By Séamus Leonard
Second in the English Premier League standings and with a strikeforce that would make most clubs as happy as a pig in a trough, things are looking pretty good for Liverpool at the moment. However, as the recent home defeat to Southampton proved, moods, attitudes and positions in the table can change ridiculously quickly, especially this early in the season.
The trip to Sunderland was always going to be a nervy one, as the Black Cats’ players looked to prove themselves after forcing the removal of Paulo Di Canio as manager. Although Liverpool was in control for most of the encounter, it did require a late Luis Suarez goal (his second of the game) to secure a 3-1 victory.
The Uruguayan’s return after a 10-match ban for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic back in April has inevitably been closely monitored, but the number seven has punters and commentators back talking about his soccer skills and not his penchant for controversy, and long may that situation continue. Daniel Sturridge opened the scoring at the Stadium of Light with a dubious goal after he missed an attempted header and the ball bounced off his upper arm and into the net. While that incident had more than a whiff of good fortune off it, his two subsequent assists for Suarez put paid to the idea that the former Chelsea attacker is inherently selfish in front of goal. Of course, it is easier to turn provider when your partner makes brilliant runs into fantastic positions.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers opted for a 3-5-2 formation on Wearside. While that may initially have appeared to be a way of getting as many of Liverpool’s bounty of center backs into the first 11 as possible, it may also be as much about keeping Sturridge and Suarez high up the field, rather than playing one of them as an attacking midfielder or on the flanks of the attack. Certainly, that is the conclusion you could draw from Rodgers’ comments at his pre-match press conference on Thursday.
Lucas Leiva has amassed five yellow cards in the mere six league games to date, and so the combative midfielder will be unavailable for Saturday’s clash through suspension. His performances have been plagued by second half fatigue to date in this campaign, so hopefully he and the backroom team are using this time off to tackle that issue. The former Gremio man has earned a recall to the Brazilian squad for the upcoming friendlies against South Korea and Zambia, which may also put some extra pep in his step when he returns to Merseyside.
Central midfield has been a major problem for Liverpool thus far, with the holding two of Lucas and Steven Gerrard all too often dropping too deep late in games and putting unnecessary pressure on the defense. This was certainly a contributory factor in the draw at Swansea and loss to Southampton. While not wanting to take Palace for granted, Rodgers will surely have learned from the Southampton game and will not want to see his charges play too deep again and allow the visitors to play the game in the Liverpool half. And with his obvious wish to maintain the Sturridge and Suarez combination up front, the boss could opt to play a traditional 4-4-2 and rely on the energy of Jordan Henderson to compensate for the lack of a third man in midfield. With Philippe Coutinho still recovering from shoulder surgery and his killer ball missing, the way to beat Palace may lie down the wings and on the counter attack. If Rodgers perceives this to be the case, then you would expect to see Raheem Sterling and Victor Moses utilized on the flanks.
Whatever starting side and formation the Reds’ supremo opts for, he will demand a performance much improved from the one that was produced against Southampton. If Liverpool is to clinch a Champions League place this season, that defeat to the Saints needs be looked back upon as a nadir, rather than a portent of things to come.
Palace may be languishing second from bottom in the table, but the Eagles gave Manchester United a fright at Old Trafford last month. Had it not been for a highly dubious red card and penalty award on the stroke of half time, the Londoners might have taken points off the Red Devils.
Manager Ian Holloway guided the Eagles to promotion from the Championship last season, and he enjoyed a 2-1 victory at Anfield in 2010 during his time at Blackpool. It should be noted, however, that Roy Hodgson was in charge of the Reds at the time. Nevertheless, Holloway will no doubt use that experience to try to convince his players that they have nothing to fear at the L4 venue. Liverpool fans, on the other hand, will be looking to their SAS duo up front to offer evidence that Anfield is a place opponents should start to dread visiting again.
If you are in the greater Boston area, you will be able to watch the match at The Phoenix Landing with LFC Boston. If not, you can watch it on NBC Sports Network, with coverage starting at 1000 EST.
Liverpool v Crystal Palace
When: Saturday, October 5, 1000 EST/1500 BST
Where: Anfield, Liverpool
Previous Premier League match: Sunderland 1-3 Liverpool, Southampton 2-0 Crystal Palace
League Position 2013-14: Liverpool 2nd (13 points), Crystal Palace 19th (3 points)
Projected Liverpool Starting 11
DEF: Toure, Skrtel, Sakho, Jose Enrique
MID: Sterling, Henderson, Gerrard, Moses
FW: Suarez, Sturridge
Subs from: Jones, Kelly, Agger, Wisdom, Flanagan, Ilori, Cissokho, Luis Alberto, Ibe, Aspas
Projected Crystal Palace Starting 11
DEF: Ward, Mariappa, Gabbidon, Moxey
MID: Jedinak, Dikgacoi, Bannan
FW: Kebe, Chamakh, Gayle
Subs from: Alexander, Price, Parr, McCarthy, Campana, Bolasie, Phillips, O’Keefe, Puncheon, Thomas, Grandin, Delaney, Guedioura, Sekajja, Wynter
Follow Séamus Leonard on Twitter @seamusleonard