Liverpool made it six points from their opening two fixtures of 2018/19 with a highly accomplished 2-0 victory at Crystal Palace on Monday night.
Crystal Palace 0-2 Liverpool
Premier League, Selhurst Park
August 20, 2018
Goals: Milner pen 45′, Mane 90+3′
After a dominant first-half performance against a well-drilled Palace defence, James Milner made the breakthrough from the penalty spot after Mohamed Salah had been felled by Mamadou Sakho in the box.
Roy Hodgson’s side conjured a few dangerous moments of their own, but a strong defensive display ensured another clean sheet for Liverpool, with Sadio Mane’s breakaway goal in stoppage time wrapping up the points.
Here are five key talking points from an excellent win.
Alisson Passes Major Test With Flying Colours
Liverpool’s new first-choice goalkeeper picked up a clean sheet on his debut with minimum fuss, but was a virtual spectator for the vast majority of the comfortable 4-0 victory over West Ham.
A trip to Selhurst Park was always going to pose a much tougher challenge, and the Brazilian stepped up magnificently with an outstanding individual display.
Alisson was called into action on several occasions, making a handful of sharp saves at crucial moments, including one superb flying stop to deny Luka Milivojevic from a well-struck free-kick.
It was his distribution, however, which stood out as Alisson continually picked out his team mates with pinpoint long-range passes from the back, playing a highly effective and active part in Liverpool’s buildup play.
The Reds haven’t had a goalkeeper capable of playing such accurate long passes since Pepe Reina.
And combined with his all-round authority and commanding presence in the penalty area, this was a hugely encouraging performance from Alisson—and a very well-earned clean sheet.
Gomez-Van Dijk Partnership Continues to Flourish
Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk delivered one of the finest displays from a Liverpool centre-back partnership in quite some time, working their way through a difficult encounter with an aura of composure and assurance about their play.
The dual threat of Christian Benteke and Wilfried Zaha—each posing a completely different set of problems—was a real handful.
But both players were on hand to ensure any clear-cut chances were kept to a minimum.
Jamie Carragher hailed Van Dijk as the best centre-back in the Premier League before the game, and the Dutchman demonstrated his credentials with an imperious performance, winning his aerial duels with Benteke and commanding his team-mates superbly to organise the back line throughout.
Gomez, meanwhile, had much more of a point to prove and came out of it with his reputation further enhanced.
He showcased his intelligent reading of the game, standing up to Palace’s physicality with several meaty tackles, and used his recovery pace to prevent dangerous situations emerging when necessary.
On this basis, Gomez very much deserves to continue alongside Van Dijk at the heart of the defence.
With both players also possessing great quality in possession, it’s a partnership which holds significant promise for the months and years ahead.
Liverpool Show Game Management Has Improved
Game management had been an issue for Liverpool for much of the early days of Jurgen Klopp’s tenure, but the experience this side has gained throughout the past couple of years has brought about a much more mature approach in these types of games.
Liverpool won a frenetic 4-2 encounter with Palace two seasons ago under Klopp at the same ground, and came from behind to snatch a late winner last season in this fixture.
This time round, though, they were controlled and assured from the first whistle, dictating the tempo of the game and biding their time until the opening arrived.
After taking the lead just before half-time, Liverpool then had to weather a storm from Palace at the start of the second half, soaking up a spell of pressure before reasserting their dominance and keeping hold of the ball high up the pitch.
A free-kick and a corner to Palace in stoppage time conjured a nervy few moments, only for Liverpool to spring on the counter-attack and kill the game off in the dying seconds after defending the corner with ease.
This has become a habit for this team, and no longer their Achilles’ heel.
Liverpool’s Threat From Opposition Corners
While opposition corners would strike fear into supporters—and possibly even the players—not so long ago, they have now become a real opportunity for Liverpool to hit teams on the counter.
It happened on several occasions last season—such as West Ham and Porto away—where Liverpool would win the first header from the corner and immediately spring forward in numbers to score shortly after conceding a corner.
Van Dijk’s aerial dominance is key to this, given his exceptional success rate in the air, and as soon as Liverpool clear the ball from the corner, opposition teams simply don’t have time to get back into shape before the pace of Mane and Salah catches them out.
That’s precisely how Aaron Wan-Bissaka ended up getting sent off on this occasion, as the Palace defender stuck out a helpless leg to bring down Salah on the counter-attack while running through one-on-one.
Later, Mane scored from a near identical situation in stoppage time after having been sent through on goal by Salah’s pass.
It’s a real weapon to have, and a type of goal we might see plenty more of this season.
Consecutive Wins Continues Feel-Good Factor
There was a palpable feeling of positivity and excitement around Liverpool heading into the new season.
And with six points on the board from the opening two fixtures—with no goals conceded—it’s exactly the flying start Klopp and the players will have been aiming for.
Inconsistent performances and results in the opening months of last season meant Liverpool were never in a position for a title challenge, as Man City pulled away from the rest by hitting the ground running from the off.
This time round, they have put together back-to-back wins to start the season for the first time under Klopp.
With a home game up next against Brighton, there’s a real opportunity to continue building up this momentum and capitalise on this opening block of fixtures before the international break.
Liverpool had to endure a couple of nervy moments against Palace, but on the whole were very much full value for the victory, and they can take great confidence from beating an opponent whom they had previously struggled against in the fairly recent past.
Not many sides will go to Selhurst and pick up three points and a clean sheet this season, and this was the ideal way to consolidate the opening-day walkover against West Ham.
A hard-earned, gritty away win—the kind upon which title challenges are built.