“There is a widespread belief in football that certain teams will always play well against others, irrespective their form or league position,” read a 2007 article in the Guardian. “But the bogey team is as much a figment of our imaginations as the bogey man. It is the best evidence that [the phenomenon] does not exist.”
That was written by someone who had crunched the numbers, analysed the trends and come to an expert conclusion. Liverpool fans, though, may have had enough of experts after Crystal Palace, for the third time in as many visits, ambled into Anfield and plundered the home side of their points and dignity.
The humiliation is only heightened by its predictability: since Palace’s promotion in 2013, Liverpool have failed to beat the south Londoners in five of their eight top-flight meetings, Palace’s four wins sitting merrily alongside that absurd night in spring 2014 when Luis Suarez and pals waved a tearful goodbye to their chances of a title.
Sunday’s game not only offered sound evidence of the existence of the bogey team – on Merseyside at least – but of the bogey man too. Christian Benteke’s brace, as clinical as it was inevitable, means he has now scored as many league goals at Anfield against Liverpool as he did during an entire season playing for them – a stat made more ludicrous by the fact that the teams he’s scored those goals for (a relegation-threated Palace, a relegation-threatened Aston Villa) have all fallen somewhere between listless and lamentable.
Liverpool’s dire run against Palace may well mean nothing, a handful of chance losses given the illusion of meaning by a small sample size. But if so, then it’s a run in which the same things keep reoccurring: those eight games have seen Palace score five times with headers, six times from set pieces and six times from a chance made or scored by Yannick Bolasie, who left the club a year ago.
Bogey team or no bogey team, the fact is that Palace’s MO of aggressive wing-play, speedy counterattacks and belligerent aerial bombardment is precisely the type of stuff that unnerves and untangles Liverpool.
Luckily for anyone who hadn’t recognised exactly how Sam Allardyce’s plan came together on Sunday, the man himself was on hand to nobly commit the afternoon’s events to record. “Both Liverpool full-backs go right up the pitch, which means Matip and Lovren are very exposed and, if you get the right runners in behind, then they are two big men that don’t like turning and going back to goal,” he recounted, adding, for good measure: “On the corners everyone knows Liverpool are pretty weak.”
Read the full article on eurosport.co.uk: Liverpool's bogey men exposed big problems at heart of Klopp project