The FourFourTwo Preview: Crystal Palace vs Liverpool
Never fear, Sturridge is her... ah, s***.
CRYSTAL PALACE FORM
- Man Utd 1-0 Palace (Prem)
- Palace 1-3 S’land (Prem)
- WBA 2-2 Palace (Prem)
- Palace 1-2 Chelsea (Prem)
- Hull 2-0 Palace (Prem)
- Liverpool 1-2 Chelsea (Prem)
- Real Madrid 1-0 Liverpool (CL)
- Newcastle 1-0 Liverpool (Prem)
- Liverpool 2-1 Swansea (LC)
- Liverpool 0-0 Hull (Prem)
The Reds return to the scene of the crime on Sunday. While their fans are regularly reminded about Steven Gerrard’s costly slip against Chelsea, it was Selhurst Park where Liverpool’s title dream finally died on a miserable Monday night last May.
Before Stevie G's fateful fall, Liverpool were on a seemingly unstoppable run of 11 straight league wins. Three more would have captured a first top-flight crown since 1990. But after their Blues balls-up it was another ‘11’ that ultimately proved decisive, as the Reds chucked away a 3-0 lead at Crystal Palace with 11 minutes left, allowing Manchester City to grab a second league title in three years.
Thirty-one goal Luis Suarez walked off the turf in tears, and with the Uruguayan sold to Barcelona and his 21-goal strike partner Daniel Sturridge sidelined since August, the Merseysiders have looked a shadow of last season’s fast-and-furious machine.
With two wins from their last eight league outings, Liverpool languish in – that number again – 11th place, and have only had fewer points at this stage of a Premier League campaign in two previous seasons; 12 in both 1992/93 and 2012/13.
A trip to the team who have scored the highest proportion of their goals from set plays (57%) is therefore not the ideal tonic for "the worst side in the league at defending them" according to former Reds defender Jamie Carragher.
But like Liverpool, Palace aren’t the same package as last season either, a far cry from Tony Pulis’s fighters who won five on the bounce before their rousing three-goal response against the Reds.
Neil Warnock’s second spell at Selhurst had started well, a four-game unbeaten run featuring victories over Everton and Leicester, but the Eagles have fallen away since.
Defeats to Chelsea and Manchester United may not have been unexpected. However, taking just one point from games against Hull, Sunderland and West Brom – where they squandered a two-goal lead – means goal difference alone keeps them out of the drop zone, with Warnock repeatedly riled over referees’ decisions.
He’s promised to be ‘boring’ from now on after receiving a fine for comments made after losing to Chelsea, and is hoping the international break will signal a change of fortune.
His wish partly came true on Tuesday with news that Sturridge suffered another thigh injury in training and is out for a further six weeks, a huge setback for manager Brendan Rodgers whose side have picked up just eight points and scored only eight goals in the eight league games the striker has missed this season.
Liverpool have been more than a little leaky on the road too, shipping an average of two goals per away game over their past nine Premier League trips – and keeping only one clean sheet.
And they are without a victory against Palace at Selhurst Park* in five visits in all competitions since Steve McManaman, Michael Owen and Oyvind Leonhardsen fired them to a 3-0 win in 1997.
*Liverpool did beat Wimbledon at Selhurst Park in April 2000, 2-1, thanks to a pair of Emile Heskey efforts.
James McArthur pulled out of Scotland’s squad to face the Republic of Ireland with a calf injury, while team-mate Kevin Doyle missed the same game due to a groin problem. Stuart O’Keefe hasn’t featured since August due to an ankle complaint. Better news comes in the form of captain Mile Jedinak being back from a ban.
Mario Balotelli withdrew from Italy’s international double-header with a ‘groin inflammation’ but is set to be available, and would have linked up with Sturridge for the first time since the Italian’s debut – a 3-0 win at Spurs – had the England man not pulled up lame again. Mamadou Sakho (thigh) and Jose Enrique (knee) are hoping to be fit in time to feature, but Jon Flanagan (knee) isn’t expected back until nearer Christmas time.
Key battle: Yannick Bolasie vs Glen Johnson
As the saying (sort of) goes, 'If at first you don't complete a take-on, try and try again'. The 25-year-old Crystal Palace flanker hasn't been afraid to attack full-backs this season, attempting 63 dribbles in 11 league outings. Unfortunately, Bolasie has been successful with just 20 of them – a meagre 32%.
In the 1-0 defeat at Old Trafford last time out, he beat his man on just 1/6 occasions, while against Sunderland in the previous encounter the figure was a similarly unimpressive 5/11.
Nevertheless, Bolasie is always a willing runner and useful outlet for Warnock's side, and Reds right-back Johnson will have to be on his guard to ensure those statistics don't improve.
The England defender has returned to the starting line-up for the last two league losses against Newcastle and Chelsea, and was his side's best tackler and interceptor in the Anfield defeat against his old club.
Johnson was eager to get forward more at St James' Park. He ended the game as its third-best passer (59/67) and completed 2/3 dribbles in the attacking third of the pitch. Should he regularly roam upfield at Selhurst Park, space should open up for Bolasie to exploit on the counter-attack.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Palace 3-3 L’pool (PL, May 14)
- L’pool 3-1 Palace (PL, Oct 13)
- Palace 2-1 L’pool (LC, Oct 05)
- Palace 1-0 L’pool (PL, Apr 05)
- L’pool 3-2 Palace (PL, Nov 04)
"We are having that kind of spell at the minute, nothing is going right for us,” sighed Warnock after losing 1-0 at Old Trafford. "It is hard at times for a lot of clubs at this level but you just have to keep going. You have to work hard to make your own luck."
Six previous meetings between the pair have yielded two wins for each and two draws, although Rodgers hasn’t beaten a Warnock outfit in four attempts since 2009 when his Watford troops did a quickfire double over the Eagles, including a 4-3 win in the FA Cup.
Warnock got his own back later that year; Palace winning 4-2 at Rodgers’ new club Reading – Gylfi Sigurdsson, Nathaniel Clyne and Victor Moses all on the scoresheet – before, in December 2010, Warnock’s QPR stuck another four past Rodgers as Adel Taarabt bagged a brace in a 4-0 success against Swansea.
"I like Brendan but I would love to put one over on him," Warnock said before the international break. "He's a top manager. I like him and we have had one or two good games against each other. With the players he's got and the money he has spent, they will be confident, but we're looking forward to it. It will be a good one.”
Facts and figures
- Liverpool have won 6 and lost just 1 of the 10 Premier League meetings with Palace.
- Dwight Gayle has scored 3 goals in 2 Premier League appearances against Liverpool.
- Liverpool have benefited from 3 own goals this season, making them their joint-top source of goals.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Stevie G slots home a questionable penalty. Warnock tries but fails to bite his tongue. 1-1.