Never in doubt.
Six- count ‘em- six changes for the Tricky Reds for this afternoon’s visit of Crystal Palace to Anfield. We had a completely new back four, compared to the defence against Milan midweek, with Virgil returning to marshal the back line. Alongside him, there was a first start for our only major summer signing, Konaté, and much was expected of the (hopefully) heir apparent. Trent was absent with an unspecified illness, so Milner was chosen to face the visitors’ danger man, Zaha, in the right back position. Robbo was rested, according to Jürgen, but Tsimikas has already shown he is an adept replacement this season.
There was almost a dream start for Palace, as Gallagher looped the ball into the box and Zaha drew a very sharp save from Alisson, who somehow clawed the ball onto the post. (As an aside, it was good to see our goalkeeper in green, as it should be.) Benteke headed against the upright soon afterwards but was offside. At the other end, Milner burst forward and crossed to Jota but the forward could only head over under pressure from Andersen. A cracking start!
Mané found Tsimikas but Jota’s shot was wayward, to be polite; Benteke tried to release Zaha but Milner intervened easily.
Tsimikas found Henderson but the captain’s volley was turned around the post by Guaita. No tried to release Jota but Andersen just managed to get his head to the ball.
Zaha might have had a penalty when Konaté got a bit too close for comfort (I’ve seen them given) but the game then hit a bit of a lull after an enthralling opening twenty minutes. Benteke had a shot deflected behind by Konaté and Liverpool had a chance to break from the resulting corner but Mané got his attempted pass to Salah all wrong.
Thiago had a drive blocked on the half hour mark; Salah volleyed into the turf at the far post and the ball looped harmlessly over the bar. Mané had an improvised volley blocked; Benteke thought he was tripped by Tsimikas at the far post. Thiago had a header saved by Guaita and Jota inexplicably hoofed the rebound over from four yards with an empty goal at his mercy.
Tsimikas sent in a corner which Salah nodded goalwards; Guaita saved brilliantly but Sadio was on hand to tuck away the rebound. 1-0 to the good guys on 43 minutes and that meant he became the first player in Premier League history to score in nine consecutive games against the same opponents. It was also Sadio’s 100th goal in all competitions for the Reds.
As the players trudged off for their halftime oranges, the Reds deserved the lead but Palace had had a couple of credible penalty shouts and looked dangerous on the break. Let’s hope that Jota’s shocking miss- it really is a contender for miss of the season so far- wasn’t going to come back to haunt us.
The second stanza started slowly but Zaha burst through five minutes in and squared to Gallagher, whose touch was heavy and let our bearded Brazilian in to collect. Good job the Chelsea loanee didn’t see the unmarked Ayew behind him.
Soon afterwards, Mo did extremely well tracking back to help Milner deal with Zaha; those who say the Egyptian never defends should be fed a replay of this incident on loop.
Thiago had a shot deflected harmlessly into the air and Guaita collected easily; Fabinho blasted a 30-yard free kick straight into the wall. Thiago was down with a knock when Palace had a rare foray forwards; Jota brought down Gallagher literally six inches outside the box or it would have been a definite penalty. Fortunately, Ayew did what Fabinho had gone a couple of minutes earlier and just blammed it into the wall.
Thiago was unable to continue and was replaced by Naby. Virgil headed a Tsimikas free kick over when he might have done better; Palace made a double substitution with the danger man Odsonne Edouard replacing Benteke and Reidewald coming on with McArthur parked on the bench.
Keïta had a drive spilled by Guaita but Salah was unable to beat the excellent Palace ‘keeper with the rebound. Ayew blasted wastefully over and Edouard was thwarted by Alisson; Zaha looked for a penalty as Palace sought an equaliser.
Jones replaced Jota with fourteen minutes remaining; shortly afterwards, Salah smacked home a volley after Palace failed to clear properly and Virgil’s header, after Tsimikas’ cross, fell to the Egyptian. 2-0 with just over ten minutes to play.
Edouard was again denied by Alisson and Zaha blasted well over; Milner had to use all his experience to frustrate the promising Palace substitute, Oliseh. Henderson was ready laced by the lesser-spotted Origi for the last few minutes.
Jones had a shot deflected wide for a corner and from the resulting corner, Naby unleashed an unstoppable strike with his left foot from the edge of the box. 3-0 in stoppage time. Divock cleared from Zaha and had his chant sung by the Anfield faithful.
And that was just about that. A comfortable win, top of the table and looking good for the future, with a very promising debut for Konaté and Tsimikas once again proving that he is a more than able deputy for Robertson.
Next up is a trip to East Anglia to face Norwich in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday evening. I’d imagine we’ll field some youngsters and fringe players with a sprinkling of more experienced heads; much will depend on how seriously our hosts take the match.
MOTM: Raymond Blanc OBE. I was fortunate enough to be invited to a friend’s birthday party at Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons earlier this week and it was absolutely superb. The food, wine and service were all of the very highest standard, yet the atmosphere was relaxed and not at all stuffy. It’s clear that the celebrated chef patron runs a very tight ship but the staff are all so friendly and accommodating; I simply can’t recommend Le Manoir enough for a special occasion.