22 April 2017

Liverpool v Crystal Palace 04.23.17

11:30am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
4-2 Liverpool (a) 10.29.16
2-1 Liverpool (a) 03.06.16
2-1 Palace (h) 11.08.15
3-1 Palace (h) 05.16.15

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-0 West Brom (a); 2-1 Stoke (a); 2-2 Bournemouth (a)
Palace: 2-2 Leicester (h); 3-0 Arsenal (h); 1-3 Southampton (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Mané 13; Firmino 11; Coutinho 9; Lallana, Milner 7; Origi 6; Wijnaldum 5; Can 4; Lovren, Sturridge 2; Henderson, Matip 1
Palace: Benteke 12; Zaha 6; McArthur 5; Cabaye 4; Dann, Tomkins, Townsend 3; Wickham 2; Campbell, Ledley, Milivojevic, van Aanholt 1

Referee: Andre Marriner (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Gomez Lovren Milner
Wijnaldum Lucas Can
Firmino Origi Coutinho

This is the song that doesn't end. Yes, it goes on and on, my friend.

So, in addition to Mané, Henderson, Lallana, Ings, etc., Matip, Klavan, and Lucas are all questionable with minor muscle injuries. That's two center-backs (two-and-a-half if we're being generous), three central midfielders, a would-have-been-helpful back-up striker, and Liverpool's best attacker.

Fantastic. As if we needed more evidence that Liverpool's squad is insanely shallow.

I can't even really begin to guess how Liverpool would line-up with Lucas missing from a midfield already without Henderson and Lallana, hence the above predicted XI. 3-4-3, with just Wijnaldum and Can, would be an option if more center-backs were fit. Please no Milner in midfield, not after that first half at Stoke. Maybe 4-4-2 with both Sturridge and Origi up top? Maybe Coutinho drops into the three with Woodburn or Alexander-Arnold in attack? Alexander-Arnold has also played in central midfield for the u23s. Grujic could be an option, although I remain wary of a player who's barely featured all season, even if he's making the bench these days. Kevin Stewart hasn't even made the bench in almost two months, and hasn't played in a league match since September.

As for the center-backs, Matip's at least seemingly most likely of the doubtful. Which would be helpful. But Joe Gomez, even without almost any playing time with the first team due to another lengthy injury, might not be the worst idea given his strength and speed. There's a reasonable argument that he'd be far better suited to face Benteke than either Klavan or Lucas.

Crystal Palace are all but safe, seven points and substantial goal difference ahead of the relegation zone. That wasn't the case a little more than month ago, barely clinging onto 17th ahead of Hull and Boro, in the bottom three as recently as the end of February. But that's what happens when you win five of your last seven, including victories at Chelsea and against Arsenal. Allardyce will, of course, take full and total credit for their rejuvenation, but a center-back named Mamadou Sakho (*shrugs quizzically*) has been a key part – the winning streak beginning upon his entrance into the starting XI – and he's ineligible tomorrow. And they're also missing his back-up, Scott Dann, through injury.

Hennessey; Ward, Kelly, Tomkins, van Aanholt; Cabaye, Milivojevic; Zaha, Puncheon, Townsend; Benteke. Delaney could come into defense rather than Tomkins, Schlupp has been starting at left-back recently but van Aanholt's fit again, and Allardyce could try to pack the midfield with McArthur or Ledley rather than Puncheon or Townsend.

Because Crystal Palace will Allardyce. Strong in the center, no matter absentees, combative in midfield, fast on the flanks, counters and crosses. I am obviously most worried by the former Liverpool players involved, not only top scorer Christian Benteke – who LOVES playing against Liverpool – but even Martin Kelly, now (correctly) used more often at center-back. But Wilfried Zaha's become the centerpiece: still only 24, by far his best season return with six goals and nine assists, adding a definitive end product to his pace and dribbling. Zaha and Benteke on the counter should absolutely terrify Liverpool. They'd terrify a full-strength Liverpool.

The last time these sides met, albeit without Sam Allardyce involved, was just dumb. Palace only took seven shots but put six on-target, with Benteke responsible for three of them, scoring twice. Liverpool twice allowed equalizers barely minutes after taking the lead, the first of which came from a hilariously horrific defensive error, the second from a too-easy Zaha cross, both from headers.

But Liverpool were scoring for fun those days, unbeaten in ten going into that match, housing Watford 6-1 after that match. And Liverpool put two more past Palace after Palace had gotten back to 2-2. Liverpool are not scoring for fun these days, reliant on defense (?!?!?!?!) and doing *just enough* in attack for recent wins over West Brom and Stoke.

That's going to be a lot harder tomorrow with all the absentees. But Liverpool have no other choice at this stage of the season. Not with the incredibly tense and tight chase for fourth. Not with just five matches remaining.

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