Roy Hodgson is coming back to Anfield. To Liverpool fans’ relief, only as a visiting team’s manager. This Saturday afternoon, the former Reds manager will lead his Crystal Palace side to Anfield and hope to dent his former club’s title bid. His side actually did a favour for Liverpool when they beat Manchester City last month. Now the Reds will want to make sure that they do not suffer a similar fate on Saturday.
There are a few things that should trouble Liverpool and their fans at this time. They operated with a makeshift defence against Brighton in the last match as Fabinho played centre half. They will again have to make changes in defence as Trent Alexander Arnold is sidelined with an injury, meaning in the absence of Clyne and Gomez, it will be James Milner who will line up on the right side of the back four. The Reds are clearly outperforming their season averages on all counts, from xG outperformance to the number of goals conceded. Most pundits are expecting a regression to the mean in Liverpool’s performance.
Keeping their level of outperformance, especially in defence, with a makeshift back four, is going to be a challenge. But this season, Jurgen Klopp’s side has shown, at least in the league, that they are up for any challenge. That is why they are still 4 points ahead of City in the table and have entered a run of matches that will see them play Crystal Palace(H), Leicester City (H), West Ham (A), and Bournemouth (H) in 21 days. The attack is still not operating at the levels of last season but has been a handful for most opponents this season. It is safe to say that Liverpool should be confident of getting three points from Saturday’s game.
Crystal Palace, on the other hand, might also approach this fixture confidently. After all, they have beaten the current Champions in December. The Eagles have won three in the last six Premier League matches. They lost their last league game to Watford at home but have been impressive away, winning against City and Wolves away from home during this period. Palace also have an incentive to dent Liverpool’s title push. They have at least four members in their squad who have been deemed dispensable by Liverpool, including their manager. Mamadou Sakho and Christian Benteke, both were shown the door by Jurgen Klopp, while Kopites protested against Hodgson’s stewardship by staging sit-ins. On Saturday, these individuals would like it a lot if they can return to London with at least a single point if not all three.
- Although Liverpool have won five of their last six Premier League games against Crystal Palace, including the last three in a row, they have never won four consecutively against the Eagles in the top flight. Crystal Palace have also won on three of their last four league visits to Anfield, though they did lose this fixture last season.
- Liverpool are looking to win seven consecutive Premier League home games for the first time since January 2014. They are also looking to stretch their 31-game unbeaten run in the Premier League at home. However, the club record – 63 home games unbeaten between February 1978 and December 1980, is still very far away.
- Liverpool have not conceded more than once in any of their 16 Premier League home games, keeping 12 clean sheets. Palace on the other hand, have failed to score in six of their last seven Premier League games against sides starting the day top (W1 D1 L5), with the exception being a 2-1 win at Chelsea in April 2017.
- Crystal Palace are looking to win three consecutive away Premier League games for the first time since May/August 2015, and the first time within the same season since February 2015.
Sadio Mane was pipped to the award of Africa’s best player by his teammate Salah but he still came in second. While not as prolific as last season, he still has scored 8 goals and assisted one in 1677 Premier League minutes across 20 appearances this season. He also likes to play against Palace. He has scored more Premier League goals (6) against Palace than he has against any other side in the competition. He has also scored in his last three Premier League games against the Eagles but he has never scored in four in a row against a single opponent before. An xG90+xA90 of 0.56 suggests that if he plays all 90 minutes, he has a good chance of contributing a goal on Saturday.
Playing Liverpool at Anfield and hoping to return with at least a point means that Crystal Palace have to find a way around the most miserly defence in the land and for that to happen, Wilfried Zaha will need to be in top form for Palace. He has scored thrice and assisted one goal so far in the league and his xG90 + xA90 of 0.30 also seems decent given how defence minded Hodgson can be.
For Liverpool, Trent Alexander-Arnold has been ruled out for four weeks with a knee injury. With Joe Gomez still sidelined and Nathaniel Clyne now out on loan, James Milner is expected to fill in at right-back. Georginio Wijnaldum is doubtful due to a knee injury he suffered in the game against Brighton. But that will still not allow Keita to come in, as Fabinho will move back to midfield and now fit Joel Matip should be able to start.
Crystal Palace have to rely on their third-choice keeper – Julian Speroni to fill in for the injured Vicente Guaita and Wayne Hennessey, both of whom are sidelined with injuries. Christian Benteke came off the bench against Watford last weekend to make his first Crystal Palace appearance since the start of September. He will be keen to face his former club here.
Even if Liverpool regress a bit towards mean in terms of defence or even attack, they should be able to beat Crystal Palace on Saturday.