Liverpool go to Selhurst Park tonight aiming for a fourth consecutive Premier League victory at Crystal Palace, and their fifth in all competitions, on a high after last week’s convincing 4-0 romp over West Ham. The Eagles were also victorious on the opening weekend, defeating Fulham 2-0 to match their points total from the first eight games of last season at the first attempt. Liverpool’s front three have rightly earned plenty of plaudits and they led the Hammers a merry dance at Anfield, but Roy Hodgson’s Palace have an attacker of their own who would not look out of place in the opposition’s forward trio. Wilfried Zaha was one of the standout players in the Premier League last season and he carried that good form into the start of this campaign, netting at Craven Cottage and tormenting the Fulham defence.
Luka Milivojevic may have been the Eagles’ top scorer in 2017/18 with 10 goals, but that total is skewed significantly as he is their dead-eye penalty taker. Zaha was their next most prolific with eight in 28 games and his eye for a finish, as well as his raw pace and sharp football brain, is sure to give the Liverpool rearguard plenty of food for thought. The Ivory Coast international made his name as a wide player, but he is likely to be deployed in a number nine role tonight, so assuming Jurgen Klopp goes with the same defensive personnel as last week, it means that Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez will have their hands full. The Dutchman seems to have the authority to handle a danger man like Zaha, but Gomez could be in for a real test after the young England defender enjoyed an easy return to competitive action against impotent West Ham after a prolonged spell out injured.
Unsurprisingly given his previous as a roving winger, Zaha can conjure opportunities from nothing with his deft dribbling ability. Liverpool’s defence will be used to dealing with mobile attackers from training games, but whereas the likes of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane thrive on intricate movement of the football, Zaha is more likely to run at opponents than lay off a neatly-threaded pass – although he linked up to great effect with young defender Aaron Wan-Bissaka at Craven Cottage a week ago. His fondness for taking on opponents also creates the distinct possibility of winning set pieces in dangerous positions, as he did in this fixture last March when winning an admittedly dubious penalty from which Palace took an early lead.
The only discernible weakness in Zaha’s game is the rarity with which he wins aerial duels, although that’s not likely to be too much of a setback against a team like Liverpool that specialises in keeping the ball along, or not too far from, the surface. Palace also like to play a slick game, with pacy players like Zaha and Andros Townsend at their best when running full pelt at opponents.
West Ham barely laid a glove on Liverpool last week. The Reds can expect a far sterner test away to Crystal Palace, especially if Zaha is at his sharpest. He’s posed problems for Liverpool’s defence in the not too distant past and it is his threat more than anyone’s which Klopp’s side need to nullify tonight.