By Hani Na’eem – @hani_eem
Liverpool’s hard-earned victory over Crystal Palace on Saturday afternoon involved a number of interesting subplots.
The Reds went into the match having gone almost two full years without tasting defeat at Anfield – the last team to beat them there were the Eagles. Roy Hodgson’s team have also had a big say in this year’s title challenge having beaten Manchester City in December. The former Liverpool manager was undefeated in his visits to Anfield as opposing manager as well.
All of this hinted at an uneasy afternoon for Jurgen Klopp’s side, and – while Liverpool have impressively withstood Palace’s threat – the match could just be a sign of what’s to come during the season long run-in.
There has been constant talk of how Liverpool look like a title-winning side. Liverpool’s latest win meant they are yet to drop any points against any team outside the current top five – a trait almost all league champions have.
Adding to this, the Reds still have the league’s best defence. However, the latest sign that Liverpool showed of their title credentials is their strong spirit and mentality to fight back. Given the wounds inflicted by Palace to Liverpool’s title bid in 2014, it was a strong test of Klopp’s men’s resolve after the Eagles got the first goal in the afternoon.
Liverpool have responded brilliantly, however, and it is fair to say that one wouldn’t bet on any recent Liverpool side making a similar comeback.
At this stage of the season – more than any other – any manager would be happy with any kind of win, and Jurgen Klopp will be no exception. The German, though, will have his work cut out for him after a nervy win. Liverpool fly to Dubai for a warm weather training camp, and there will be plenty to work on.
Surprisingly, the one area that I hope will get most of the German’s attention is defence! Despite conceding only 13 league goals so far, Liverpool have looked more vulnerable as of late.
Injuries have surely played their part in this, and while the team’s fighting spirit made sure of the win against Palace, it is still not a good sign if the team will go back to having to outscore opponents for the three points. It is still unclear when Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold will feature again, but Klopp will have to ensure his defence will constantly be up to the task.
It is in this sense that the match against Palace could be a sign of Liverpool’s challenges for the remainder of the season. Liverpool had James Milner deputising at right back, and, in all honesty, it wasn’t pretty. Wilfred Zaha had the better of him for most of the game.
Overall, Liverpool’s impressive defensive record is very much a part of their achievements so far this season. Needless to say, it will be vital for Liverpool to maintain that given the current – and any future – injury situation.