28 May 2015

Liverpool Goals Scored and Conceded 2014-15

Here are similar images from 2011-12, 2012-13, and 2013-14.

And here's a quick comparison to Rodgers' two other seasons.

Hey, at least Liverpool are conceding less. Right? Nowhere near less enough to make up for the massive loss of goals – exactly half of last season's goals per game average – but it's something, I guess. Any port in a storm, etc.

This is news to no one, but Liverpool scored a hell of a lot less goals than usual.

1.28 goals per game is Liverpool's worst average in all competitions the last 20 years; the next closest was 1.37gpg in 2004-05. This season's 1.37 goals per game in the Premier League is the joint third-worst, behind 2011-12 (1.24) and 1999-00 (1.34).

This was a historically bad season in front of goal. Again, I doubt that's news to anyone. This is what happens when you lose Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge (especially Suarez), who scored 52 league goals by themselves in 2013-14, the same total that Liverpool put up in the league this season.

The two things that Liverpool were arguably best at last season – scoring early and scoring from set plays – completely deserted them this season.

Last season: 62 first half goals. This season: 28 first half goals.

Last season: 26 set play goals (with 11 penalties). This season: 13 set play goals (with seven penalties).

There's regression to the mean and there's "oh shit, we've driven straight off the cliff." This is what happens when you lose Luis Suarez (and Daniel Sturridge) and fail to replace him.

Some small signs of positivity? Liverpool scored more as the game went on, the highest total in the last 15 minutes, and 18 different players scored this season, which the most in a single season in quite some time. That's about it.

Despite the overall reduction in goals conceded, that 29% of the opposition's goals came inside the six-yard box is unforgivable. Liverpool may have conceded fewer, but the goals they conceded were mainly close range, clustered centrally within 12 yards from goal. Last season (the first time I started tracking location in-depth), it was 21.8% inside the six-yard box. Which was almost identical to the 20.9% that Liverpool scored in the six-yard box. Well, Liverpool were especially terrible in the six-yard box this season, with only 18.9% of their goals (14 in total) in that area.

Meanwhile, 16.2% of Liverpool's goals came from outside the box, again a decline from last season's 19.1%. And that's despite Liverpool taking more shots from outside the box (admittedly, league only) than any other Premier League side.

As said a few times this season, this was the first time since 2004-05 that Liverpool's top scorer in the league failed to hit double figures. Baros had nine that season (13 in all competitions, as did Gerrard and Luis Garcia), Gerrard had nine this season (13 in competitions). And those are the only times that's happened since World War II.

Long story short: Buy goals this summer. Buy lots of them, buy them now.

26 May 2015

On Steven Gerrard

How are you supposed to adequately or appropriately sum up 17 years of Steven Gerrard?

The above graphic seems a decent start, if I may say so myself. Third-most in all-time Liverpool appearances, behind only Ian Callaghan and Jamie Carragher. The fifth-most goals, the highest total for a Liverpool midfielder. Ian Rush is the only other player to appear on both Top-10 lists. Liverpool's top scorer in Europe. Almost twice as many second half goals as first half goals, as the late stages of a match have always seemed and usually been Gerrard Time. 11 trophies won, basically every possible club trophy except the great, elusive league championship. Scoring in every major cup final: the UEFA Cup (2001), the League Cup (2003), the Champions League (2005), and the FA Cup (2006), all matches that Liverpool won. And he did it with Living-On-Fumes-Of-Past-Glories Liverpool, not the We-Run-This-Country-And-Continent Liverpool of the 1970s and 1980s.

But that's still nowhere near sufficient. It's hard to diagram Olympiakos and AC Milan and West Ham, among multiple others, that perpetual feeling – even in his dotage – that Gerrard can and Gerrard did and Gerrard will save Liverpool. I know you remember Olympiakos and AC Milan and West Ham. I also suspect you still remember Charlton in 2002-03, the Watford League Cup semifinals in 2004-05, Aston Villa in 2007-08, Boro in 2008-09, game-winning hat-tricks against Napoli and Everton, and other matches too numerous to list here and even some that I've forgotten. But all of a sudden, I'll remember them, you'll remember then, for no real reason except that it happened and we'll forever treasure it. Even in his last match, the worst match of his Liverpool tenure, he's the only Liverpool player who scores, a disturbingly similar goal to his first for the club. A goal which took place 5651 days ago. Gerrard scored three of the last four Liverpool goals in this hellish campaign, and finished as Liverpool's top scorer.

