Liverpool fail to fire in turgid mid-table battle
A response was required after a European humbling; apparently, nobody passed that message to the Liverpool players.
Plenty can happen on a Saturday night to make people forget what they did or what they witnessed. A Premier League match isn’t supposed to be one of them, but by the time 25,000 or so inside Selhurst Park had left their seats and reached the streets, it’s fair to assume the majority had already erased the previous 90 minutes from their minds.
Crystal Palace were tenacious and sporadically threatening, but never really dominant, never really impressive. Liverpool were largely the opposite; dominant in possession, but rarely tenacious, not at all impressive.
A 0-0 scoreline barely covers the depths of dismal endeavour which this match plunged to, a game in which the woodwork was struck three times yet not a single shot was really hit cleanly, with purpose or accuracy.
For the sake of saving the rest of the weekend, stopping right here might be the best idea for all concerned. It might not be a match Liverpool’s coaching staff can watch back and pick out too much from to take forward, at least.
Jurgen Klopp had named not just a changed midfield, but a decidedly unusual one; of the trio of Jordan Henderson, Naby Keita and James Milner, the latter two are out of contract in the summer and the captain has underperformed to such an extent that he had completed just three 90-minute outings in the league since the opening day of the season.
Palace, meanwhile, hardly had it any better. Their ‘recent’ form doesn’t really begin to sum it up properly: just one win in 12 heading into this fixture, no home wins since October, four goals scored in their last six games.
Perhaps both sets of supporters should have come here expecting exactly what they got.
For ten minutes, it was weak sparring. Liverpool had possession without penetration; Palace stood off without ceding significant ground. It was, all things considered, extremely gentle for a top-flight game under the lights, speaking far more of the current states of mind of these teams than of the possibilities of progression before them.
Even the Selhurst Park atmosphere, usually one of the most rowdy and incessant, had a decidedly muted feel about it. Their biggest cry of the opening quarter of the match was reserved for Jean-Philippe Mateta when he opted against running after the ball with Virgil van Dijk.
The first half descended into a litany of bad touches and missed chances. Trent Alexander-Arnold misplaced his second pass of the evening straight to Mateta, only for Alisson to deny him one-on-one. Joel Matip then lofted a pass to the far post for Diogo Jota to head at goal from a yard – but he hit the outside of the post, from almost on the byline. At the other end, Marc Guehi immediately nodded just wide after meeting a free-kick.
And, right before the break, Palace missed the biggest of all: another Alexander-Arnold error saw Mateta with a clear chance from just six yards out, but he fluffed his lines and clipped the top of the bar with an inexplicably skied shot.
To be blunt, it was the first half summed up in a few seconds: lacking concentration, finesse and quality.
Klopp made one change at the break; he could have made four more. And only stop there because the rules dictate it. Immediately, though, the visitors were brighter and faster on the ball; Salah curled a deflected first-time effort against the crossbar, Matip nearly netted after one corner and Jota fired over following the next. Not exactly battering-down-the-door stuff, but positively non-stop in comparison to what preceded it.
It didn’t last, and both managers made double subs with 20 minutes to play in a desperate bid to stop the match from descending into irrelevance.
The crowd was briefly on its feet in the 77th minute, but not for any on-pitch matters; tributes were paid to John Motson, who died this week at age 77.
All that left to be decided in the closing ten or so were whether defensive errors would send the points one way or another, and whether Fabinho would see out the game without a red card, having been booked minutes after his entrance.
Neither one happened, neither team can be satisfied with the evening’s work and neither set of fans left happy, with Palace’s ire reserved for the referee. This match was eighth versus 12th at kick-off, and played out like it.