Crystal Palace-Liverpool Preview
With their first win of the season in Europe out of the way and a growing unbeaten streak, Liverpool seem to be coming into form under the direction of Jurgen Klopp.
More importantly, victories are all of the sudden replacing draws as the Reds' manager hits a month on the job Sunday with Crystal Palace headed to Anfield, though consistent finishing is still a struggle.
The Reds took three Europa League points off Rubin Kazan with Thursday's 1-0 win after drawing the Russian club at Anfield two weeks prior. The victory moved them within two points of Group B leaders Sion, and 19-year-old Jordon Ibe is returning to Liverpool with his first goal for the club.
It followed their 3-1 triumph at Chelsea on Oct. 31 and a 1-0 League Cup win over Bournemouth, and the three-match winning streak extends their unbeaten run to 12. The last six have come under Klopp, the former Borussia Dortmund manager who guided the Bundesliga club to the Champions League final in 2013.
"I think we played much better tonight and that's normal because we've had four weeks together - we have more experience together," Klopp told the club's official website.
Whether they can pick up the league scoring where they left off at Stamford Bridge remains to be seen. Their 12 goals are tied with Palace and three others for 12th, and their 7.5 percent shot conversion rate is ahead of only foot-of-the-table Aston Villa and promoted Watford as the Reds work through injuries that have ravaged their attacking options.
Christian Benteke has four of those goals and featured midweek, playing a full 90 minutes for the first time since Sept. 12 when he hit a spectacular overhead volley in a 3-1 loss to Manchester United at Old Trafford.
The Europa win came with Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho resting. Coutinho scored twice against Chelsea, and it sounds like both midfielders will return against the Eagles.
"We had Adam Lallana and Phil Coutinho with some problems, not the biggest ones, and so they were on the bench," Klopp said. "They could have played but we didn't risk it in this case and tried to win without them. At this moment, the squad is big enough and strong enough."
Liverpool remain without Daniel Sturridge and Jordan Henderson, though the duo are targeting a return after next week's international break. That'd put them in line to face co-leaders Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, but no one's looking quite that far ahead as they work toward fitness at Melwood.
In the Premier League, the Reds (4-5-2) are eighth in the table on 17 points, one clear of Crystal Palace (5-1-5) in 10th with Merseyside archrivals Everton between.
A climb for Liverpool may be dependent on getting more out of home matches. They're 2-2-1 with a minus-1 differential, and the opponents faced - Southampton, Aston Villa, Norwich City, West Ham United and Bournemouth - make up 60 percent of the table's bottom five.
If last season was any indication, more frustration could be in store. Palace won both league meetings 3-1 with the corresponding fixture at Anfield coming May 16 as Liverpool earned a point out of their last three matches and missed out on the top five by two points. The Reds, however, sandwiched in a 2-1 FA Cup win at Selhurst Park in February with Lallana scoring the winner before also scoring in the May disappointment.
The Eagles' strikes came from seven different numbers, and they'll take one from anyone at the moment. Palace played Manchester United to a scoreless draw Oct. 31 but have been shut out in consecutive league matches for the second time this year and are enduring a 245-minute goal drought dating back to Yohan Cabaye's spot kick against West Ham on Oct. 17.
Even so, it hasn't been an easy span of competition with Leicester City between - the three making up half the clubs to reach 20 points - and the Eagles were thrilled with everything but the result against Manchester United. They put five on target to the Red Devils' one and kept their third clean sheet in their last five league matches.
"If we play like we did today, we'll trouble a lot of teams, and I'm looking forward to next week," winger Yannick Bolasie told the team's official website.