There are not many occassions where fans would feel disappointed with a loss at Anfield but what did we learn from the pulsating game against Liverpool?
1. Julian Speroni’s fifteen years of service to Palace have earned him the right to be excused for a mistake or two – even if it’s one that costs us a result against the league-leaders. It’s easy to forget that before Saturday, the Argentinian had played just thirteen Premier League games over the past three and a half seasons. Speroni is also 39 years of age and Palace’s third-choice goalkeeper, so the circumstances that led to him making his first appearance since December 2017 were hardly ideal. Many have said that Wayne Hennessey would have been slated for a performance like Speroni’s at Anfield, but unfortunately for the Welshman, he isn’t Palace’s all-time record appearance maker as a goalkeeper – nor has he ever performed consistently at the same level as the former Dundee man did in his prime. Speroni is a club legend and an unfortunate blunder in one of his final ever games for Palace isn’t going to change that.
2. “Despite that, had it been Wilfried Zaha in a similar situation, it is almost guaranteed that he would have been vilified for diving.”
I wrote the above sentence back in August after Mo Salah went down softly under a challenge from Mamadou Sakho to win a penalty at Selhurst Park. At the time, I was lenient towards the Liverpool man, highlighting that there was contact and that Palace would have wanted a spot kick had the shoe been on the other foot. After \Saturday, however, it’s difficult not to call Salah’s character into question given the sorry habit he has developed of throwing himself to the floor. Going down when knocked off balance while running at pace is one thing, but there is no way the challenge from Mamadou Sakho at Anfield could have naturally resulted in Salah ending up on the ground. It’s not an exaggeration to say that had Zaha would have been crucified in the same situation. Zaha’s reputation has already been decided by the media, but continue in the same vein and Salah will be in danger of tarnishing his.
3. Speaking of Zaha, Palace’s talisman looked back to his best. James Milner might be a makeshift right back, but he’s also one of the most experienced, reliable players in the Premier League – and Zaha made him look like a fish out of water. Palace fans have been crying out for the 26-year-old to be moved back to the wing, and his performances against Watford and Liverpool have proved that the Eagles’ chief tormentor holds a bigger threat when playing where he has spent much of his career. Zaha might have scored more goals when starting as a striker – as should be expected of someone free from defensive responsibility – but he looks more comfortable and of more use to his teammates as an outlet out wide. Not only does it isolate Zaha against full backs more often, but it also sucks defenders towards the ball, leaving central gaps for the rest of the team to exploit. Zaha’s individual stats might have improved as a striker, but Palace look like an entirely different proposition when he’s used in his favoured position.
4. Although we can rightly be proud of Palace’s showing at Anfield, it does still raise questions as to why the Eagles can’t perform like that more often. It would be safe to assume that had Palace spent the whole season playing the way they have in games against the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal then they wouldn’t be entrenched in yet another relegation battle. Saturday was once again proof that this group can be capable of so much more than their league position suggests, and it’s frustrating that a lack of consistency has prevented this season from turning into a good one.
5. Perhaps part of the problem is that Palace remain more suited to being the away team. The Eagles have been playing possession-based football for much of this season as more teams sit back against them at Selhurst Park, which has prevented them from attacking at the scintillating pace that has frightened Premier League defences in previous years. Against Liverpool, however, Palace were able to benefit from the spaces vacated by the home side’s high press, and ultimately exploited that for the opening goal. After a period of momentary panic, James McArthur shifted the ball out to Patrick van Aanholt on the left, and within the blink of an eye – via a drop of the shoulder from Zaha and a purposeful swing of Andros Townsend’s left foot – the ball was in the back of the Liverpool net. As nice as possession stats can be to look at, you can’t beat moving the ball from back to front in 12 seconds, which Palace proved they are still more than capable of.