Questions were swirling around Liverpool’s mediocre away record before their trip to Croydon to face former Reds manager Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace side. Those raised eyebrows and fears from Kopites have been massively quelled this week, as seven goals of the best Jürgen Klopp’s men has to offer embarrassed The Eagles and guaranteed that the winners on the day would stay top of the Premier League table.
A surprise exclusion of top scorer Mohamed Salah, reduced to the bench, and inclusion of the 2020 winter transfer market signing Takumi Minamino worried some supporters as to whether there was an issue with the Egyptian’s fitness. In a season where injuries have come to dominate the headlines for the champions, even a player dropped to a smaller role in the matchday squad can worry some of the Anfield faithful.
With Klopp revealing it was a precaution made to level the workload for all the players, it took just 3 minutes for Minamino to repay his manager for putting him in the eleven. Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross met Mané just outside the right-hand-side of the six-yard box who spun 180° to find the Japanese forward who still had a lot to do to lift the ball over the challenge from former Liverpool right-back Nathaniel Clyne and find the bottom-left corner of Guaita’s net.
Following the goal, Palace did have chances. Jordan Ayew on another day would have squared the ball across the box but today, after the flight of Clyne’s hopeful ball forward was misjudged by Fabinho, his pass was just behind Wilfried Zaha and Trent was able to recover in time to clear.
The game was finely poised until the 35th minute – with Palace having a large share of the possession but not accomplishing much with it. Liverpool, however, was devastating with their finishing as Keïta and Minamino were involved in a scrappy melee outside the penalty area and the ball seemed to just fall for the one-man Palace did not need to give an inch to in Roberto Firmino.
The Brazilian bombshell blew away the Palace defence today, but for the second goal he found himself as the supplier as he fizzed the ball into Mané’s feet and with one touch to control and another to shoot on goal, the scoreline was doubled.
After holding firm and challenging Liverpool for most of the first half, including another chance for Zaha with the Ivorian only finding the roof of the outside of the net, a goal just before half-time taking the score to 3-0 meant it was almost certainly game over. A classic counterattack was launched by Firmino, spreading the play to the opposing wing to set off Robertson who carried the ball 35 yards before crossing the ball back to Firmino outside the box who deftly took one touch, and one more with the outside of his boot to take the game away from Palace.
Half time: Crystal Palace 0-3
No doubt the memories of that fateful night in the 2013/14 season, known colloquially as ‘Crystanbul’, where Damien Delaney and a Dwight Gayle brace ended Brendan Rodgers’ team’s title chances by bringing Palace all the way back from a three-goal deficit to end the game level will have been flowing through the minds of the Liverpool fans.
6 minutes into the half though it was the captain, Jordan Henderson, who took on Alexander-Arnold’s ball outside the penalty box and thundered the ball in to take the scoring to 4-0. Now it looked less like taking the game out of Palace’s hands and more about how many Klopp’s men could rack up.
Mané was taken off early in the half to his disappointment as more goals seemed on the cards. Salah was brought on for what appeared like a cameo appearance, but his inclusion brought even more scoring as he took the ball from the right side of the pitch and threaded a through ball in for Firmino to chase as three Palace defenders were taken out of action with the pass. A cheeky lift over Guaita and in the 67th minute and man alive, it was number five.
The game seemed as if it was winding down then as chances were limited before the 80th minute as damage control was the message for the closing moments of the game for Palace. The tall defenders could not cope with the size of Joël Matip who rose highest to nod the ball onto Salah, who arguably did not know much of the effort onto his head, who appeared to just ricochet the ball into the net – Tom Mix.
Then to round off the game was a specialist moment from the Egyptian who has not scored a goal like this in a long while. Oxlade-Chamberlain came off the bench for his first appearance of the season after a long layoff through injury who fed Salah outside the box and with just one touch to take it away from van Aanholt the strike was precise and true, a postage stamp finish into the top-left corner for lucky seven.
It was truly a drubbing in the second half for Palace – an embarrassing display that many did not expect before the whistle blew to start the game. No doubt there will be many words being said by Roy Hodgson to his players before their next game regarding their woeful defending in the second half, but a lack of cutting edge in the first half really let them down as they did not make a poor account of themselves for much of the early exchanges.
Liverpool plays Sam Allardyce’s new team in West Bromwich Albion at Anfield on 27th December – enough time for Klopp’s men to enjoy the festivities before work restarts again. Off the back of this performance, only one team look like the likely victors, but this part of the season has tripped up many a team before.
The Liverpool firing squad appear to be in fine form once again and after weeks of average games from Roberto Firmino, he has put in two men of the match performances back-to-back at just the right point in the season when the games come thick and fast. In short, roll on the next game because this game has shown some of the very best Liverpool have to offer and it was an absolute marvel of attacking play.
Full time: Crystal Palace 0-7
Crystal Palace: Guaita (5), Clyne (4), Kouyate (4), Cahill (5), Van Aanholt (4), Schlupp (6), Milivojevic (5), McArthur (6), Eze (5), Ayew (5), Zaha (5).
Subs used: Tomkins (5), Batshuayi (5), Riedewald (5).
Liverpool: Alisson (7), Alexander-Arnold (7), Matip (7), Fabinho (7), Robertson (7), Keïta (7), Henderson (8), Wijnaldum (7), Minamino (8), Firmino (10), Mané (8).
Subs used: Salah (8), Jones (7), Oxlade-Chamberlain (7).
Man of the match: Roberto Firmino.