Liverpool's win over Crystal Palace should convince players and supporters that this season can be a success


Only one of Liverpool’s three summer signings started Saturday’s win over Crystal Palace at Anfield, and so home fans shifted their focus to a signing from two years ago.

In he strode, back into an arena he has previously dominated but never so in a red shirt. 

The carpet was rolled out for Christian Benteke. Look at him, walk around him, drink him in, gasp at his size and strength and then let nerves fray at the thought of just how a set of home players who seem to get more support from their manager than their fans at the moment were going to contain him. For many, the game kicked off at 1-0 to Palace with the big Belgian on the scoresheet.

And then, the 90 minutes happened.


They weren’t a vintage set of them, that is for sure, but with Palace boss Frank de Boer having seemingly already switched to the rudimentary tactics that simply having Benteke in your team forces you to employ, they did threaten to follow a familiar pattern.

Because Palace had won on their last three trips to this ground, and Benteke had scored five times in his last three games there as a visiting player. They were numbers to worry a nervy crowd who are uninspired by Liverpool’s summer business in the transfer market, and so an afternoon of awkwardness set in.

But you could have looked at it another way.

No away team has won four games in a row at Anfield since 1935, and so it was highly unlikely that a Crystal Palace side full of just decent professionals and players who can’t get a game in better teams were going to do that. While Benteke, for his good record as a visiting player, only scored four Premier League goals for Liverpool at Anfield during his one season at the club in 2015/16. If he was really that good, shouldn’t he have scored more?

And so it was that Liverpool grew into their task of wearing down their opponents, and slaying their beast of a centre-forward who seems to inspire so much terror. In a much-changed hybrid team which offered more than a glance to Hoffenheim on Wednesday, they managed to do just that.

Chief amongst the reasons for that was a much-improved display from Joel Matip, the centre-back who has escaped criticism for the Reds’ rather shaky start to the season simply because he isn’t Dejan Lovren.

Whereas the Croatian – rotated to the bench here in place of the clunking, clanking defender-tron that is Ragnar Klavan – is the elaborate type of defender whose mistakes make it onto gifs and those ‘Footie Banter’ Twitter pages, Matip’s errors are a little more understated.

Against both Watford and Hoffenheim – and up against massive forwards in Stefano Okaka and Sandro Wagner – Matip simply didn’t impose himself enough. He was bullied, for want of a better word, but because he was never all that noticeable then his meekness in both challenges and positioning seemed to go unreported. He was much better here though.

Surely sensing the crowd’s nervousness at seeing Benteke on the opposition’s teamsheet, Matip made this into one of those matches when his quality both in possession and in the tackle shone through. He wasn’t afraid to battle with his responsibility for the day, and was also seen bringing the ball out of defence on several occasions.

He could have scored early on had he just got a different connection to a superb cross from the impressive debutant Andy Robertson, but his leadership of the team would come in a different way as he subdued the main worry.


A mistake from Klavan aside, Benteke really wasn’t given a sniff of goal all afternoon. Indeed, that poor miss from Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s cut back should have served as a reminder that this isn’t some superhuman force that Liverpool should be constantly petrified of. He’s a very good Premier League forward, but one who usually needs two or three good chances to score a goal. There are a lot of them.

Liverpool’s good chance, emphatically taken by Sadio Mane, then arrived more via force of will than anything else. They kept knocking and knocking on the door, and then eventually Mane just ran through it, leaving a couple of bedraggled Palace players wondering what had just happened.

It wasn’t a goal or indeed a game that’ll win any awards, but it was a win, a clean sheet and a victory over a familiar foe whose claws have scratched the Reds before.

Matip and his much-changed teammates should take great confidence from that, as a troubled opening to the season remains on track.