LONDON — Liverpool missed a chance to close the gap on the Premier League‘s top four after playing out a dismal 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Palace forward Jean-Philippe Mateta struck the crossbar just prior to half-time before Mohamed Salah did the same with a fine effort shortly after the restart, but Jurgen Klopp’s side struggled to create much else of note at Selhurst Park. The result leaves Liverpool in seventh place, six points behind fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur, who host Chelsea on Sunday.
1. Even Klopp’s best fixture can’t help Liverpool
Klopp had won all seven Premier League games at Selhurst Park prior to Saturday by a combined score of 22-6. He had secured more league wins (12) and more points (37) than against any other opponent during his seven seasons as Liverpool boss and so this fixture represented a golden chance for his team to reassert themselves after being thrashed by Real Madrid in midweek. Furthermore, Palace were winless in seven games and without talisman Wilfried Zaha.
However, Liverpool were palpably shorn of confidence and were perhaps fortunate to escape south London with a point after a flat display in which they rarely threatened Palace goalkeeper Vicente Guaita. A draw is not a disaster given there is still time to close on the top four, but this was nevertheless a missed opportunity that only raises further questions as to whether Liverpool can rediscover anything like their best in time to salvage this season.
2. Keita exemplifies Liverpool’s midfield woes
It was notable that Klopp opted for experience in his lineup on Saturday, perhaps mindful of the need to stabilise the ship after the drubbing against Real. Only three players in the starting lineup here were under the age of 28 and in midfield, Klopp opted for Naby Keita, Jordan Henderson and James Milner. However, that trio was guilty of being too passive and slow in possession, while clearly struggling to deal with the pace of Michael Olise in particular when Palace counterattacked.
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The need for Liverpool to refresh their midfield is well-documented, but even the more promising youngsters were unable to inject much dynamism into their play with Harvey Elliott an ineffective second-half substitute for Keita, who was arguably fortunate to make it to half-time given how far below par he was. Fabinho was booked minutes after coming on as he too struggled to cope with Palace’s threat while Stefan Bajcetic was only given five minutes to impact proceedings. Arguably Klopp’s biggest conundrum remains finding a way to revitalise the heart of the team between now and May.
3. Palace lack firepower again
Only four teams — Everton (17), Wolverhampton Wanderers (18), Nottingham Forest (18) and Southampton (19) — have scored fewer than Crystal Palace’s 21 goals this season. The absence of an effective No. 9 was keenly felt here with Mateta seemingly so inhibited that he gave up on chasing a loose ball early on, prompting anger from the home supporters wanting to see more effort from their centre-forward. They will want to see more quality, too.
Mateta has now failed to score with his past 20 shots in the Premier League, dating back to a goal against Aston Villa in August. This is an unfair comparison, but where Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior were so clinical in capitalising on Liverpool’s defensive errors in midweek, Mateta wasted several threatening moments, most notably in the 42nd minute when hitting the crossbar from inside the box after fine work from Jeffrey Schlupp, pressing Trent Alexander-Arnold into a mistake.
Mateta was replaced by Odsonne Edouard for the final 19 minutes but the French forward rarely threatened. Edouard has just three league goals to his name all season. Patrick Vieira has plenty of dynamic, creative players when fit, but they continue to be let down by the absence of a consistent finisher.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Michael Olise, Crystal Palace. Committed defenders with his direct style and delivered several dangerous crosses.
BEST: Mohamed Salah, Liverpool. Hit the crossbar early in the second half with a fine curling effort and looked the most likely to raise the quality of a dire game.
BEST: Jeffrey Schlupp, Crystal Palace. Helped Palace press Liverpool into mistakes with his energetic running. Only Mateta’s poor finishing denied him a first-half assist.
WORST: Naby Keita, Liverpool. Looked miles off the pace, most obviously when booked for dragging back Olise midway through the first half, and was hauled off by Klopp at half-time.
WORST: Jean-Philippe Mateta, Crystal Palace. Should have made Liverpool pay for their frailty but lacked conviction and a clinical touch.
WORST: Trent Alexander-Arnold, Liverpool. Exemplified Liverpool’s nervousness at the back with several errant passes and was caught in possession more than Klopp would have liked.
Highlights and notable moments
Moments that could genuinely be described as a “highlight” from this match were few and far between, but this narrow miss from Cody Gakpo qualifies, if only just.
Cody Gakpo gets a 1-on-1 opportunity against the keeper but his chip goes wide.
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After the match: What the players/managers said
Milner: “We had to move on [from the Real Madrid game] as quick as possible. You saw the desire. If the midweek performance had affected us today, we’d have conceded a goal. It wasn’t one of our best performances but it’s never easy at a place like this.”
Marc Guehi: “I think the team did well. It’s a performance we can be proud of. Liverpool are always a tough side to play against. There’s a little bit of disappointment because we felt we could have nicked it.”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
– Liverpool’s 36 points are their fewest through 23 games played in a Premier League season since 2015-16 (34). That was the season when Klopp took over midway through the campaign.
– Palace’s winless streak has now reached nine games across all competitions. The last time the Eagles tasted victory was a 2-0 win at Bournemouth on New Year’s Eve.
Crystal Palace: Palace travel to Birmingham on Saturday for a Premier League date with Aston Villa at Villa Park.
Liverpool: The Reds have a short turnaround, with a Wednesday Premier League fixture against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Anfield awaiting upon their return to Merseyside.