“Messi might be a good player, but can he do it on a wet Wednesday night in November at Stoke?” Well, we will never have to find out for a multitude of reasons but that is the biggest cliché that gets rolled out. Selhurst Park under the floodlights has, for some reason, attracted a similar kind of mystique.
Palace away is a tough match, and you know that will be the case before kick off. The stadium is cramped, the fans are noisy and the team are well organised. That, by the way, is as close as I’ll ever get to complimenting Roy Hodgson.
So to come away with a win in the first away game of the season is something to celebrate – and we did it with relative ease. If I am being completely honest, I preferred that win to the 4-0 demolition of West Ham. That was not a hard game, and it was no test, no assessment of where we’re at. Roll forward a week however and my already high confidence has improved.
The Palace game was an early indication that the problems that have held us back for the last few seasons seem to have been ironed out. When we were under pressure, we didn’t creak. We held firm and for all of their bluster, Palace’s only real highlight was when Andros Townsend hit the bar from long range.
In years gone by, we would have conceded. We did just that last season in fact in the same fixture when we gave away a penalty. But this is a different Liverpool, this is a Liverpool that has finally found a way to combine silk and steel and the results are increasingly there for all to see.
With a centre half who is a £75m bargain and a goalkeeper who has made a confident and reassuring start to his career at the club, the issue of shipping soft goals has suddenly been put on the back burner. And that for me is the most pleasing aspect of Monday’s victory – the clean sheet.
Our attacking credentials need no introduction, although Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah didn’t look at their sharpest at Selhurst Park. We regularly roll teams over with 3,4 or 5 goal wins. They are our bread and butter. But our hopes of winning the league last season were holed by our inability to turn draws into wins and this often happened by conceding sloppy goals.
The fact that we are now more confident defensively has massively enhanced our game. Even when Adam Lallana gave away a brainless free kick deep into injury time, I had no worries we were going to concede. I knew that Virgin van Dijk would win the header, which he did. I knew he would win the header from the subsequent corner, which he did.
In a team full of quality players, the Dutchman is imperious and has been more or less since the day he signed. He brings a calmness to the back four that has long been missing. And now he has a goalkeeper behind him who is confident and assured, he is playing even better. It might have been an eye-watering sum of money to drop on a centre half but to say it’s money well spent is an understatement.
We will need to play better than we did moving forwards however – it was a very disjointed performance and I thought a lot of players didn’t look their sharpest. We will improve as the season goes by and everyone shakes off the World Cup, which is what is affecting the likes of Firmino and Aelexander-Arnold. They both look off the pace.
But the essential thing is that we’re getting the job done. We will have a similarly tricky task in our next away game at Leicester City. If we show the resolve, concentration and grit we did at one of our bogey grounds against one of our bogey teams, we’ll do just fine.
*Odds are subject to change