Crystal Palace pushed Liverpool to the brink with a resolute performance on Saturday, but there were clearly still lessons to be learned. Here are five talking points from the game.
1 – De Boer Demonstrates Pragmatism
Many Palace fans went into the game at Anfield with trepidation – how would the team so bamboozled by Huddersfield’s press be able to cope with Klopp’s Geggenpress? Frank De Boer answered this with the team set up in a more pragmatic yet equally fluid system which didn’t leave the gaping holes we had seen the week before. The 3-4-3 was more of a functional 5-3-1-1 which when opportunity arose to go forward switched to 3-4-3 with Jason Puncheon pushing on from midfield. Palace may have failed to create much and clearly it is still a work in progress but De Boer’s implementation of change from last week was apparent and offered signs of encouragement. But for a slip from the otherwise steady Luka Milivojević or miss from Christian Benteke, we could have come away with a point.
2 – Ward is Off the Pace
Some of Joel Ward’s struggles to play as a wing-back are understandable but the Liverpool game showed how far his game in a deeper more conventional full-back role has declined too. Liverpool targeted that side of the pitch for their attacks with Andrew Robertson in particular able to get forward and provide numerous crosses. Ward is an adequate Premier League defender in systems set up to defend; his weaknesses are magnified when that is not the case and the first two games under De Boer show that this is an area Palace need to upgrade on before the window closes.
3 – Midfield Yearning for Cabaye
Ruben Loftus-Cheek has made an impressive start to his Palace career with his ability to gain possession, drive with the ball and eye for a pass. Milivojević has established himself as the team’s defensive screen since he joined in January. And while Puncheon has a role to play, the midfield is yearning for the creativity of Yohan Cabaye. Someone to pick the ball up from the defence and start moves, someone to find the wingers, someone to give-go-be available for the return pass. Including him with Loftus-Cheek and Luka would require tinkering to the system but Cabaye’s impact would make this worthwhile. This team needs him.
4 – Benteke Cannot Function in Isolation
Benteke has shown his importance to Palace; 17 goals last season and vital in improving the attacking players around him. However, to be that player for Palace, he needs players around him for him to get the right service and for him to bring them into the game. He cannot do this while being isolated through the middle. His game is not about dragging centre backs out of position into the channels. It is about winning battles centrally. The protracted transfer last summer paid dividends by the time the season ended – he must not be wasted this season else it is the whole team which will suffer.
5 – Kaikai’s Chance
With Wilfried Zaha injured and a lack of viable options on the wings for De Boer, Sullay Kaikai was given a chance to stake a claim for a place and other than Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s performance, he was one of the positives to come of the game. He looked a threat with the ball and without it his movement kept Liverpool’s defenders busy. There is a long way to go before judging whether he is ready for the Premier League but that he is being given a chance by a manager still finding his feet is encouraging. With Jason Lokilo also being integrated into the squad, it is clear the manager has the will to use younger players – every Palace fan will be hoping their ability matches his faith.