The line-up consisted of two central midfielders, three attacking ones, and an out-and-out striker in Rickie Lambert. It looked a decent fit to persist with the 4-2-3-1 formation Rodgers favours. Yet, at the home of a side renowned for strong wing play (and not an awful lot else, to be truthful), he chose to revert to the narrow diamond formation fans have craved. Unsurprisingly, his defence was exposed, both in wide areas and ahead of the centre-halves. His decision to leave Emre Can, a powerful midfield option, and Alberto Moreno, a natural left-back, on the bench were equally puzzling.
Not so good, in truth. Jordan Henderson has struggled of late but his energy was certainly missed here. No blame can be attached to Joe Allen, who worked tirelessly on the left-side despite a nasty cut to his head early in the match, but Steven Gerrard had a shocker at the base of the diamond while Adam Lallana looked predictably ill-suited to a right-of-centre midfield role. Liverpool’s centre-halves are not good enough long-term but they would surely look instantly improved with a natural anchor man – say, Lucas Leiva – ahead of them, as was the case at the Bernabeu.
Rodgers’ tactics may have played into Palace’s hands but credit to them for ruthlessly exploiting the space afforded to them (just as they did late on in May). With only one point in their last five games, Palace were hardly heading into the match full of confidence themselves but it rarely showed. If they can reproduce this type of performance, built on the rapid counter-attacking and vociferous home support which catapulted them to 11th under Tony Pulis last season, they should remain out of it from here.
It had all started so promisingly for Liverpool after Lambert fired them ahead within two minutes. The 32-year-old’s first touch set himself superbly and his ensuing finish did not disappoint for the first goal of his Liverpool career. It was hardly a sparkling display from the England man but he at least provided a genuine focal point and was the Reds’ biggest goal-threat. If Rodgers continues with two up-front then perhaps it would be worthwhile pairing him with Balotelli – particularly as the duo looked threatening together in the dying stages at home to Hull – to cause opponents more problems. But it is unlikely a side with so many gaping holes in midfield can afford two strikers on the pitch together at present.
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