Verdict: Roberto Firmino to score
Best odds: 29/20
In what is arguably the match of biggest importance in the final round of the Premier League season, Liverpool are set to welcome Crystal Palace to Anfield on Sunday afternoon. Manchester City are the new champions, United have already joined them in the Champions League next season, and now it’s between Chelsea, Liverpool, and Leicester City for the remaining two spots in UEFA’s elite competition.
It really has been a season of ups and downs for the Merseysiders. There doesn’t seem to be much point in going over all the details; they’ve been discussed many times already among those following the English game and beyond. The 2019-20 champions, on the back of winning the Champions League the previous year, they seemed on course to defend the domestic title right until Christmas. But the turn of the year brought nothing good for a long time and they plummeted down the table.
Until quite recently, Liverpool seemed unable, and to be perfectly frank, unworthy of finishing in the top four. However, they pulled themselves together recently and managed to produce a string of excellent results which, together with a few failures of Chelsea and Leicester, put the Reds right back in the driving seat. The title may be gone beyond recall for the season, but Champions League qualification is now firmly within their reach. All they have to do is beat Crystal Palace on Sunday.
As things stand, Chelsea are third with 67 points. Liverpool and Leicester in fourth and fifth, respectively, stand at 66, with goal-difference strongly in favour of the Merseysiders. If they win by a single goal on Sunday, the Foxes would need to beat Tottenham Hotspur by at least six to get ahead.
In the run-up to this grand finale, Jurgen Klopp’s team drew 1-1 away to Leeds United and at home against Newcastle, before winning four on the trot; 2-0 at home against Southampton, 2-4 away to arch-rivals Manchester United, 1-2 away to West Bromwich Albion, and 0-3 away to Burnley.
This should be the final competitive match with Klopp unable to count on Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, and the German will certainly be happy when his three best centre-backs are back in action. Captain Jordan Henderson is in the same boat, having returned to team training today (Friday). It has been too long, but meanwhile, Nathaniel Phillips and Rhys Williams are set to carry the torch again at the heart of defence.
Fabinho, Thiago Alcantara, Georginio Wijnaldum, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino are all nailed on to start this match, with midfielder Naby Keita and forward Diogo Jota expected to miss out again.
Looking at the league table alone, you might jump to the conclusion that Crystal Palace travel to Anfield with nothing to play for. In 13th place with 44 points, they are quite safe from relegation and unable to qualify for any European competition. However, they will certainly want to see off departing manager Roy Hodgson, once upon a time in charge at Liverpool as well, with a good performance against his former team.
Hodgson’s managerial career has been going on for 45 years, believe it or not. It started on the very day of his retirement from playing, July 1st 1976, when he stopped playing for Carshalton Athletic and became head coach at Swedish side Halmstads BK. He was in charge at Bristol City, Orebro, Malmo, Xamax, Swiss national side, Inter Milan, Blackburn Rovers, Grasshoppers, FC Copenhagen, Udinese, UAE national team, Viking FK in Norway, Finland national team, Fulham, Liverpool, West Brom, England, and England U-21, before taking over at Crystal Palace in September, 2017. Some career.
When Palace hosted Arsenal in the previous round, the 73-year-old walked out to a very warm reception from both teams, Gunners boss Mikel Arteta, the match officials, and a number of fans present at Selhurst Park for the first time in about 14 months.
— Crystal Palace F.C. (@CPFC) May 19, 2021
It will be all about the boss for the Eagles in this match.
The biggest blow ahead of the Anfield trip for Hodgson’s team is certainly the injury suffered by Eberechi Eze. The 22-year-old attacking midfielder is set to have surgery after a scan confirmed an Achilles problem a few days ago.
Meanwhile, Palace could have captain Luka Milivojevic and left-back Patrick van Aanholt back. They’ve both had family issues and weren’t in the team against Arsenal. Defender Scott Dunn, striker Christian Benteke and left-back Tyrick Mitchell face late fitness tests before their availability is ascertained.
Former Liverpool defender Mamadou Sakho, midfielder James McArthur, striker Connor Wickham and defender Nathan Ferguson are all out.
Strange things have happened in the past when these two teams played. Crystal Palace were a sore spot for a long time for Liverpool when Klopp replaced Brendan Rodgers at the helm in 2015, having previously come back from 3-0 down to snatch two points from the Reds and extinguish their hope of winning the Premier League in 2013-14. They were the last team to win at Anfield before Liverpool’s 68-game unbeaten run started back in April 2017.
However, Liverpool are certainly the better team and the prospect of reaching the Champions League against the odds is likely to prove the stronger motive, especially with 10,000 fans set to return to the iconic stadium. They must win this game to finish in the top four, and they’re very likely to.
Salah is tied with Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane at the top of the league’s goalscoring chart, with 22 strikes to both their names. The Egyptian, along with the rest of his team, will be hoping the England captain nets at least one against Leicester, and it’s up to him to keep up. But with the odds on Salah scoring extremely short, perhaps it’s worth considering Firmino, who’s been off form for most of the season but bagged three goals in the last two games.
Verdict: Roberto Firmino to score
Best odds: 29/20
- Soccer News Like
- Be the first of your friends!