At the same time, there's the seven red cards, more than twice as many as the next closest Liverpool player since 1990-91, and probably even farther back. I'm sure you still remember his most recent, an archetypal blood-and-thunder-and-blood-so-much-blood performance rather than brains-and-guile performance in the match which was the beginning of the end in Liverpool's fight for fourth. There are the multiple matches where he again attempted to put Liverpool upon his broad shoulders, but ultimately failed, to the detriment of both team and player, the inevitable conflict that results from a superlative individual in what is most definitely a team sport. There are the multiple managers – five, all five, not to mention all those poor saps in charge of England – who could never quite figure out how to fully harness him, how to build their teams around him. There's the fact that his best two seasons (arguably, of course) came with him as a right winger and attacking #10 rather than his "preferred" central midfield position. There's the end of last season and then this one, there's that last futile title chase falling just short and the chaos that followed, and there's that slip.

Gerrard was somehow both talisman and, at times, millstone. This is the dichotomy that is Steven Gerrard, that has been Steven Gerrard for 17 seasons. As Brian Phillips wrote, far better than I could, he is as Liverpool as Liverpool gets, becoming a microcosm of the club itself at a time when the club had little other tangible identity. That Liverpool which won everything in sight? Gone, pushed into the second tier of England and Europe, at best, mainly due to the increasing influence of finances and an ownership and management unable to keep pace. A Liverpool which increasingly carries itself like every other football (and sports) "franchise" – that dirty word – despite the best efforts of the local community. So, for better or worse, better and worse, Steven Gerrard stepped into the breach: a symbol, the personification, of the club itself.

How do you eulogize the once-in-a-lifetime, born-and-bred force of nature who somehow became akin to the furniture, as much an indelible part of Liverpool as the Kop, while fans often focused on sexier signings like Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez? He was, simply put, taken for granted for more than a decade, both at his peak and in the past few seasons. Liverpool need to win? Gerrard will win it. Liverpool aren't good enough? Gerrard will try to make them good enough. And often fail, but not for lack of effort. But sometimes he wouldn't, and it'd be wonderful, it'd be euphoric, it'd be Olympiakos and AC Milan and West Ham. And it'd remind you that you are watching greatness. Incomparable, singular, flawed, once-in-a-lifetime, born-and-bred greatness.

You can't drive a flatbed truck around Merseyside and collect homegrown kids who come to the club at age 9 and become club captain, England captain, club legend. You know how many other Merseyside-born players featured this season? Two. 33-year-old Rickie Lambert – a lovely story but otherwise the less said the better – and Jordan Rossiter, in one League Cup match, the most recent to be stuck with the perpetual Gerrard comparisons.

We can hope there's another in the pipeline, and there's always one a generation who gets the "Next Steven Gerrard" label, as Rossiter has. But they haven't become Steven Gerrard, and chances are, they won't. We shall never see his like again. And now his watch is over.

I still haven't come to terms with Liverpool starting a season without Steven Gerrard, and I don't know that I'll be able to until August 8. And even then, it'll still take some getting used to. I started watching Liverpool in 2002, and next season will be the first where there's no player from the side started watching. Time makes fools of us all.

It is truly the end of an era, and, given this season's results, I can't help but feel that it's further foreboding for a frightening future.

25 May 2015

Visualized: Liverpool 1-6 Stoke

Previous Match Infographics: Crystal Palace (h), Chelsea (a), QPR (h), Hull City (a), West Brom (a), Newcastle (h), Blackburn [FA Cup] (a), Arsenal (a), Manchester United (h), Swansea (a), Burnley (h), Manchester City (h), Besiktas (a), Southampton (a), Besiktas (h), Tottenham (h), Everton (a), West Ham (h), Chelsea (a) [League Cup], Chelsea (h) [League Cup], Villa (a), Sunderland (a), Leicester (h), Swansea (h), Burnley (a), Arsenal (h), Manchester United (a), Basel (h), Sunderland (h), Leicester (a), Stoke (h), Ludogorets (a), Crystal Palace (a), Chelsea (h), Real Madrid (a), Newcastle (a), Hull (h), Real Madrid (h), QPR (a), West Brom (h), Basel (a), Everton (h), West Ham (a), Ludogorets (h), Aston Villa (h), Tottenham (a), Manchester City (a), Southampton (h)

As always, match data from Stats Zone, except shot location from Squawka and average player position from ESPN FC.

