Liverpool looked every bit the primary contender to prevent Manchester City from a second straight canter to a Premier League title in their season opener. The Reds look to sustain that momentum Monday at Selhurst Park versus Crystal Palace.
POTENTIAL STARTING XIs
Jurgen Klopp’s team swept aside West Ham United 4-0 at Anfield on Aug. 12, showing off their new signings and taking full advantage of an Irons squad dealing with chemistry issues with so many of their new players arriving so close to the transfer deadline.
Mohamed Salah looked ready to compete for a second consecutive Golden Boot by opening the scoring, and Sadio Mane contributed a brace on either side of halftime. Daniel Sturridge added the finishing touch with a goal just seconds after his introduction in the 88th minute.
The year-long wait for Naby Keita proved well worth it as he anchored a bustling midfield that included Georginio Wijnaldum and James Milner, the latter of whom was filling in for England international Jordan Henderson as he rested following his run to the World Cup semifinals.
Alisson, who was a world-record signing at the keeper position until Chelsea’s late move for Kepa Arrizabalaga, was barely troubled in recording a clean sheet in his Liverpool debut, and Xherdan Shaqiri got his first taste of Anfield life with a late runout.
“Yes, the start was good but that’s already done, if you want,” Klopp told Liverpool’s official website. “The feeling around the club is good (and) a big part of that are the performances and the results we got in the last few months. That’s what we have to do again and again and again.”
While there are no worries about the offence, the defence is not at full strength as Dejan Lovren is recovering from a pelvis injury he suffered with Liverpool and aggravated helping Croatia reach the World Cup final. Joe Gomez stepped in and formed an effective central defence tandem with Virgil Van Dijk, justifying the gaffer’s confidence in the 21-year-old.
“I was never in doubt about Joe and his ability to play at centre-half … now he’s fit and he’s a very good football player, he can play the position good,” Klopp said. “Together with Virgil, they have a very good understanding – on a personal level as well, that’s really cool.”
While Gomez and Van Dijk will again start, Klopp is expected to add Joel Matip to the bench since fellow central defender Ragnar Klavan left Friday for Italian Serie A side Cagliari.
This summer’s big outfield signing – midfielder Fabinho – likely will be with the reserves for a second straight match, but the Brasil international feels he is making the proper adjustments to a three-man midfield after serving as a part of a defensive midfield pairing with Monaco before his £39 million move.
“It’s a different playing style than at Monaco; there were two of us in midfield there and here at Liverpool there’s three,” he noted. “My midfield partners have given me guidance and assistance, as have the defence. I knew my role would change and I feel I’ve adapted well. You seek guidance and help from the players around you and that has worked really well up until now.”
Crystal Palace made sure there would be no repeat of last term’s historically ghastly start by opening their season with a 2-0 victory at promoted Fulham on Aug. 11. The Eagles, who started 2017-18 by losing their first seven matches while failing to score a goal in any of them, got goals from Jeffrey Schlupp and Wilfried Zaha on either side of halftime.
Roy Hodgson’s side was sharp on both sides of the ball – nine of their 10 shots were on target and keeper Wayne Hennessey made six saves for the clean sheet – as Palace took apart a side many expected to make a seamless transition to the top flight given their flowing style of football and aggressive spending in the summer transfer window.
“It’s always the aim to get a win on your first game and from that you gain confidence to go into the next game in a positive mindet,” said right back Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who assisted on Zaha’s goal, to Palace’s official website. “Wayne Hennessey was superb and I want to give credit to him for how he played to get us a clean sheet as well.”
Crystal Palace also went about securing a big piece of their offense during the week, extending Zaha’s contract at Selhurst Park through the 2022-23 season with a pay packet reportedly worth £130,000 per week. The Ivorian has 44 goals with the Eagles, and the 25-year-old had been a constant subject of speculation to jump to a bigger club in recent transfer windows.
“Wilf grew up a stone’s throw from Selhurst Park from the age of four, and has been with the club since he was 12,” club chairman Steve Parish said. “This agreement is yet another example of his lifelong commitment to the club, and our commitment to him. This is an amazing day for everyone here at Palace, our supporters and of course Wilf – and is richly deserved.”
Hodgson has a fully fit squad and likely will keep his same XI from the win over Fulham. With the staggering depth in midfield, Klopp can afford to hold out Henderson for a second straight match, but it is also possible the England international supplants Milner in the middle of the park.
Liverpool did the double over Crystal Palace last season, winning both contests by one goal. Mane scored in both contests, bagging the winner in a 1-0 victory at Anfield and the equaliser in a 2-1 triumph at Selhurst Park in which Salah secured all three points six minutes from time.
The Reds have won four on the trot in all competitions at Selhurst Park.
Per Ladbrokes, Liverpool are heavy favourites at 4/9 odds to extend their winning streak at Selhurst Park to five matches, and Crystal Park are 6/1 underdogs. There are 7/2 odds for the teams to split the points.
Salah leads the way for first goal-scorers at 11/4 odds, firmly ahead of Sturridge (4/1), Roberto Firmino (9/2) and Mane (10/1). Zaha is the top option among Palace players, albeit at distant 9/1 odds.
Salah is better-than-even odds to score for the second time in as many matches at 8/11, while Mane — who has five goals in eight career matches versus Crystal Palace — offers a solid 8/5 return on any-time goal-scoring odds. Sturridge is slightly ahead of Firmino on the pecking order at 23/20 for Sturridge over 13/10 for the Brasilian.
Zaha is again the top Palace option at 13/5, with Christian Benteke close behind at 14/5.
Plenty of people are expecting at least three goals in this match as Liverpool are even money to win and go over 2.5 goals compared to 10/3 with a win and under 2.5 goals. For those picking a 2-2 draw or higher, the return is an intriguing 12/1.
Both sides have something to prove — for Liverpool, this match gives them a chance to show they can carry that blistering form from last week to the road, while Crystal Palace are out to show their win at Fulham was no fluke and that they are a team with at least legitimate mid-table aspirations.
Expect Henderson to return to the starting XI at the expense of Milner, further strengthening an already-potent midfield. Klavan’s departure to Italy leaves Liverpool dangerously thin at centre back considering Matip and relative unknown Nathaniel Phillips are now the primary backups for at least the next few weeks while Lovren recovers from his pelvic injury.
The battle through the midfield will be pivotal for any chance Crystal Palace entertain in taking at least a point for this contest. Luka Milivojevic must find places to hold possession for the Eagles, who are adept at hitting on the counter, but will be playing from reactionary and defence-first positions for most of this contest.
One interesting thing of note is that Liverpool pumped in 29 crosses against West Ham, which means they got forward fairly easily on the flanks to create scoring chances. Both left backs — Andrew Robertson and Patrick van Aanholt — are going to be challenged to avoid being pinned back, more so van Aanholt given the prolific nature of Liverpool’s attack.
Mane has proved a problem to contain for Palace and is looking to run his goal-scoring streak against the Eagles to three matches. But when one considers Liverpool’s attacking options beyond the Senegal international, Palace will wind up on the short end of this tussle for a fifth straight time at Selhurst Park.
PREDICTION: CRYSTAL PARK 0, LIVERPOOL 2
(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at the STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction for the match in this blog.)