Credit where its due even if it is through gritted teeth, Allardyce got his tactics spot on last Sunday as Palace beat Liverpool for the third year running at Anfield. It was a game that was always going to be difficult given the erratic performances and results against the so-called lesser lights. Even so with the finishing line and a top four spot in sight it was a home game that Liverpool needed to make it count.
Palace though were well organised and it was a yellow wall as they played deep and ensured that any space in the middle of the park was restricted. With Mane unavailable due to injury there was no one to test the Palace defence with skill and pace. Coutinho and Firmino may have the guile and skill they were unable to find a way through the brickwall that was Palace’s defence. Granted Origi is a player who has pace but he too found it hard to get into space.
It meant that the only options to Liverpool was to go wide but with the lack of height and a mass of yellow shirts, Palace were easily able to defend from set-pieces as you would expect from a Sam Allardyce side.
Despite this Liverpool managed to take the lead from a fantastic free kick from Coutinho. This should have been the catalyst for Liverpool to kick on or at the very least hold onto the goal lead. Palace would need to push further up the pitch and leave more space for Liverpool to take hold of the game.
The Liverpool defence this season has been fragile and at times resembles a punch drunk boxer attempting to last the final round. With only three minutes before half time Liverpool should have had the nous to keep it tight and simple. Instead Lovren failed to react quickly to the ball as Cabaye gained posession as he raced down the right to play a ball for Benteke to score and equalise for Palace.
Once again there was frustration at Liverpool’s inability to defend and not tightening their hold on the match to ensure they got the result required.
The second half was reverting back to type for Palace who again ensured that Liverpool were not given any space to cause problems. Another lapse at a set piece from a corner saw Benteke grab his second with a diving header. With the lack of options on the bench Liverpool were unable to put anyone who could change the game. Alexander-Arnold, Grujic, and Moreno were thrown on but it was more in the hope of fresh legs rather than any tactical acumen.
Liverpool didn’t look capable of breaking down Palace and despite the six minutes of injury time were unable to snatch a point. It was a disappointing result following the two excellent away wins against Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion.
There have been a few moans that Liverpool have blown it especially with Man Utd winning 2-0 away to Burnley. At present that is simply not the case. Yes Liverpool have made it difficult for themselves but with Manchester United due to play Manchester City this Thursday at the Etihad they also have games against Tottenham and Arsenal. City themselves also have to play Palace.
Looking at those fixtures there are still difficult games that United could drop points. Added to which they have injuries to major players such as Ibrahimovic, Pogba, Herrera, Mata, and Smalling. With the distraction of the Europa cup semi-final against Celta Vigo it is not a given that United will not drop points in their remaining games.
Of course Liverpool themselves are now walking a tight rope and cannot afford to drop any more points. The remaining games though are not as bad compared to other teams.
There also has to be a dose of realism regarding the situation for Liverpool at the moment. The squad is light which isn’t helped with major injuries to key players. Consequently there are not many options that Klopp can turn to. Liverpool have the fifth highest paid squad in the Premier league and it could be argued are roughly where you expect them to be.
The crowd itself also needs to help in times of when things are not going well. Without sounding all ‘member berry,’ (This refers to South Park and its take on nostalgia)
there was a time when following a stunned silence at the opposition somehow managing to score that there would be a roar encouraging the team to get back into the game. Instead the only noise you can hear are the sounds of seats as the mass exodus starts.
That is more or less waving the white flag rather than screaming encouragement for Liverpool to push forward and salvage something. It is amazing what the players can do with the support urging them forward that at the very least they can make it as uncomfortable for Palace in the dying minutes.
Jurgen Klopp talked about everyone from the cleaners, coaches, players, fans and anyone associated with the club to be all pulling together and doing their bit. Which is what some Liverpool fans need to do rather than making the early dart.
There is still a big job ahead for Klopp no matter whether they finish top four or not. Defensively they need improving not just in terms of buying defenders but in terms of defending as a team. All season they have looked shaky but just as it is important to attack as a team it is equally the same when defending. All the good teams know how to take the sting out of the game and show the resilience in coping with any pressure. Liverpool do not have that ability at present.
Added to which the depth of the squad needs improving especially if they qualify for the Champions league. Looking at the bench this season shows how limited Liverpool are on who they can bring on to help change the game.
All said and done though the race for the remaining top four places (Chelsea and Tottenham are nailed on for first and second) is pretty much on. City and United have been inconsistent this season even if the latter have been on a good run of form. Liverpool despite the setbacks and problems they have faced this season still have a good chance of finishing within the top four and claiming a Champions league spot. There does though need to be a dose of reality with what Klopp has to work with and the fact that some teams at present are ahead of Liverpool.