Good riddance, 2014-15.

You'll forgive me if I don't write a bunch of words you've already read to go along with this graphic. Liverpool can't defend, especially in a four at the back; Liverpool can't score no matter who's playing, etc. Liverpool took just two danger zone shots, Liverpool had three defensive errors lead to a goal for the first time this season. Liverpool don't know its best personnel, Liverpool don't know its best formation. Yadda yadda yadda. Yesterday saw all of Liverpool's recurring problems, writ large over all four walls and the ceiling in frantic permanent marker. Which seems a fitting final nail for the season. This graphic is here for thoroughness' sake and little more. Again, good riddance, 2014-15.

Also, you'll get a lot of other content from me over the next few weeks, both wrapping up the campaign and on Gerrard's career. As if that's any consolation.

This stupid season.

24 May 2015

Liverpool 1-6 Stoke

Diouf 22' 26'
Walters 30'
Adam 42'
Nzonzi 45'
Gerrard 72'
Crouch 80'

You always want to peak late, so it's good to see Liverpool hit the apex of embarrassment in the last match of the season. It's a fitting way to end this dismal campaign. Nice job, guys.

Liverpool's worst league loss since 1963. The first time Liverpool have conceded five goals in a single half since 1957. The first time Stoke have scored five or more goals in the Premier League. Gerrard's last match for Liverpool and it's the worst loss of Gerrard's career.

That's impressive.

There's no point in reviewing that shit show. It was a marvelous microcosm of Liverpool's season to forget. An unfamiliar formation with no recognized striker, without wide players who'd be able to get behind Liverpool's "false nine," or whatever Rodgers was attempting. Raheem Sterling left on the bench, and not used as a substitute, after this week's drama. An attack with no idea how to attack, a defense with no idea how to defend. Emre Can at right back again, the side where Stoke's first three goals came from. Six horrific goals conceded, all from open play (surprisingly), all in different manners, from tap-in rebounds to missed assignments to long range beauties to unmarked free headers.

It is fitting that Gerrard got Liverpool's second half consolation, rolling back the years by charging behind Stoke's (admittedly flat-footed) back line for Lambert's flick-on, the lone bright spot in the tire fire that is Liverpool. That is always Liverpool. That has been Liverpool for the majority of Gerrard's golden career. And then Liverpool went and conceded again, to another ex-Liverpool player.

Two months ago, I thought it impossible that Brendan Rodgers would lose his job, no matter how badly this season went. Well, since losing to Aston Villa at Wembley, having lost to United and Arsenal to finally give up on fourth a few matches before, Liverpool have won just once, against QPR, a side who had even less to play for than Liverpool. And barely won at that.

Six matches. One win, two draws, three losses. Five goals scored, 12 goals conceded, including nine in the last two matches. Liverpool simply gave up the ghost, gave up on the season, and seemingly gave up on the manager, and that's incredibly hard to forgive.

Maybe I'll feel different in the cold light of day later, but it's hard to see Rodgers hanging on to his job after that. It'll take a hell of a meeting with FSG in the coming weeks, at least. I try not to overreact after a single match but it's hard not to after that match.

Despite a seemingly stronger squad (I guess), Liverpool are currently worse off than they were at the beginning of 2012-13. When ten-man Liverpool lost 0-3 at West Brom on the first day of the season, you thought that'd be the low-water mark of Rodgers' Liverpool tenure. Nope. Not even close.

After three seasons, it feels like 2012-13 and 2014-15 are the baseline (7th and 6th place, 61 and 62 points respectively), are the norm, and 2013-14 was a Suarez-led aberration. And that's simply unacceptable. At least in 2012-13, you could see progress, especially after the signings of Sturridge and Coutinho. But there hasn't been any progress this season; there has been the opposite of progress, for the first four months and the last two, with recurring problems evident throughout both stretches.

