Liverpool’s quest for top 4 in the Premier League hangs in balance after Crystal Palace came to Anfield and won 2-1 in a game where Benteke came back to his previous club and scored a brace to make the difference.
Jurgen Klopp named an unchanged lineup that featured against West Brom. On the other hand, Sam Allardyce was forced to make a change in his defence as Sakho was replaced by Tomkins due to the fact that the Frenchman cannot play against his parent club.
The game started with a pattern set by the visitors to sit back and soak up the pressure, wait for the moments to attack and kill the game. It was typical Allardyce to close out the spaces in the final third and look for the out-ball in Benteke.
Liverpool were slow in passing and switching sides to unsettle a rigid back-line. Many times it was just sideways and backwards which made it rather easy for the Palace defence. For once, Coutinho found a space in between the lines and attracted a foul from Milivojevic, the resulting free-kick was magically finished by the Brazilian to give Liverpool the lead. Everyone will agree to the fact that it was a beautiful free-kick but the Palace keeper Hennessey could have done better to deny that.
The above image shows the free-kick situation, we can see the amount of goal Hennessey has shown to Coutinho which suggests he trusted his wall to do the job. But, as it turned out, the set piece was supreme in quality which left no chance for the keeper. If Hennessey could have stationed himself a bit more towards his right, probably a yard, he may well have reached it.
In response, Palace were patient sitting in their own half cutting down spaces which forced Liverpool to play sideways. Likes of Can and Wijnaldum were needed to find more zip in their passing and also create space for others, but they were slow allowing the opposition to come back to their shape on every counter-attack situation.
Palace equalised just before half-time when Benteke scored a simple chance put in his plate by Cabaye. The defending was questionable from Liverpool with Lovren being the culprit and Milner not recognising the danger.
As circled above, Lovren came out rushing to try and win the ball off Cabaye. This allowed right-back Ward to put the ball in behind the defender eliminating him. Now, Cabaye and Townsend are onside running towards goal, eventually, Cabaye gets to the ball and saw the run of Benteke, he had time and space to put the ball in for the striker who scored at the Kop end to equalise for the visitors.
That was a naive piece of defending from Lovren, he just came out to win the ball in a territory defenders don’t like to go. He is one of the best inside the box but when he commits himself like that, it is always dangerous.
The second Palace goal came very late in the second half which literally killed the game for the hosts. It was Benteke again, this time from a set piece. Corner and indirect free-kick defending have been an Achilles heel for the Reds all season and it came to the fore on that occasion.
In figure 1, for once Emre Can was having control of Benteke but when the ball was played in, the German showed his back to the striker and was more concentrated to watch the ball rather than the player. This meant that in figure 2 Benteke is free in between man marker and zonal line, Firmino missed his clearance near post and the ball came straight at the striker’s head who made no mistake.
Defending corners zonally has always been the problem for Liverpool, once the man markers lose their players, the zonal line can’t do anything which gives loads of space for attackers in between the space there. That exactly was the case with Can being the culprit.
All in all, Liverpool were dominant in possession but never threatened to kill off Palace with their ball creativity. Movements from Origi were poor, to say the least, as a centre-forward, he dropped off too many times to pick the ball. With no midfield runners gambling inside the box, crosses were easily dealt by the defence. Coutinho was a source of constant threat till the hour mark, once Palace cut out his supply lines, the Brazilian looked culpable.
The problem with this Liverpool squad is that they didn’t have any substitute on the bench who can change the dynamic of the match situation. There were 4 teenagers on that bench which clearly suggested the lack of depth in the squad. If Klopp’s men are to challenge for trophies or top spots in the league, more personnel are required. Set piece defending needs major overhaul, ground defending is also culpable at times which raises many question marks.