If Liverpool never travel to Selhurst Park again, it will be too soon.
The last five trips to the south London stadium in all competitions going back to 2001 have seen the Reds suffer four defeats – all of which have been horrific performances in the League Cup and the Premier League – and of course last season’s heartbreaking 3-3 draw that effectively ended our title challenge.
Sunday’s game at Palace marked six months since that fateful evening, and the collapse since that night has been beyond most Liverpool fans worst nightmare.
For all the talk surrounding the failed summer signings, the loss of Luis Suarez, and the injury to Daniel Sturridge, it’s the Reds basic inability to defend that is most frustrating, and is the main reason why Brendan Rodgers finds himself under increasing pressure.
The defending is what cost us the league title last season, and despite Rodgers taking his spent total up to £65million on a whole new back four and goalkeeper with the arrivals of Dejan Lovren and Alberto Moreno last summer – whilst also disposing of Daniel Agger and Pepe Reina for a return of just £5million – it is sickening to think our defending has in actual fact got worse.
Dejan Lovren was outstanding for Southampton last season, but has struggled in a back four in which the Reds have been consistently exposed. It remains a mystery as to why Glen Johnson and Martin Skrtel remain consistent picks when you look at their recent performance level.
Johnson was chosen to play ahead of £12million summer signing Alberto Moreno out of position at left back on Sunday – another bizarre decision when you consider the Spaniard has been one of our better summer signings.
And Skrtel was at fault for another two goals, failing to clock the run of Dwight Gayle as he did in May for the equaliser, before a trademark shirt pull gave Palace the free kick that ended any hopes of a point.
The fact Skrtel scored seven goals last season masked the fact he was often a liability at the back. He also managed four own goals, and conceded one penalty – which could have quite easily been seven or eight – for shirt pulling. His lack of leadership is strange when you consider he captains a Slovakia side that has won all of it’s European qualifiers.
Rodgers still sees him as his first choice centre half for reasons only he can explain, but it is my opinion it is time for Skrtel to be dropped in favour of Lucas Leiva or Emre Can – with the much maligned Steven Gerrard moving to centre back alongside Dejan Lovren, Kolo Toure or Mamadou Sakho, who has just returned to full training.
Gerrard has taken plenty of criticism this season, with some so called supporters going as far as to call for him to retire at the end of the season.
His success in the holding role last season was down to the fact he often had the legs of Joe Allen or Jordan Henderson either side of him, whilst his passing range was effective in that role as he had the movement of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge to aim for, with either Raheem Sterling or Philippe Coutinho finding space in between the lines at the tip of a midfield diamond.
Rodgers has been consistently tinkering with the formation and personnel this season, and Gerrard has not had the same success. But needless to say, he remains by far and away the best player the club has on the books.
Gerrard has performed in almost every position for the Reds down the years, from right back, to right midfield, to centre mid, to number 10, back to holding midfield. This season aside, each time he has been asked to change position he has looked a million miles the best player on the pitch, and despite his recent struggles there is nothing to suggest he wouldn’t do a better job than Martin Skrtel or Dejan Lovren at centre back during this difficult period.
Liverpool have no leadership qualities whatsoever when it comes to defending, so it would surely make sense to put our captain in the heart of the defence given his struggles in that holding role, when we have Emre Can desperate to impress and Lucas Leiva as a natural defensive midfielder sat on the bench.
Gerrard has lost none of his strength, character, or tackling and heading abilities. I for one would certainly feel much safer in the knowledge he was lining up at centre back, with Skrtel and Glen Johnson out of the back four.
Stevie has fitted into almost every position on the pitch seemlessly when asked over the course of his Liverpool career. Despite poor performances by his usual high standards this season, I would back him to do so again when his side need him most.