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Last four head-to-head:
1-2 Palace (a; League Cup) 10.25.05
0-1 Palace (a) 04.23.05
3-2 Liverpool (h) 11.13.04
0-2 Palace (h; FA Cup) 02.05.03
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 3-1 Sunderland (a); 0-1 United (a); 0-1 Southampton (h)
Palace: 0-2 Southampton (a); 0-2 Swansea (h); 0-2 United (a)
Liverpool: Sturridge 5; Suarez 2; Moses 1
Palace: Chamakh, Gabbidon, Gayle, O'Keefe 1
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Guess at a line-up:
Toure Sakho Agger
Sterling Henderson Gerrard Enrique
Lucas' one-match suspension, for incurring five yellow cards in just seven matches (a new record; it took him nine matches in 2011-12), throws another wrench in the machine, with Coutinho, Allen, Johnson, and Cissokho all still absent through injury.
Henderson will almost certainly replace Lucas in midfield. But, with Henderson fairly important in a wide right role, that change will necessitate other changes across the pitch.
Will it be a straight swap, with either Sterling – as he did against off the bench at Sunderland – or Kelly/Wisdom replacing Henderson at wing-back? Or maybe even Iago Aspas, who hasn't been seen since he was hauled off at halftime against Southampton? Or does Rodgers change the formation to something more like a 4-4-2, despite his usual disdain for the formation: a back four – most likely Toure, Skrtel, Sakho/Agger, Enrique – Sterling and Moses on the flanks, Henderson and Gerrard in the middle, and Sturridge and Suarez up front? If last season provides any precedent, that formation would be just as much as 4-2-3-1, with one of the strikers – most likely Suarez – dropping into the hole more often than not.
The main benefit of the 3-4-1-2 formation has been Liverpool's improvement in both boxes. Yes, there was often, still, a massive gap in the middle of the pitch – the area of the pitch Rodgers supposedly considers most important – but Liverpool looked more defensively solid, and, most importantly, got the best out of both Suarez and Sturridge. Even if three-at-the-back isn't Rodgers' preferred system, those two benefits seem to massively outweigh any others at the moment, especially with crucial players currently unavailable. This post-press conference article with quotes from Rodgers explains the thought process behind the system fairly well.
Agger's return to fitness prompts questions in defense as well. Does Sakho's form (and Skrtel's, to a lesser extent) keep him out of the team? Does Skrtel make way, with Sakho moving to the center of the three-man back line? No matter how well Skrtel's done lately, Agger – Liverpool's vice captain, often Liverpool's best center-back, especially with the ball at his feet – seems likely to come back into the side, especially in a match where Liverpool should dominate possession. I do think he has a better chance if Liverpool keep three at the back; as both Sakho and Agger are left-footed, if it's a back four, Skrtel seems slightly more likely to keep his place at right center-back.
Holloway's Blackpool side played a fairly orthodox 4-3-3, but Palace have used the more familiar 4-2-3-1 system more often this season. Except in the last match, an 0-2 loss at Southampton, where Palace delpoyed Kebe, Chamakh, and Gayle up front. But I suspect Holloway will be more compact, more content to keep a tight defense, more reliant on the counter attack at Anfield, and revert to a 4-2-3-1. Something like Speroni; Ward, Mariappa, Gabbidon, Moxey; Dikgacoi, Jedinak; Puncheon, Campaña, Gayle; Chamakh. Palace should rely on Gayle's pace and Chamakh's aerial ability on the counter, hoping their talents will force mistakes from Liverpool's defense while pretty much keeping the other nine men behind the ball. As always, set plays will be a concern, even if Palace have scored just one of their four league goals from a corner scramble.
Holloway's side have won just once all season: 3-1 against Liverpool last opponents, Sunderland, the same scoreline as Liverpool earned. Those two sides have, without question, been the two worst teams in the division through this young season. Palace haven't scored in 270 minutes of football, not since adding an injury-time nail-in-the-coffin third against the 10-man Mackems.
Yes, that's been a recipe for disaster before, with Liverpool either underestimating or underperforming against beatable opposition. But that's been less of an issue this season than last (or the season before that, or the season before than, or...); the focus has been better, the professionalism better, and the team's cohesiveness and camaraderie better.
Liverpool saw the benefits of a strong performance prior to the last international break, even if it didn't carry over into the subsequent fixture. They'll look to do the same against Palace. There's a heavy potential to jinx the side with this statement, but tomorrow's match should be the perfect opportunity to return to the possession-dominating flat-track bully that we saw against weaker opponents last season.