05 October 2013

Liverpool 3-1 Crystal Palace

Suarez 13'
Sturridge 17'
Gerrard 38' (pen)
Gayle 77'

Back to "normal," but with some continuing concerns.

That Liverpool were out of sight by the 17th minute and on cruise control by the start of the second half makes it hard to draw any conclusions. It's no surprise to see Liverpool subpar in the second half when already three goals to the good, it's no surprise to see Liverpool concede a sloppy set play consolation when they've been playing as if the game's already been won for more than half an hour.

More possession than any other match this season, more attempted and completed passes than any other match this season, a higher overall pass accuracy than any other match this season, a higher attacking third pass accuracy than any other match this season. Just 13 shots – still fewer than last season's average, let alone last season's most dominating performances – but seven of them on target, along with two strikes off the woodwork.

Make no mistake, Crystal Palace's set-up assuredly helped. Holloway named a very attacking side, in a 4-3-3 with two out-and-out strikers and two midfielders ahead of a holder. No matter that a similar set-up led to two Blackpool wins over Liverpool the last time that Holloway was in the Premier League, it bordered on suicidal. This is not 2011-12 Liverpool, and Suarez and Sturridge definitively proved that before a quarter of the match was over, each scoring a goal mainly due to each's individual brilliance.

Suarez's came from a back-to-front, left-to-right-to-left team-wide move, 12 passes involving seven players, starting at the corner flag in Liverpool's half and ending with the ball in the back of the net, broken open by Moses' strong run across the width of Palace's defensive third. But Suarez's tenaciousness is what made the goal, seemingly muscled out after receiving Enrique's pullback but somehow scoring after he'd slipped, wholly unwilling to let the chance escape.

Four minutes later, it was a long pass from defense that exposed Palace's tender underbelly: Enrique's bomb accidentally headed on by Ward, then Sturridge utterly terrorizing and bamboozling Delaney before Palace could get back, slamming a shot from no angle past Speroni. The goals were those two strikers in a nutshell: a never-say-die Tasmanian Devil, and unstoppable direct pace and footwork from a player who's now scored 14 goals in the last 14 games.

Palace inspired five minutes of terror just before the half hour – Sakho making a crucial block, Toure clearing off the line, a magnificent save from Mignolet – but otherwise, Liverpool were rampant. Gerrard added a soft third, Palace conceding a penalty when Moxey pulled back Sterling just inside the box, given by the linesman after Taylor initially looked uninterested. Moses hit the bar after a lovely run and low cross from Suarez, both Suarez and Sturridge had shots saved by Speroni. At that point, it seemed a matter of how many.

It didn't seem that way for most of the second half, though. To be fair, Palace were far better for two halftime changes, bringing on Campaña and Gayle for Kebe and Jerome, but Liverpool coasted, happy to soak up pressure and maybe add another on the counter. You know, if it's there and we don't have to try too hard. Which, in isolation, is understandable. Liverpool had already accomplished what they set out to accomplish, and Liverpool are still getting used to this formation and this personnel, with a couple of crucial players absent through both injury and suspension. A fair few were probably thinking about the upcoming international break, which will define most countries' World Cup qualification. In context, though, it all-too-easily fits into the annoying "what's the matter with Liverpool in the second half" narrative.

And Palace's consolation was infuriating, because it was a goal we've seen conceded all too often. An unnecessary foul from Sterling, a Palace player wide open to convert the resulting set play. This time Gayle lost Gerrard. Well, more accurately, Gayle ambled away from a static Gerrard, free to flick on at the near post, a deft header that gave Mignolet no chance. In the greater scheme of things, it meant next to nothing. Given what gone before, it's a goal that took far too much gloss off what was otherwise a routine victory.

Sturridge and Suarez's individual performances and interplay were again the highlight, but special mention goes out to Jordan Henderson.

75 attempted passes, 69 complete, for 92% accuracy. Seven tackles, 12 ball recoveries, two interceptions, two blocks, four clearances, and winning his only contested aerial duel. Henderson was outstanding, outstanding, as a central midfielder. Liverpool very much benefited from his dynamism in the middle, especially against vulnerable, open opposition.

Rodgers has some tough decisions to make. Lucas still makes Liverpool better against most opponents, his defensive ability superior to any other midfielder. Gerrard, for better or worse, remains undroppable in many people's eyes, still Liverpool's talisman and busy in attack when Liverpool were at their best today, even if he's demonstrably tired by the 70th minute in almost every match this season. Joe Allen will return from injury sooner rather than later. Today's match, today's midfield performance, should very much be food for thought for Rodgers this week.

Otherwise, Liverpool's defense was excellent: Toure, Sakho, and Skrtel, with special mention for Le Monstre, who has been better and better in each match he's played for Liverpool, keeping personal favorite Daniel Agger out of the line-up on pure merit. Moses was far better as the #10 compared to six days ago, unlucky not to get on the scoresheet against his old club. Enrique was Enrique: combining wonderfully with Suarez at times, moments of genius swiftly followed by moments of madness. Sterling, unsurprisingly, was hit and miss at wing-back; he created four of Liverpool's 10 chances, won the game-killing penalty, and made some nice tackles when getting back in defense. But he also made some poor passes in both defense and attack, was caught out of position on a few occasions. Which, honestly, should be expected from an 18-year-old playing this role for only the second time in his career after coming off the bench for a few minutes against Sunderland. At least he did enough to demonstrate that he can do it, and more, in the future.

Long story short, job done, back to the top of the league, even if only until Arsenal play tomorrow. It's still early, and questions and worries remain, but Liverpool are still in a far better position than we could have reasonably hoped before the season kicked off, still with key players – especially Johnson and Coutinho – to return to this new, mostly impressive formation.


Ryan said...

Rodgers keeps insinuating that 3-4-1-2 is borne out of necessity with our current injury set up, but the truth is, this is clearly the way for us going forward. I think 3-4-1-2 gets even stronger when we are healthy. Sakho-Agger-Toure is strong at the back. Johson and Cissoko are natural wingbacks. Coutinho is a natural 10 in behind Suarez and Sturridge.

But beyond that, 3 years from now, Ilori-Sakho-Kelly is a natural back 3. Henderson-Allen is a natural 2 in front of the 3.

To me, 3 at the back is the only way forward for LFC. There are still some things to work out, but we almost never look like conceding from open play. Plus the formation allows us to play Suarez and Sturridge in their natural positions.

We are winning matches without even playing well. Such a weird feeling after the last few years when we dominated matches only to drop points.

With Suarez and Sturridge, we will hardly ever be out of a match again.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely right to give a shout out to Henderson. He was phenomenal. He certainly seized the opportunity.

Vercingetora said...

Nice write up as always. I think Henderson answered the question as to who backs up Lucas. His defending was superb.

What will our lineup be when health returns? Brendan like what he sees with 2 central strikers, wants Coutinho as a #10, says he's played 3 in the back because we haven't reliably held onto the ball in midfield after the injuries. In my mind this all adds up to a 4-3-1-2 or 4-4-2 diamond. Perhaps:

Johnson. Toure. Agger. Enrique
Henderson. Gerrard
Sturridge. Suarez

With Sakho, Skrtel & Moses viable first 11 options

suley said...

Hey Ryan,

Almost never look like conceding? Im not sure what match you were watching but there were several instances in this match where our defence seemed wide open.

Not saying the system doesnt work or anything just that thus far using this system we still dont look defensively very sound. This may be down to it being a new system or some other reason. Not too sure at the moment.