Liverpool lucky to face impotent Palace as atrophy takes hold at Anfield…

Ian Watson
Jurgen Klopp applauds the Liverpool fans after the draw at Crystal Palace.

Christ, that was bad. For Liverpool, it wasn’t as disastrous as Brentford, Brighton, Wolves or Real but they’ve only got Palace’s abject lack of potency to thank for that…

Crystal Palace were furious their draw with Liverpool was halted abruptly before a corner in the 94th minute. By that point, those of us investing our Saturday night in an appallingly-low quality stalemate had been praying for the sweet release of the final whistle for at least 20 minutes.

It was woefully apparent that the deadlock wasn’t going to be broken tonight. The Eagles and Reds could have played until midweek – this game was destined to finish goalless, however long we had to endure it.

That was evidently the players’ experience too. The latest miserable chapter in a joyless 2023, a period in which Palace have been winless and Liverpool generally hopeless.

Should we be alarmed at that nine-match sequence for Palace? They have now drawn more than they have lost and they sit in 12th place in the table, seemingly in little danger of straying far from the cosiness of mid-table. Perhaps that’s enough for Palace. It ought not to be.

They should have taken more tonight. They created the better chances, all of them wasted, none of them on target. Jurgen Klopp pointed to that last statistic and used Liverpool’s four efforts on Palace’s goal as evidence that it was they, in fact, who deserved more. Nope.

Liverpool took a clean sheet, not because they were solid at the back – they weren’t – but because Palace are utterly devoid of potency and ruthlessness. Of course it didn’t help that none of their three top scorers – Wilfried Zaha, Eberechi Eze and Odsonne Edouard – featured in Patrick Vieira’s XI but, as the league’s fourth-lowest scorers, this was hardly a one-off. Sure, they broke and speed and Palace are very good at moving through the thirds. Then they reach the final one and it all falls apart.

Liverpool did their best to aid the Eagles, especially in the first half. Joel Matip and Trent Alexander-Arnold both gave away possession around their own box to tee up Palace but the chances for Jean Philippe Mateta went astray, one clanging off the top of the crossbar. Naby Keita then took time away from his mission to be sent off to stab the ball towards Alisson’s net, narrowly missing his own goal, and when none of that worked, Liverpool, as is their habit of late, stood perfectly still when defending a set-piece. But Marc Guehi failed to hit the target with a free header.

This clean sheet, similar to last week’s at Newcastle, felt in spite of Liverpool’s defence rather than because of it. Things were little better ahead of them.

Mo Salah in action for Liverpool against Crystal Palace.

Reeling from a Real mauling in midweek, Klopp picked an experienced side, with only Alexander-Arnold, Cody Gakpo and Diogo Jota under the age of 28. The manager sought experience; he got weariness.

Everything about Liverpool was leggy. Without Darwin Nunez, there appeared no desire to run beyond the Palace rearguard. The passing was much like the pressing: slow, sloppy and so far below the standards we used to expect of Klopp’s machine. But where there was relentlessness there is now atrophy.

Fans, players and manager appear to pining for the end of a miserable season so the rebuild – whatever that might look like – can begin. But the players, more than the supporters and Klopp, need to grasp the opportunity that is before them. A Champions League place is achievable, but it appears to have dawned on too many in this team that the harder they work to achieve that, the more likely they are to be replaced. Side before self? Not so much these days at Anfield.

Read more: Foden stars as Manchester City revel in one of those easy games the Premier League doesn’t have