And that may well cost Rodgers his job.

23 May 2015

Liverpool at Stoke 05.24.15

10am ET, live in the US on SyFy

Last four head-to-head:
1-0 Liverpool (h) 11.29.14
5-3 Liverpool (a) 01.12.14
1-0 Liverpool (h) 08.17.13
1-3 Stoke (a) 12.26.13

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-3 Palace (h); 1-1 Chelsea (a); 2-1 QPR (h)
Stoke: 0-0 Burnley (a); 3-0 Spurs (h); 0-2 Swansea (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Gerrard 8; Sterling 7; Henderson 6; Coutinho, Lallana 5; Sturridge 4; Lambert, Markovic, Moreno 2; Allen, Balotelli, Borini, Can, Johnson, Skrtel 1
Stoke: Diouf 10; Crouch, Walters 7; Adam 6; Bojan 4; Moses 3; Nzonzi, Shawcross 2; Arnautovic 1

Referee: Anthony Taylor

Guess at a line-up:
Can Skrtel Lovren Moreno
Henderson Coutinho
Ibe Sterling Lallana

This is it. This season's last waltz, the last chance to dance out of tune, step on each other's toes, and shit in the punch bowl.


I doubt I need remind how much of a disappointment this season has been. Or how terrible the last few weeks after been, most notably those embarrassing losses against Palace and Hull. Liverpool have been going through the motions since elimination from the FA Cup and losses to United and Arsenal doomed the bid for fourth.

Well, Liverpool have to go through the motions one more time. And your guess is as good as mine as to whether those motions will in 4-3-3 or 3-4-3, or whether it'll be Sterling or Lambert or Balotelli up top.

I suspect last week was the exception, and Rodgers would prefer to stick with four at the back, seeing that as the preferred formation for the future, picking three at the back against Palace in the hopes of blunting their speedy counter-attack (sigh). And if that's the case, it'll be Skrtel and Lovren as the center-backs, and Can and either Johnson or Moreno as the full-backs. It'll be Gerrard as the deepest midfielder, with Henderson and Coutinho or Allen between the lines. It'll probably be Sterling up front, despite the last week he's had, Liverpool keeping faith with him to prove they still want him at the club and because there's still no better options. And it'll probably be Lallana and Ibe or Coutinho or Markovic on the flanks.

And hopefully this time will be different from all those other times, because Liverpool need to win tomorrow. If Liverpool lose (or draw) and both Tottenham (at Everton) and Southampton (at City) win, Liverpool will finish 7th, and Liverpool will start their Europa League campaign sometime in July. Late July if Arsenal win the FA Cup but early July if Villa do, meaning that Liverpool would qualify for the Europa League based on the Fair Play Table. Which has an excellent chance of dooming the season before the season even starts.

Meanwhile, Stoke are guaranteed ninth place, their highest Premier League finish, but that shouldn't mean they'll just be going through the motions tomorrow. Hughes won't want to end this campaign with a defeat: a defeat at home, a defeat to Liverpool, a club he loves getting one over on.

Stoke have used the same XI for last two matches, the same front six for last three. So it seems safe to assume we'll see similar, if not the same, tomorrow. Butland; Cameron, Shawcross, Muniesa, Pieters; Whelan, Nzonzi; Walters, Adam, Arnautovic; Diouf.

Charlie Adam (I know right!) has been the star lately, with four goals in the last seven matches, his form earning him a recall to the Scotland national team. Mame Biram Diouf hasn't been far behind, with 10 goals this season – more, I'll churlishly note, than any Liverpool player – dangerous on the counter, even if not blessed with the pace that so dismantled Liverpool last week.

Victor Moses, another ex-Liverpool player on Stoke's books (along with Crouch, who's likely to come off the bench), and Bojan are out injured, while Stephen Ireland will be a game-time decision.

Last season – that magical season which has become increasingly harder and harder to remember – notwithstanding, Liverpool have struggled at the Britannia even at the best of times. The 5-3 win 16 months ago was Liverpool's first Premier League win at Stoke since their promotion in 2008-09, with three losses and two draws prior.

I suspect tomorrow will be similarly difficult, because Stoke and because Liverpool. Still. This is the last waltz, more specifically Gerrard's last waltz. After last week's failure, you'd have to believe – well, "want to believe" is probably more appropriate – that Liverpool have one more decent performance in them before we drop the curtain on 2014-15.

