Not a game that was pleasing on the eye but one that Liverpool will be delighted to have won. Here’s five things we learned from Liverpool’s 2-1 win over Crystal Palace.
On one hand, Crystal Palace deliberately chose not to use their midfield meanwhile Liverpool’s poor quality restricted them from using their’s.
A side-effect that Liverpool didn’t seem to plan for when they sold Coutinho in January was that the rest of their midfield would fall apart. The likes of Wijnaldum, Henderson, Milner and Can have been caught in the cross-fire. Since Coutinho left there has been a massive reduction in the amount of movement in midfield. That causes major problems with the rest of the team when the style of play is structured around the midfield.
For example, the defence are unable to find a pass through the midfield so are forced down the wings. However, that has ramifications for the attack. The result is that Alexander-Arnold, Robertson, Salah and Mané become isolated out wide. Those problems worsen against teams like Crystal Palace who are already trying to coax Liverpool in to keeping the ball on the wings.
You would think that Liverpool would learn from this and adopt a different approach in midfield. That has not been the case though. Since Coutinho left Liverpool have persisted with the same approach in midfield that keeps letting them down.
It will be interesting to see if things change when Naby Keïta arrives in the summer. At present Liverpool are heavily reliant on the individual brilliance of Salah, Firmino and Mané.
During his woeful spell as Liverpool manager, Roy Hodgson’s style of play was coined by the Reds fans as “Hodgeball”. That same style of football sticks with him today. In many ways Hodgeball symbolises football from a dying era.
Some would call Hodgson’s style of play archaic and in some ways, it is. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be effective anymore. The stereotypical English football that Hodgson has his Crystal Palace side playing was known worldwide for both its good points and its bad.
Whilst this style of play was mocked in Spain it was more admired in the likes of Italy. What Hodgson has shown since he became Palace manager is that, especially against the big teams, so called archaic football can still have its place.
At the very least Crystal Palace were able to frustrate Liverpool and in some ways that is an excellent game plan. Those that think football has to be played in a patient passing manner could learn a thing or two from games like this. Football isn’t just about who can do the most tricks but that’s not to say they can’t be useful sometimes.
As Liverpool were struggling in the first half and found themselves 1-0 down Sadio Mané went down in the box under a challenge. The winger was judged to have dived and received a yellow card accordingly.
Later, in the second half, Mané again believed he had been fouled but this time outside the box so went to pick the ball up. The referee didn’t see the challenge as a foul so penalised Mané for a handball but did not show a yellow card.
Not much was learned from those incidents individually but it did open a can of worms about the standard of officiating. For a while now the referees in the Premier League have been heavily criticised for their decisions. However, VAR still seems to be not up to par to introduce yet.
If VAR was introduced games like this could have had a completely different outcome. For the penalty incident there was minimal contact but upon VAR review some referees would have awarded a penalty despite the ridiculous overreaction by Mané.
The handball incident meanwhile was a clear error by the referee. It’s still unclear why the referee didn’t show a yellow card in the first place and whether VAR could even overturn something like this. However, one thing that was definitely learned from this game is that the standard of refereeing continues to be poor in the Premier League.
When you think you’ve seen all there is to see about Salah he shows once again that you’re continually learning what else he can do.
Salah has already shown this season that he has unbelievable skill, can dominate big games and can bounce back from poor performances. However, yet another side was shown to the Egyptian in this match.
Crystal Palace had handled Salah exceptionally well all match until his late winner. For once, Salah had barely had a sniff of goal but that didn’t deter him. As the game developed he adapted. Salah took up more positions in this match than he might ever have done in a game before. In some parts of the game he was playing incredibly deep almost as a central midfielder and in others he was playing as a goal-hanging poacher. The latter of which earned himself and Liverpool a goal.
Loris Karius has been given the chance to show Klopp that he doesn’t need another ‘keeper in the summer and he can be his number one. Whilst Karius has stepped up to the plate in recent weeks he is not helping his case by leaving niggling doubts.
In this match for example, he attempted to claim the ball when Zaha had no control of it in the box and subsequently gave away a penalty. Previously he could have cost his team the win against Spurs as he punched a ball poorly in to a dangerous area but made a fine penalty save to make up for it.
For every bit of quality that Karius shows he consistently shoots himself in the foot. He can go from making a brilliant save one moment to dropping the ball at an opponent’s feet the next. This game was another example of that. Klopp and everyone else will be learning about Karius every time he steps on the pitch but he needs to swing the balance in his favour so that people see his quality significantly more than his mistakes if he is to remain the Liverpool number one jersey.