Patrick Vieira’s set-up delivers against odds as Crystal Palace earn mind-boggling point against Liverpool
If you’re ever in the market for proof that football is a silly, illogical game, then consider this fixture’s baffling arc.
For 32 minutes here at Anfield, it seemed Patrick Vieira had got it all wrong as his usually vibrant Crystal Palace side were stifled into passivity by what looked an overly conservative set-up. That was until, out of nowhere, the same masterplan which had looked a dud suddenly clicked perfectly and Wilfried Zaha opened the scoring at the end of the Eagles’ first real attack, a devastating counter.
Midway through the second-half, a moment of stupidity from Darwin Nunez saw the Reds’ marquee summer signing sent off on home debut and handed Palace the man advantage that should probably have set them on course to see out a famous win.
Instead, though, the adversity galvanised Jurgen Klopp’s side and the Anfield crowd, and prompted a wonderful equaliser from Luis Diaz to earn a 1-1 draw and a share of the points.
As in their opening night defeat to Arsenal, Palace had spent the first half-hour struggling to get out of their own final third, only here it seemed they were constrained as much by Vieira’s design as the opposition’s brilliance.
He will not be the only manager to come to Anfield this season and reined things in, but his deep-lying 4-5-1 formation had the Eagles sitting off a Liverpool side who had been so rattled by the intensity of Fulham’s press in their own disappointing opener, a 2-2 draw at Craven Cottage.
The low-block was doing little to contain a rival able to bypass it by playing direct into the chaos-inducing figure of Nunez, while with no defending to do, Trent Alexander-Arnold was running the game from, nominally, right-back as he only he can.
Nunez blazed high with a back-post volley, Salah steered wide of the near-post, both from Alexander-Arnold deliveries, while Harvey Elliott twice teased and twinkled but chose the wrong moment to pull the trigger. By the time Alexander-Arnold lifted an outrageous sand-wedge of a pass in behind for Salah to head straight at Guiata two things seemed certain: that Liverpool would soon score the game’s first goal and that the England full-back would be its creator.
Most head-scratching of Vieira’s selections was the deployment of Zaha as a lone, very lonely front-man. From a wide midfield position, the Ivorian’s ability to take the ball from deep, drive and win free-kicks might have offered Palace an outlet but sent into the domain of Virgil van Dijk, he had barely had a kick.
It turned out though, that as they once used to say about his legendary mentor at Arsenal, Vieira knew best.
Eberechi Eze jinked too easily inside Fabinho to launch the kind of counter-attack the Brazilian is usually so effective at snuffing out at source - and the kind Vieira must have been dreaming about when plotting pre-match on his tactics board. Eze released Zaha, who had wisely peeled away from Van Dijk and timed his run in behind Nat Phillips to perfection, before slotting home with conviction.
And indeed it was conviction, as much as a lead, that the goal seemed to give his Palace teammates, renewed belief in Vieira’s thinking, an extra tenacity and aggression in their defending.
Zaha remained an isolated figure for the most part but missed a golden chance to double the lead with a loose touch when put through again.
Liverpool, meanwhile, were looking increasingly frustrated as the game wore on and less and less likely to find a way through until, bizarrely, the moment at which they lost their £64million goalscorer.
The Uruguayan’s headbutt on Joachim Andersen was brainless and will have lasting consequences, given he will be missing from an already injury-ravaged squad throughout a three-match suspension.
Klopp did not acknowledge the 23-year-old as he eventually departed, needing plenty of encouragement from James Milner to do so, but the home crowd, no doubt irked by Andersen’s exaggeration of the contact, chanted Nunez’s name.
They may not be so forgiving after watching a replay this evening, but the perceived, even feigned injustice shifted the mood entirely and Diaz hit back with a sensational strike after shifting across the box.
Zaha spurned another chance to retake the lead, finding the outside of the post going at a cross wrong-footed, but for the most part it was the ten men who looked the more likely winners.
Their final attack deep in stoppage time was halted, ludicrously, by a pitch-invader running on from the home section. It left Klopp furious - and made about as much sense as the rest of this game.