Liverpool return to action after the latest international break looking to end a run of three consecutive defeats in all competitions.
Brendan Rodgers‘ struggling side have slipped into the bottom half of the Premier League table and therefore desperately need a victory over Sunday’s opponents, Crystal Palace, to get their season back on track.
The corresponding fixture last season saw the final nail hammered into their title coffin as the Eagles memorably fought back from 3-0 down to draw 3-3.
Neil Warnock’s team will be eager to perform similar heroics this time around, especially after a run of one win in six which sees them out of the relegation zone on goal difference only.
Their chances of causing an upset have seemingly increased with the news that Liverpool will be without star striker Daniel Sturridge for a further six weeks because of a grade 2 thigh muscle tear.
The England international, who scored 24 goals last season, has missed the past 14 matches and his absence has been keenly felt by everyone at Anfield.
Rodgers: “We have an exciting period of games coming up. We want to ensure we go back to our basics and be really hard to beat and be strong and aggressive.
“We want to make an impact in front of goal, now there’s an opportunity for some players who didn’t think they’d get a chance.”
Warnock: “We just have to play our own game really and not worry too much about the opponents.
“I think Brendan Rodgers will end up managing abroad. He’s very studious and his type of management would go well abroad. I’ve had a few good games with him over the years.
“We haven’t been playing too bad, we just need to take more opportunities we create.”
Crystal Palace Team News:
The hosts are sweating over the fitness of James McArthur after the summer signing suffered a calf strain whilst with Scotland. The 27-year-old has impressed since making a £5.5m move from Wigan Athletic but his possible absence is offset by the return of fellow-midfielder, and club captain, Mile Jedinak following suspension. Other than the rarely used Stuart O’Keefe, Palace’s only other known injury concern is Republic of Ireland striker Kevin Doyle who, like McArthur, returned early from international duty after sustaining a groin problem. Enigmatic forward Wilfried Zaha is available after being ineligible against parent club Manchester United last time out while ex-Liverpool defender Martin Kelly may have to be content with a place on the bench.
Speroni, Mariappa, Dann, Delaney, Ward, Jedinak (c), Ledley, Puncheon, Bolasie, Chamakh, Campbell.
Player to watch: Mile Jedinak
The midfield general missed only 45 minutes of Premier League action last season and had started every game this term prior to his one-match ban, received for two yellow cards in the 1-3 defeat against Sunderland. Jedinak has long been a key contributor to the Eagles’ cause but is now finally beginning to receive wider recognition. According to Opta, the Australian skipper is the best midfielder in the league at present with 32 interceptions, 24 clearances, 34 tackles and 89 duels won to his name. Add to that three goals and an assist and it becomes impossible to understate the 30-year-old’s importance.
Liverpool Team News:
It’s hard to quantify just how big a blow the latest Sturridge setback is; his impending return was the one ray of light despondent Liverpool fans had been clinging to in recent weeks. Without the 25-year-old, the team looks devoid of pace, movement and ideas up front. Mario Balotelli, also a doubt for Sunday with a hamstring injury, Fabio Borini and Rickie Lambert are yet to register a single Premier League goal between them and Rodgers must find a short-term fix pronto. Potentially he could opt to play two of them in tandem rather than the usual lone striker with support coming from attacking midfield areas. Doing so would be a bold move and could see Lucas Leiva introduced to provide extra protection for the defence. Elsewhere on the injury front, midfielder Jordan Henderson is also a doubt after he too picked up a hamstring problem on international duty. Defenders Mamadou Sakho (thigh) and Jon Flanagan (knee) remain out but left-back Jose Enrique could return after knee trouble.
Mignolet, Johnson, Skrtel, Lovren, Moreno, Gerrard (c), Henderson, Allen, Coutinho, Sterling, Balotelli.
Player to watch: Mario Balotelli
Injury or not, Balotelli desperately needs to find his shooting boots this weekend. Everyone knows there is talent there but extracting it has been a constant headache for Rodgers so far. Two goals in 14 appearances is simply not good enough and another Premier League blank on Sunday could see patience finally snap and the opportunity to lead Liverpool’s ailing frontline handed to someone else. In an interview with Fox Sports this week, the controversial Italian rated his performances for Liverpool so far as 7 out of 10… One can only assume that a zero was missed off the ‘out of’ mark.
Match Facts & Stats
? Liverpool and Palace have met 42 times in their respective histories and the Reds hold the upper hand overall with 21 wins to 10 and 11 draws. The Reds have scored a total of 83 goals compared to a tally of 37 by the Eagles.
? Palace are undefeated in their last 5 home matches against Liverpool in all competitions (W3 D2 L0).
? In Premier League terms though, Liverpool have won six and lost just one of the 10 meetings.
? Both sides have struggled defensively this term; only Queens Park Rangers (22) have conceded more the Palace’s tally off 20 goals. With 15 scored against them, Liverpool have the joint-second highest total in the top 11 (behind only Everton – 18).
? The Merseysiders have only amassed fewer than their current 14 points at this stage of a Premier League campaign on two occasions (1992-93 and 2012-13 – 12).
? Liverpool are one of two teams (along with Aston Villa) who have not recovered any points from a losing position in the Premier League this season.
? Raheem Sterling is the Reds’ top league scorer, discounting own goals, with three but he hasn’t found the net for three months.
? 57% of Palace’s goals have come from set plays, the highest proportion in the top flight.
Jonathan Moss is the official appointed to oversee this contest. The West Yorkshire-based whistle blower has taken charge of eight games so far this season, showing 29 yellow cards and four red. This is the first time Liverpool have encountered Moss this season whereas Palace suffered late heartbreak in a 2-1 defeat at Arsenal on the opening day under his watch. The 44-year-old has been a part of the Select Group of Referees who oversee Premier League fixtures since 2011.
This is a pivotal stage of the season and the time for excuses is over; Liverpool simply have to improve and start winning football matches, by any means possible, or their season will quickly become a write-off.
After Palace, the Merseysiders travel to Ludogorets Razgrad on Wednesday night for a pivotal Champions League tie before heading into a hectic festive period that includes games against Arsenal and Manchester United. This next month will go a long way to determining not only if Rodgers’ men can stay in this year’s Champions League, but also if they have any chance of qualifying for next year’s tournament. After getting a taste of a title race and competing with Europe’s elite once again, the prospect of dropping back to also-rans and the Europa League doesn’t bear thinking about.
With regards to this weekend, it’s always difficult to predict how teams will perform after the travel and exertions of internationals but one thing is for sure; Palace need the points just as much as Liverpool.
The Reds will need to banish the demons of their last visit to the tight and imposing surrounds of the Eagles’ south-east London home and thankfully for them Warnock’s current side look a pale imitation of the one that earned so many plaudits under Tony Pulis last season.
It’s likely to be a nervy encounter between two out-of-sorts sides and the visitors will need to stand-up to Palace’s physical, direct style – an approach they’ve struggled with regularly this season – if they are to get anything from the contest.
Vital Liverpool predicts a 1-2 LFC win
Liverpool – Champions League vs. Ludogorets Razgrad at the Vasil Levski National Stadium on Wednesday 26th November 2014, kick off 7.45pm GMT.
Crystal Palace – Premier League vs. Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday 29th November 2014, kick off 3.00pm GMT.
So that’s what we think, how about you? Let us know your thoughts and predictions for the game below or vote in our poll to the right…
Click here to read former Red Mark Lawrenson’s prediction
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