So perhaps this is how Liverpool keep their players fresh over the Christmas period: go hard for 45 minutes, kill the game off, and then bring off key men in the second half. It’s a strategy that certainly worked at Selhurst Park against Crystal Palace. The Reds struck three times in the opening period and that was that. Game over. Job done. And all without Mohamed Salah in the starting XI.
The Egyptian star was a surprise omission from Jurgen Klopp’s side for the 7-0 demolition, although he did come on in the 57th minute for Mane and scored the Reds’ sixth and seventh goals of the contest.
“Both teams are in the same situation, playing Sunday-Wednesday-Saturday so it will be a tough ask,” the German coach explained why Salah wasn’t in his starting XI.
“Mo Salah is on the bench, they have all played a lot of games. He can come on and make a difference. We need all the boys.”
Diogo Jota is also injured. Thiago Alcantara, too. Oh, and James Milner, Xherdan Shaqiri, and Konstantinos Tsimikas are also ruled out.
Yet the Reds have found a way to win matches. And it’s why they sit top of the Premier League table.
Klopp’s ability to find solutions to problems is a key reason for this. But Liverpool’s recruitment team’s role can’t be understated.
In contrast to Premier League rivals such as Manchester United and Arsenal, the Reds have rarely got a transfer wrong in recent seasons. They evaluate, consider, analyse, and know exactly what a new addition will add to the squad.
Some come into the side and make an instant impression: Jota the latest example of this following his arrival from Wolverhampton Wanderers in the summer.
Others require a little more time and patience. Naby Keita, partly due to injuries, hasn’t been the tour de force many expected after his arrival from RB Leipzig in 2018, but when fit, he has proven an important member of Klopp’s squad.
Takumi Minamino is another. The Japan international arrived from Red Bull Salzburg last January and has slowly been integrated by Klopp.
There have been flashes of his talent so far at Anfield but, put into the side ahead of Salah against Palace, Minamino impressed.
An errant finish in the second period blotted his copybook, but Minamino struck Liverpool’s opening goal inside three minutes and produced several lovely touches in the final third to help build and maintain attacks. His movement to create space for others also stood out.
This ability to drop players into the side and watch them thrive – or at the very least make game-altering contributions – is something few of Liverpool’s Premier League rivals can do with confidence.
Mikel Arteta has found that at Arsenal, which perhaps explains why he is hesitant to rotate underperforming players such as Willian and Hector Bellerin.
And at Manchester United, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a strong starting XI, there is a drop off in quality behind that, especially in the final third.
Liverpool’s win at Palace has opened, temporarily at least, a six-point gap at the top of the table.
And given their performance at Selhurst Park, the fact none of Mane, Salah, or Firmino played 90 minutes, and that Thiago is close to a return, the biggest concern for the Reds’ rivals should be Klopp’s side may only get stronger in the weeks to come.