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.

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