Palace v Liverpool: repeating history

kloppLiverpool have not won a league game at Selhurst Park since December 1997, when goals from Michael Owen, Steve McManaman and Oyvind Leonhardson helped them to a 3-0 win. That season saw the last time three promoted clubs went straight back down, Palace finishing bottom.

Somewhat disconcertingly for Eagles fans, that particular campaign did not pan out dissimilarly to this current one. As late as November, they were 10th and enjoying a positive season as the high-profile arrival of Atilio Lombardo had boosted their midfield – Yohan Cabaye, anyone? A run of no wins between November and March cost then-manager Steve Coppell his job and Palace nosedived to relegation.

In present day, the South Londoners are without a win since Christmas, although goals may not have been the overlying problem. Palace have scored in each of their last eight games, only failing to do so at Man City, and before that, more worryingly, Aston Villa. Calls for a reliable goalscorer might just have been answered, not by the enigmatic Emmanuel Adebayor, but by another tall front man in Connor Wickham. The former Ipswich wonderkid, now 22, has netted four goals in his last two games, his brace at Sunderland nearly enough to secure a valuable three points.

It seems the arrival of Adebayor is given Wickham the kick he required to play for his place. Throw in the return of speedy wide man Yannick Bolasie and the ammunition has been there for their lanky front man to assert his power and ruthlessness in front of goal.

On the subject of tall strikers, Jurgen Klopp has shied away from Christian Benteke and Liverpool’s performances in the Belgian’s absence vindicate his judgement. Divock Origi might not flow from the mouth after mentioning previous number 9s endeared to the Anfield faithful, but he fits the system better. With Origi in the side, Liverpool look quicker, more dynamic, more aggressive and more… well… Klopp like.

The midfield got on the front foot very well and never gave City’s central maestros any time on the ball, thanks to relentless pressure from the likes of James Milner and Adam Lallana. There was real fluency about some of their attacking moves that was enjoyable to watch. The question, however, is whether they can put in that type of display more consistently, particularly against the lesser teams.

Part of why Liverpool played so well against Man City was because Lallana and Roberto Firmino tucked in behind Origi and pressed from the front. The problem with this system against the West Broms and Watfords is that they will sit deep and deny Liverpool space centrally. As a result, it is harder for the Reds to find the fluency they did against City, with more men being in the way. The best method of breaking down the lesser teams is, perhaps, to try and attack the space out wide. However, by using out-and-out wingers, it is harder to be unified without the ball and press jointly, which is what Klopp wants.

Palace are hoping to avoid a repeat of that tragic 97-98 season which saw them suffer relegation. And, despite their winless run, realistically, they will feel confident of avoiding such a battle this time around, particularly given Wickham’s goalscoring form. Liverpool would love a repeat of the season which saw them finish third – though in this case Klopp might have his sights one place lower.