18 May 2015

Visualized: Liverpool 1-3 Crystal Palace

Previous Match Infographics: Chelsea (a), QPR (h), Hull City (a), West Brom (a), Newcastle (h), Blackburn [FA Cup] (a), Arsenal (a), Manchester United (h), Swansea (a), Burnley (h), Manchester City (h), Besiktas (a), Southampton (a), Besiktas (h), Tottenham (h), Everton (a), West Ham (h), Chelsea (a) [League Cup], Chelsea (h) [League Cup], Villa (a), Sunderland (a), Leicester (h), Swansea (h), Burnley (a), Arsenal (h), Manchester United (a), Basel (h), Sunderland (h), Leicester (a), Stoke (h), Ludogorets (a), Crystal Palace (a), Chelsea (h), Real Madrid (a), Newcastle (a), Hull (h), Real Madrid (h), QPR (a), West Brom (h), Basel (a), Everton (h), West Ham (a), Ludogorets (h), Aston Villa (h), Tottenham (a), Manchester City (a), Southampton (h)

As always, match data from Stats Zone, except shot location from Squawka and average player position from ESPN FC.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

This match, aside from the Gerrard eulogies, may have seemed familiar. Because we saw it back in November.

Seven months earlier, a different Liverpool formation, slightly different personnel from both sides, and a different manager for Crystal Palace. But the same script, and the same result with the same scoreline.

Liverpool scoring first, but Crystal Palace following with the next three: a first half equalizer about 15 minutes after the opener, then two second half goals as Liverpool looked increasingly unable to get through their opponents. A similarly outstanding direct free kick from Palace. The same vulnerability on Crystal Palace counter-attacks and the same player – Yannick Bolasie – terrifying the life out of Liverpool's defense, especially Dejan Lovren. If you look at the goal chalkboards for both matches you'll notice a similar run from Bolasie down Liverpool's inside left, around and past Lovren, to set up Palace's second.

And the same Liverpool inability to take decent shots or put enough shots on-target. A feature we've seen in far too many matches this season. At least Liverpool put more than one shot on-target this time?

I know you're sick about me writing about Liverpool's shooting. I'm sick of writing about Liverpool's shooting. But – despite Liverpool's continuing defensive weaknesses, from direct counter-attacks and on set plays, whether it's a back four or back three – that is the main issue, the most galling recurring feature, the alpha and omega which doomed Liverpool's campaign.

16.7% shot accuracy is really, really bad. And it's only the sixth-worst accuracy Liverpool's posted this season, bettering the performances against Villa, at Palace, against Sunderland, against United, and at Arsenal. Liverpool never shot worse than 20% last season, and shot worse than 16.7% just twice in 2012-13: the 10-man loss at West Brom and 0-0 draw with Stoke, matches in August and October respectively.

Nine of Liverpool's last 10 shots came from outside the box. The only inside-the-box shot in the final 40 minutes, from Sterling in the 75th, was immediately blocked. Unsurprisingly, seven of those nine were off-target, with one blocked and one on-target: Gerrard's placed effort easily saved in the 54th. Liverpool were desperate, Liverpool were increasingly impatient, and Liverpool were easily frustrated by a Palace side that had lost its last four matches.

Meanwhile, seven Danger Zone shots from Crystal Palace, with 11 of 15 shots inside Liverpool's box. Only the loss to Chelsea in November saw Liverpool's opponent with more In-Box shots, only the 3-2 win at QPR at the end of October saw Liverpool's opponent with more Danger Zone shots (although multiple teams registered seven, both with Liverpool playing four or three at the back).

For all the tinkering, for all the different formations, despite Liverpool's improvement from January through March, we end up back here. Another little bit of history repeating when we'd hoped that nightmare was long over.

For all the tinkering, for all the different formations, despite Liverpool's improvement from January through March, Liverpool hasn't been able to fix the season-long problems in front of goal. You can't always make chicken salad from summer transfer chicken shit, but that Liverpool have consistently remained direly impotent falls on the manager's tactics and the manager's head as well.

And those two things may well doom Brendan Rodgers' tenure at Liverpool.

