Selhurst Park has not been a great place for Liverpool to visit recently. Although Liverpool did win there last season, courtesy a late Christian Benteke penalty, it is fair to say that Crystal Palace have been Liverpool’s bogey team in the past few seasons.
On Saturday, the Reds head to London full of confidence, having dumped Spurs out of the EFL Cup, in the latest in a run of ten unbeaten games, since the shock loss to Burnley in August.
Palace lost 3-1 to Leicester in the weekend and will be looking to bounce back hard.
Here are the battles that could have the largest bearing on the final outcome.
Damien Delaney v Roberto Firmino
For Liverpool, Firmino is probably the first name on the team sheet. His positioning, work-rate and elusiveness makes him a huge asset for Jurgen Klopp to have. Firmino’s biggest quality is his ability to drift in and out of pockets of spaces and being extremely difficult to mark. For Delaney, the job is simple. To deny Firmino the freedom to move around all over the final third. But it is not as easy as it sounds, because Firmino drops deep sometimes, plays on the shoulder of the last defender at other times and too much emphasis on Firmino would mean that Palace leave the likes of Sadio Mane and Philippe Coutinho unattended, which will be disastrous for them.
Christian Benteke v Joel Matip
Benteke has been Palace’s best player this season – there is absolutely no doubt about that. Palace play a style that suits Benteke to the T, and he has made a visible difference since joining them in August. Matip has been revelation for the Reds and has grown to be the leader of the back four. However, some of Liverpool’s defensive problems still do persist. We conceded from a set-piece against West Brom last weekend. It has been quite a while since we conceded from open play – Diego Costa’s goal last month being the last. For all Matip’s good play, he still looks slightly insecure against a physical striker, like Borja Baston proved when we played Swansea. But Palace will bombard our box with crosses looking for Benteke. Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha will have to ensure that the ball comes in to dangerous areas because if it does, Benteke will always be in business.
Martin Kelly v Sadio Mane
Mane is Liverpool’s joint top-scorer in the Premier League and has promptly become a fan favourite. His blistering pace and quick feet make him a nightmare for any defender. The Scouser, Kelly will be looking to spoil another Scouse party in London, the Reds having already come away with seven points in three London matches so far this season. For Kelly, it is imperative that Mane gets no space to run into. At the same time, if Kelly gets too tight, then Mane is well capable of using his trickery to get away from him and bring the other Liverpool attackers into play.
Joe Ledley v Adam Lallana
Ledley will be the one shielding the Palace back four and trying to get their attacks started. For Liverpool, Lallana is that link between the midfield and the front three. If one thing is certain, it is that Lallana will not give Ledley any time on the ball, with his maniacal pressing. For Ledley, he must be able to use the ball effectively, and think fast. Lallana has been a revelation under Klopp and a huge improvement has been his output in the final third. With Gini Wijnaldum likely to be back in Liverpool’s line-up, it is back to the settled midfield line-up that Klopp had employed in the Premier League until Wijnaldum’s injury. For Lallana, the mantra is simple – No time on the ball for Ledley and play the ball out to the front three as quickly and as effectively as possible.