News of Daniel Sturridge injuring his thigh fell hard on Merseyside this week, but the mood only darkened after Liverpool lost 3-1 to Crystal Palace at a soggy Selhurst Park.
International breaks, combined with poor performances, continue to wreak havoc on the Reds’ current campaign. More injuries, this time to Jordan Henderson and Mario Balotelli, forced manager Brendan Rodgers into some lineup changes, giving Rickie Lambert his second start.
The move looked to pay dividends from the start, as Lambert netted his first goal for the club in the second minute of the match. Receiving an excellent diagonal pass over the top from former Southampton teammate Adam Lallana in a deep midfield position, Lambert darted into the penalty area from the left. A sublime first touch and a cool finish opened both his and the Reds’ scoring account. It was a well-worked goal, almost training ground stuff from the visitors.
However, the early tally would be the height of Liverpool’s performance on the afternoon. Almost immediately from the ensuing kickoff Crystal Palace caused a scare. Still, Liverpool were able to regain composure and possession, cautiously moving the ball around the back, rarely advancing beyond midfield.
To their credit, Palace were prepared to drop deep banks of four and absorb any real Liverpool threat. Apart from a handful of offsides, the Reds were unable to build on the early lead and capitalise on the bright start.
Then in the 17th minute, Liverpool conceded the equalizer. After dealing a minor cut to the head of Joe Allen, who needed to receive treatment, Yannick Bolasie carved open the Liverpool defense. Driving hard into the middle of the pitch, Bolasie unleashed a rocket shot that would ping off the post and rebound to a fast-reacting Dwight Gayle for an easy equalizer.
The goal breathed life into the Selhurst Park faithful and the home side who grew even more resolute in the desire to catch Liverpool on the counter attack with pace and power. Bolasie, in particular, caused all kinds of problems for a Reds defense that looked increasingly slow and shabby after conceding.
Space between Liverpool’s attacking line and midfield widened as midfielders continued to drop deeper in their effort to pick the ball up from a defense that was shaky playing a high line. Combined with little movement or outlets available up front, Crystal Palace easily absorbed any attack prior to the final third.
In the 34th minute, the Reds mounted a counter attack of their own, when Allen drove down the left side before peeling back and crossing a quality ball to Lambert on the far post, but the striker couldn’t find the target. It was the best threat Liverpool would mount in the first half after the early goal.
The second half started with no changes from either side and proved equally sloppy as the first. Liverpool continued to concede ground, combined with poor clearances, and looked vulnerable defensively. In attack, it seemed that the best threat would come from hopeful free kick opportunities. Steven Gerrard, however, could not put any of his chances on goal, repeatedly firing high and wide from a variety of dead ball positions.
After an hour, the game began to grow increasingly stretched as each side tried to break the stalemate. The Eagles began to press forward, routinely building attacks from poor Liverpool clearances and inability to maintain any kind of sustained possession.
The 70th minute was illustrative of the match for most of the second half, when Liverpool advanced in numbers, Glen Johnson crossing a dangerous ball that tempted Palace goalkeeper Julian Speroni off the line to knock the ball down. With no Reds runners following up, the ball was cleared quickly for what nearly developed as a dangerous three-on-two break the other way for Palace. One of the few poor touches by Bolasie would see the counter falter.
Liverpool did try to throw numbers forward in an attempt to get a win. Yet, the final ball continued to be wanting and Palace easily scuppered anything that entered the box.
Beginning in the 72nd minute a series of three substitutions every two minutes slowed the match for both sides temporarily. Liverpool’s Fabio Borini replaced Lallana, and Emre Can substituted Allen. Then James MacArthur came on for the home side, taking off Jason Puncheon.
Soon after, Palace’s Bolasie, who had switched to the right side, easily rounded Dejan Lovren on his way into the penalty area, before cutting the ball back to a wide open Joe Ledley, who calmly slotted home the finish.
Three minutes later, the match would be put out of reach entirely. After a marginally dodgy foul by Martin Skrtel, Palace were awarded a free kick centrally, about 25 yards from goal. Eagle’s captain, Mile Jedinak then curled an exquisite right footed strike into the top corner of the goal. Despite Simon Mignolet’s efforts to reach it, there was not stopping it.
From that point, Palace coasted to victory sustaining possession and bossing the match past a physically and mentally fatigued Liverpool.
In spite of the positive start, Liverpool again conceded and looked bereft of solutions to the problems that only have deepened for the club. Rodgers too seems unable to remedy the troubles that have now undoubtedly destroyed any fragile confidence that his side has been able to muster.
Defensively, the Reds continue to be easily pulled out of position and exploited by pace and power. Additionally, the inability to address arial attacks seems to worsen with each match. The midfield continues to be overrun and outnumbered, causing countless disruptions to any sustained effort at seizing control and building an attack. Few genuine goalscoring chances are being created and even fewer goals are being scored.
Twelve matches into the season, Liverpool are currently not even a shadow of the swashbuckling side that took the Premier League by storm last year. Perhaps more worrying, every time it seem as though the side has hit bottom, they find a way to fall a little further.