after being moved deeper for the second half when a tactical switch saw Luka Milivojevic replaced by Andros Townsend.
Whether his team mates are able to fit into this system is the question currently reverberating around South London after many of the players, especially defenders, looked lost at various points during this defeat.
Philippe Coutinho remains unavailable due to a mysterious back ailment which a team of specialist doctors are currently failing to identify, while Nathaniel Clyne (muscular) Mamadou Sakho (knee) Adam Lallana (thigh) and Daniel Sturridge (thigh) have all been ruled out through more conventional injuries.
With a Champions League qualifier last Tuesday, Klopp may opt to add a few fresh legs to his starting line-up, however, it’s more likely that he will keep with a winning formula as far as possible, although Andrew Robertson could well force his way into the team ahead of Alberto Moreno.
Crystal Palace Lineup
Wilfried Zaha (knee) looks likely to be missing for the next four weeks, while James McArthur (knock) and Pape Souaré (thigh) will also miss this match for the Eagles. Yohan Cabaye may be fit enough to start after he took part in an under-23’s match earlier this week as he continues his rehabilitation from an ankle injury.
Key Battle: Mohamed Salah vs Patrick van Aanholt
Liverpool’s fluid front-three forwards combine guile with pace to cause their opponents a range of problems and their new signing has fit straight into the Reds system judging by the two performances so far. In both the Champions League qualifier and the opening Premiership fixture against Watford, Salah combined well with Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané to provide a real and dangerous goal-threat for Liverpool.
While the Egyptian missed some good chances against Hoffenheim, this was only his second competitive game and his well-taken goal and assist against Watford as well as his strike rate of 0.43 goals per game in Serie A suggests he will score again for his new team before the end of the month.
Facing the flying winger will be one of the few Palace players to come away from the Huddersfield match with his head held high. Van Aanholt played the left wing-back position with aplomb, his pace causing real problems down the Terriers right flank throughout the afternoon as he showed a willingness to attack and track back for his team. This pace will be useful against Salah in a contest which could have a huge impact at both ends of the pitch for the Eagles.
The demands of success
The rigours of competitive football have been a hot topic for both Liverpool and Chelsea fans worried about the strength their respective teams have in depth. With many of Liverpool’s attempts to add quality to their squad being rebuffed this summer and the potential departure of their most creative player to Barcelona, Klopp has managed to do little to allay these fears.
With Tuesday night’s game in Hoffenheim signalling the beginning of this season’s European adventure and a return leg to follow in a few days time, the extra games have already started to appear on the Reds schedule.
While it may be too early in the season for any real advantage in stamina to be handed to Palace, it could have an impact on the team Klopp chooses to field for this fixture. With injuries to key players already affecting his side, this will be the first of many tests regarding the depth of quality which runs through the Liverpool squad.
The subject of Premiership clubs loaning players between themselves has always been a divisive and thorny issue which can sharply split opinion. It was also something in clear evidence for the Palace fans in their opening fixture of this year’s Premiership when their two standout performers were not actually fully paid-up members of the club they support.
Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Ruben Loftus-Cheek both had strong debuts for the Eagles. They showed themselves to be both capable of playing the technical style being demanded by De Boer and playing with an energy and determination which is required in the Premiership.
Whether they continue to be the strongest players in the Palace squad this season remains to be seen, however, building a team around loan stars will be a dangerous avenue for Palace to take, especially when they come to play the parent-clubs of their stand-out players.
A confidence game
The early games in a season have often been viewed as matches which don’t carry as much importance as those which feature in the latter stages of the season. With the same reward available for wins and draws, this is an argument which is normally reserved for teams who fail to win their opening games.
While a team will not be playing to their full potential following a summer break and a time is needed to adapt to new team-mates or possibly a new system of football, the mentality teams carry into these games is as crucial now as any other period in the season.
Wins always breed confidence within a team and as clubs try to establish a positive pattern for their season to follow, what happens in these fixtures can have deep consequences on the overall success they will reap later. As two clubs who failed to win an opening game they were expected to take three points from, this game has become increasingly important to gain a good result from.
PREDICTION: Liverpool 3 – 1 Crystal Palace
In a fixture which typically produces at least three goals, Liverpool are certainly the team who contain the most firepower heading into this clash. With Palace looking very much like a team in transition during both pre-season and last weekends humbling defeat at home to a newly-promoted side, they will arguably be the team under the most scrutiny and I think this is likely to be the case at the final whistle too.
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