Liverpool have turned successive defeats into successive victories and for the second weekend running, it was Liverpool's twin striking superstars who were instrumental in securing three points. A quick start and early goals that characterised many of Liverpool's big victories last season was repeated at Anfield but Liverpool did not secure the headline triumph that seemed inevitable leading up to half-time.
Liverpool 3: Suarez 13' Sturridge 17', Gerrard (pen) 38'
Crystal Palace 1: Gayle 76'
Lucas' suspension offered a chance for Sterling at wingback as Jordan Henderson moved inside, a natural move given the options available to Rodgers. The rest of the side was unchanged as Brendan Rodgers looked to build on last weekend's victory at the Stadium of Light and return to the zenith of the Premier League. On a day where the blue half of Merseyside could no longer retain their status as the Premier League's sole unbeaten representative, Liverpool had a chance to go into the international break in a healthy league position. Luis Alberto was added to the matchday squad in Lucas' absence and Liverpool started the game brightly.
The visitors made four changes to their line up in the hope that a vital result could be secured at Anfield but much went wrong for Ian Holloway's men very quickly. There was little resistance offered to anything Liverpool wanted to do and all Liverpool's strikers could do was say "thank you" with a smile. The opening goal exemplified all that is good about Jose Enrique in attack and as long as Luis Suarez remains at the club, Enrique will continue to create opportunities for him.
Combination play between Enrique and Suarez on the left hand side created a difficult chance for the opening goal. Suarez and improvisation are often familiar word associations but this was one of his more peculiar goals. It was good to see a continuation of a fruitful partnership and the goal typified the zeal with which Suarez plays football; he never gives up and Liverpool is better with him on the pitch. Thirteen minutes gone and Crystal Palace were already behind, the only thing worse was to concede another goal so quickly. Enter Daniel Sturridge, the other half of Liverpool's talented twosome who nearly scored with a powerful effort almost immediately after Suarez's opener but was denied by the busy Julian Speroni. He would not wait long to add his contribution to Liverpool's superiority.
Sturridge's goal was delicious. Twisting this way and that from inside the left side of the box to create an opening to rifle home to double Liverpool's lead. Seventeen minutes gone and the match was effectively over as a contest. Of course there was over seventy minutes to play but in reality, Liverpool just needed to see the match out and that's what occurred with a bit of help from referee Dean Moxey and a misguided linesman. Sterling was fouled outside the area with less than ten minutes left in the first-half but his movement carried him into the area and Gerrard scored his first league goal of the season from the spot. That's fifteen successive Premier League seasons where there's been a Steven Gerrard goal and that's quite an achievement. More on the captain later.
In the build up to the penalty award, it was pressing from Jordan Henderson that stole the ball in the opposition half. Without that, the give and go that led to Sterling being fouled would never have happened. There'd be no Gerrard goal from the spot. After the third goal, which definitively put the game beyond Crystal Palace's reach, Liverpool were full of confidence. Sterling and Enrique found space out wide to trouble Palace's flanks even if the youngster's final ball was mostly wanting.
Liverpool pressed for a fourth goal late in the first half and it would not have flattered the home side to be four or five goals up by half time. Victor Moses was set up by Suarez but the Nigerian's left foot could only send the ball against the woodwork. A Suarez and Sturridge combination nearly brought a fourth goal as Suarez flashed a ball across the eighteen yard box that was met with a Sturridge right-footed first time effort that smacked the inside of the Palace post.
Liverpool's effervescence in attack in the first half's dying minutes looked to be a signal of more goals to come at some stage. Crystal Palace struggled to track opposition runs and most Liverpool attacks in the first half carried considerable threat. The second half was very different to the first and last weekend's late second-half goal wasn't a change in direction but at this stage, an aberration in a familiar pattern.
Palace had more gumption in the second half with greater defensive shape yet Liverpool were generally comfortable. Holloway's troops afforded Liverpool the time and space, especially in central midfield, to dictate the play. Jordan Henderson in particular enjoyed the reduced attentions from struggling opponents. The lack of pressure enabled Palace to become somewhat of a more compact outfit defensively, presumably to avoid conceding more goals while competing when possible in attack. Liverpool proceeded without caution and the tactical alterations by Holloway disrupted Liverpool's possession midway through the second half for a spell of five minutes or so. Sterling continued to be an outlet on the right in his first league start of the season even if his defensive side was predictably lacking at times, Kolo Toure was insurance on the right side of a back three.
Another set-piece goal was conceded that prevented Simon Mignolet from pocketing his fourth clean sheet in the league as Dwight Gayle's head faintly connected with José Campaña's free-kick. Gayle's goal provided some consolation for Crystal Palace's travelling contingent who were rambunctious and determined throughout the contest.
After a decent start to dominating possession in league action this season, Liverpool found keeping the ball difficult against both Manchester United and Swansea. Four points were collected in those fixtures as the strategy employed worked in Liverpool favour but domination of the ball is something Brendan Rodgers is likely to crow about in interviews before and after games respectively. Liverpool have dominated the ball for three league fixtures running and the third match against Crystal Palace provided Liverpool with the club's healthiest possession of the ball to date at an impressive 62 per cent.
If Liverpool can control the game and create chances then there's every chance those chances will be taken. Sturridge and Suarez offer such a goal threat. The relationship continues to develop with flicks and dummies confounding the Palace defence. As the half-time whistle played its familiar tune, the sight of Sturridge and Suarez in debate was tantalising. These are two players who are operating in tandem and it is imperative for Rodgers to continue to prioritise their relationship within an effective tactical framework. As a Liverpool fan, I'm savouring the partnership between two excellent strikers who provide goals, assists, flexibility, and movement at a high level.
In the 3-5-2 formation that has been utilised in Liverpool's past three matches in all competitions, Victor Moses has started as the most advanced midfielder in support of a flexible front two. When Luis Alberto came on for the industrious Moses, it offered a glimpse of what Coutinho could bring when he returns from an unmerited assault by a player who does not deserved to be named. Luis Alberto is a composed customer in possession and it will be good to see him make more appearances this season. He's certainly a player who understands how to take care of the ball and is undoubtedly a talent.
Steven Gerrard tired drastically again and it wasn't a case of the player not trying or caring. He had a decent game in midfield alongside the more impressive Jordan Henderson. Like Carragher in his final season, Gerrard's physical powers have noticeably diminished. Liverpool were in overwhelming possession of the ball and this should have placed less physical pressure on Steven Gerrard. Of course, a rest for the captain in the last 20-25 minutes would have been welcome ahead of the international break and with Liverpool 3 goals up against one of the Premier League's minnows. This may continue to be an issue until Joe Allen returns from his curious succession of injuries but it is for Brendan Rodgers to help his captain and Liverpool FC.
Jordan Henderson, Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, and Mamadou Sakho were all excellent in a routine home victory. Daniel Agger might very well replace Martin Skrtel when Liverpool travel to Newcastle later in the month but much will depend on the state of play after the international break. Liverpool's victory sent the Reds to the top of the league but there are still reservations with significant room for improvement.
Will the recovery of Coutinho and Johnson from injury, the promotion of Agger, the renewed health of Allen, the presence of Aly Cissokho to keep Enrique alert, and the return of Lucas from suspension remedy Liverpool's noted problems? Time will tell but Brendan Rodgers probably has a bigger role to play. For now, Liverpool are better off than the rest of the Premier League and that cannot be worth many words of complaint.