The final international break of the season is over, and this weekend will see the return of league football for the final lap of the season. These last few games have the ability to turn a relatively good season into a miserable finish or a relatively miserable season into a good one. There is a strong fight for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th spots at the top and there is also a close fight to avoid relegation spots – 18th and 19th in the table. The top spot and the bottom spot have been taken by Manchester City and West Bromwich Albion respectively.
Crystal Palace have had a topsy-turvy season, enduring two seven-game winless runs, but they are still 2 points and 2 positions about Southampton in 18th, having played one game more than the Saints. Of course, if Southampton win their game in hand, at current goal difference levels, they would jump to 14th position, while Palace would either be in the relegation zone or just above it. Thus, it is not an ideal scenario for Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson, however, his side’s prospects are not as dire as say West Brom’s. Saturday’s game is their final one against a top-eight side (currently) and both Crystal Palace and Roy Hodgson have a history of troubling Liverpool, improving the Eagles’ chances of earning a point or three by a little bit.
Liverpool are also fighting against a relegation of their own – from a Champions League spot to a Europa League spot. The Reds are currently 3rd in the table with 2 points more than the 4th placed Spurs and 7 more than the 5th placed Chelsea. However, like Palace, Liverpool have also played 31 games so far, while all other top-four rivals have played 30. They also have a few historical stats in their favour. The Reds have not lost two back-to-back away games since February 2017 (Hull and Leicester). Furthermore, Liverpool have won 678 away games in top-flight history and could match Arsenal’s record of 679 away league wins in the top-flight on Saturday.
- Since their 3-1 loss at Selhurst Park in November 2014, Liverpool have won their last three encounters against Crystal Palace in London. However, they have not managed a double over the Eagles since Roy Evans’ 1997-98 side accomplished it. They could do it on Saturday.
- Crystal Palace have conceded first in 20 games this season, but they have come back to gain 12 points in 10 of those games (W3 D3 L4). Palace have opened the scoring in 8 games so far this season, exactly the same number of games as Mohamed Salah.
- Saturday’s game will be 100th Premier League game for Jurgen Klopp. The German’s first 99 games have seen 322 Liverpool goals. Only Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City scored more (329) in his first 100 league games in charge.
- Of the ex-Liverpool men – Roy Hodgson, as well as Christian Benteke have a good record against the Reds. Hodgson has won three of his last five league games against the Reds, winning his last game 1-0 at Anfield with his West Brom side.
- On the other hand, Benteke has scored six goals in eight Premier League games against Liverpool, only three fewer than what he scored for the Reds in 29 appearances.
Wilfried Zaha has been the best player for Crystal Palace this season so far, scoring 4 goals and providing 2 assists in 1921 minutes of league football. xG per 90 minutes and xA per 90 minutes are 0.26 and 0.18 respectively, which means that he has a 44% chance of scoring or assisting a goal every 90 minutes. With Benteke unable to score at his usual pace, the Eagles do need a goal or two from Zaha if they intend to trouble Liverpool in the least.
Mohamed Salah scored 4 in a game against Watford just before the international break started. He also scored in a friendly against Portugal before being rested for the second international game. A well-rested Salah is in the hunt for a few records including a Premier league golden boot and a European Gold Shoe. He has scored in 20 league games out of 30 he has played this season and is just one game away from equaling the records of Robin van Persie and Cristiano Ronaldo. Salah can break the record for most goals in a 38-game Premier League season as well. xG per 90 of 0.76 and xA per 90 of 0.28 are phenomenal, indicating the possibility of at least one goal if Salah plays for 90 minutes. If Salah clicks on Saturday, he can put the game beyond Palace in a matter of minutes.
Roy has to deal with quite a long list of injured players, as well as doubtful ones. Scott Dann, Jason Puncheon, Bakari Sako, and Julian Speroni are out with injuries, while Connor Wickham and Wilfried Zaha are doubtful. Ruben Loftus-Cheek could be considered for his second appearance of 2018, while Mamadou Sakho is available to the lineup against his former club. Wilfried Zaha had an injury scare during the international break but he should be able to start on Saturday. Jeffrey Schlupp, Alexander Sørloth and Joel Ward are also doubtful for this game.
The international break also gave a few fitness related headaches to Jurgen Klopp. Joe Gomez and Andy Robertson, both suffered knocks on international duty and while Robertson might feature on Saturday, it is also likely that both might not start. Nathaniel Clyne is closer to a first-team return but might feature on the bench behind Trent Alexander-Arnold. Emre Can missed international games due to a back injury he picked up in the Reds’ last game before the break and might also be a doubt for Saturday. Klopp has to plan for five quick games, including two Champions League quarter-final legs against Manchester City. Due to this, he might be more proactive in substituting, which could mean opportunities for the likes of Ings, Solanke and Lallana. Robertson’s knock on international duty could also open a door for Alberto Moreno.
A game at Selhurst Park during the season’s run-in must bring a lot of painful memories for the Reds. It is after all the venue where they surrendered the lead in the 2013-14 title race. However, they cannot afford to lose on Saturday. Palace are expected to trouble Liverpool, but a Palace win is highly improbable. Liverpool should be able to gather all three points from this encounter.
Crystal Palace 1 – 3 Liverpool