16 May 2015

Liverpool 1-3 Crystal Palace

Lallana 26'
Puncheon 43'
Zaha 60'
Murray 90+1'

"STEVEN GERRARD'S LAST MATCH AT ANFIELD!" can't overcome "wow Liverpool have been pretty terrible for almost two months now."

Liverpool's last two matches rolled back the years. Liverpool weren't good in either contest, but Liverpool took four points because Steven Gerrard stepped up when no one else could. Well, Steven Gerrard couldn't today, and no one else could either.

It's sort of fitting. Aside from the Torres and Suarez/Sturridge campaigns (incidentally, the two seasons where Liverpool came closest to the league title), Liverpool have always relied on Gerrard. In the last decade, Gerrard has rarely been able to rely on his teammates.

A 1-3 loss at Crystal Palace in November marked the nadir which prompted Liverpool's turnaround, and a 1-3 loss to Crystal Palace marks a new nadir in Liverpool's last home match. That also seems fitting; it's been quite the season. And that's with Crystal Palace's winner when the goalscorer was offside and Crystal Palace's third with a penalty given for a foul outside the box.

Today followed the template set in the reverse fixture almost perfectly, despite a return for the 3-4-3 from Liverpool, despite a different manager and personnel from Crystal Palace. Liverpool scoring first, but Palace scoring three, constantly more threatening than the supposedly better side, terrifying Liverpool's uncertain defense through counter-attacking pace.

Liverpool's goal was part class but part luck: excellent pressing and a wonderful finish from Lallana, but set up by Martin Kelly's poor pass and Scott Dann's hesitancy when closed down. Both Kelly and Dann remain good Liverpool lads.

But Liverpool couldn't push on from the gift, and were lucky to stay ahead as long as they did: Ledley and Bolasie shooting over, Mignolet outstandingly parrying Puncheon's deflected effort. But Puncheon made no mistake with a 43rd-minute free kick – a free kick won because of Bolasie's pace on the counter, unsurprisingly – inch-perfect and fooling Mignolet into dancing toward the wrong direction.

Liverpool's inability to threaten Palace despite dominating possession and play led Rodgers to switching to the more familiar 4-3-3 in the second half. Liverpool created a few more chances, but Ibe (twice) and Henderson put those chances off-target, but none was an especially dangerous chance. And, of course, Liverpool were summarily punished for failing to take those half-chances: a deep free kick only half-cleared, a 1-2 down Liverpool's left putting Bolasie in, his deflected cross falling to Zaha, who'd been on the pitch for all of 20 seconds, for a tap-in. With both Zaha and Martin Kelly apparently offside.

Liverpool's response was to bring on Lambert and Lucas, to switch to 4-2-3-1 with Gerrard behind the substitute striker. And it worked about as well as it had when we saw it earlier this season. I'm struggling to this of any Liverpool opportunities besides Gerrard's placed shot easily saved by Hennessey and a deflected Emre Can center that almost became an own goal. Meanwhile, Bolasie hit the crossbar and Liverpool needed another wonderful reaction save from Mignolet to deny Puncheon.

With three minutes left, Sinclair replaced Moreno, Liverpool now 4-4-2, the fourth formation in the match. Three minutes later, another Palace counter, Lucas taking out Zaha inches outside the box but with Moss pointing to the penalty spot. Sigh. Mignolet made the save, Murray was first to the rebound. That's now three consecutive league fixtures where Crystal Palace scores three against Liverpool.

Liverpool's three substitutes arguably made Liverpool worse, although it's not as if Liverpool were very good to begin with, and by the 87th minute, Liverpool were simply desperate. Two of Palace's three substitutes scored.

Crystal Palace had lost their last four matches, by the way.

This is life. It isn't fair. Very few of us get happy endings, very few of us get what we deserve. Michael Jordan's basketball career ends with the Washington Wizards. Muhammad Ali loses a unanimous decision to Trevor Berbick. Roy of The Rovers has to have his foot amputated. Steven Gerrard suffers through the last year that we've suffered through, leaving Anfield with a dismal, dreary defeat to the team that dashed his title hopes 12 months ago.

Gerrard did not deserve to leave Anfield with that result. But Liverpool very much did.

