Liverpool-Crystal Palace Preview
Liverpool have won consecutive Premier League matches, though this season all that's meant is they're due for a letdown. Crystal Palace, however, are shaping up to be the letdown of the entire second round of fixtures.
The Reds target their first three-game winning streak in the division in nearly a year Sunday at Selhurst Park. All it'll take is continuing the misery of a club which last won a top-flight contest before Christmas, though the Eagles have caused Liverpool plenty of problems in recent meetings.
All the sudden, a top-four finish doesn't look entirely out of the question for a club that seemed in transition after the sacking of Brendan Rodgers in October, though upcoming fixtures will make it rather difficult. After Palace (9-6-13), the inconsistent Reds face Chelsea, Southampton, Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City - all top-half clubs - before things ease up for their final five matches.
Liverpool (11-8-8) are eighth in the table on 41 points, six points back of fourth-place Manchester City and Manchester United having played one match less than everyone in the top half of the league other than City.
It works out that way because they met at Wembley for Sunday's League Cup final, which City won in penalties after the sides finished 1-1 after 120 minutes. Liverpool rebounded from that disappointment by thrashing City 3-0 at Anfield on Wednesday as Adam Lallana and James Milner built a comfortable halftime lead before Roberto Firmino added to it 12 minutes after the interval.
"Unfortunately, we couldn't do what we did tonight a few days ago, but the response was brilliant," skipper Jordan Henderson told the club's official website. "Hopefully we can carry that form on for the rest of the season."
There has lied the problem.
One notable letdown came against Palace on Nov. 8 when the Eagles left Anfield 2-1 winners - manager Jurgen Klopp's first home defeat - eight days after Liverpool had extended an unbeaten streak to six with a 3-1 win at Chelsea. And in the matches following their three two-match winning streaks in the league, they've been held scoreless while managing one point.
But no upswing has been quite like this. Liverpool haven't lost in regulation since a 2-0 defeat at front-running Leicester City on Feb. 2. And since a 2-1 defeat in extra time at West Ham United on Feb. 9 that eliminated them from the FA Cup, Liverpool have won three and drawn twice with 11 goals scored and one conceded - Fernandinho's strike in the 49th minute of the League Cup final.
Nine of those goals have come in the last two top-flight matches from eight different scorers after Klopp made five changes from Sunday.
"Throughout the team I thought there were great performances," Lallana said after coming off the bench Sunday and starting Wednesday. "(Jon Flanagan), coming in, I thought he was excellent, Kolo (Toure), Dejan (Lovren) coming back in after a while out and (Nathaniel Clyne) filling in at left-back - I thought they were outstanding. The manager said he wanted to see a response, he wanted it to be intense."
He could instill a similar type of vindictive anger against the Eagles, who have won the last three meetings with a draw preceding that, including spoiling Steven Gerrard's Anfield farewell May 16. Liverpool last won at Selhurst Park in the top flight in 1997-98, earning a point in three matches since.
That and progression in the FA Cup is about all Palace have to fall back on at the moment, having gathered four points on an 11-match winless span since a victory at Stoke on Dec. 19. It's their longest dry spell since going 15 without a victory in 1997-98.
After Tuesday's 2-2 draw at Sunderland, the Eagles are 14th on 33 points, having fallen eight spots since their last win. At that time, they were tied with fourth-place Tottenham and fifth-place Manchester United on 29 points and dreaming of Europe. The rousing from that dream has been long and groggy, and manager Alan Pardew thought the breakthrough should have come at the Stadium of Light.
"We all know that we couldn't get beaten tonight," Pardew told the club's official website. "And this was a game that we were desperately unlucky not to win.
"The boys have given everything, and to have that blow from a substitute, who was fresh and smashed it in the corner like he did, which was probably the only place it could've gone in, is very unfortunate for us."
The Eagles have at least started finishing some with two-goal efforts in consecutive matches after managing four on the first nine games of the winless span. Connor Wickham has handled all the scoring in the last two matches with a pair of second-half braces in three days and has had at worst an assist on the club's last five league goals.