15 May 2015

Liverpool v Crystal Palace 05.16.15

12:30pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
2-1 Liverpool (a; FA Cup) 02.14.15
1-3 Palace (a) 11.22.14
3-3 (a) 05.05.14
3-1 Liverpool (h) 10.05.13

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 Chelsea (a); 2-1 QPR (h); 0-1 Hull (a)
Palace: 1-2 United (h); 0-1 Chelsea (a); 0-2 Hull (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Gerrard 8; Sterling 7; Henderson 6; Coutinho 5; Lallana, Sturridge 4; Lambert, Markovic, Moreno 2; Allen, Balotelli, Borini, Can, Johnson, Skrtel 1
Palace: Murray 6; Gayle, Jedinak, Puncheon 5; Bolasie, Campbell 4; Zaha 3; Dann, Hangeland, Ledley, McArthur 2; Chamakh, Ward 1

Referee: Jon Moss

Guess at a line-up:
Can Skrtel Lovren Moreno
Henderson Coutinho
Sterling Lambert Lallana

Steven Gerrard, Steven Gerrard, Steven Gerrard. That's all anyone's talking about in the build-up, and it's hard to fault that. After 17 seasons, his last game at Anfield, after a mini-resurgence in the last two matches having scored Liverpool's last two goals.

What? There's also a football match? A largely meaningless match, but a match nonetheless, a match against a club and a manager who've given Liverpool multiple problems over the last two seasons? Alright, then. There will be time for lots of words (and probably a few infographics) about Steven Gerrard – the best player to ever play for Liverpool – after the season's over.

As much as I'd like to see changes, see Liverpool revert to three at the back, see Liverpool give a few young and/or out-of-favor players another opportunity, I don't expect that to happen. I expect the XI to look a lot like the last few XIs, because there has been very little change in Liverpool's XI in the last month.

At best, Moreno might finally replace the soon-to-be-departing Glen Johnson. Sterling could start up front instead of Lambert, with either Ibe or Markovic coming into the side or Can moving into midfield with Coutinho moving into the front three. I'd be happy to see any of those options, or to see Manquillo return to the side for the first time since January. But I don't expect to see those options. Rodgers finds a system he likes, whether 4-3-3 over the last two months, 3-4-3 before that, or 4-diamond-2 last season, and he sticks with it until he can't stick with it any more.

Meanwhile, Crystal Palace have become a very Pardew side. Excellent on their day, but consistently inconsistent to an amazing degree. Threatened with relegation, Palace reeled off four consecutive wins in March and April, including a victory over City which ended their small hopes at the title. And then followed it up with four consecutive losses in their last four matches: understandable against Chelsea and United (each by a single goal) but baffling against Hull and West Brom at home, giving each of those sides' hope in their own relegation battles. Much like Liverpool have done recently.

And like Liverpool, you'd expect tomorrow's XI to look a lot like other recent Palace XIs. Speroni; Ward, Dann, Delaney, Souare; Jedinak, Ledley; Zaha, McArthur, Bolasie; Murray. Exactly as against United. Maybe Mutch, Puncheon, or Chamakh starts as the #10 instead of McArthur, maybe Ledley drops out or shifts to left-back to accommodate one of those players, maybe Kelly starts in place of Ward or Souare, but those are the only changes Pardew has made in recent weeks.

Dwight Gayle, Liverpool's bane in the last two league meetings, has been out of favor lately, used off the bench if at all, not even in the squad in the last two matches. But if there's any match to bring him back for, it's a match against Liverpool, though. Palace only has one injury concern – Jerome Thomas – who's been out for a while and probably wouldn't start anyway. Palace will play on the counter, as Palace is prone to do, using Bolasie and Zaha's pace and ability with the ball at their feet. As Palace has done to get results in the last two meetings with Liverpool, albeit at Selhurst Park rather than Anfield.

Regardless, tomorrow will still be all about Gerrard. But, even though Liverpool seem cemented in fifth, there's still football to be played, a month and a season of disappointment to be partly erased by a strong finish. That tomorrow's match is against a side that broke Liverpool hearts a year ago and prompted Liverpool's turnaround six months ago should be added incentive. Not that Liverpool, in (as you may have heard) Gerrard's last match at Anfield, should need any extra incentive.