Liverpool travel to London a week after their Capital One Cup final defeat to Manchester City at Wembley to take on their bogey team Crystal Palace this weekend (1.30pm Sunday, Sky Sports 1).
It has been a dire 2016 for Palace so far, with Alan Pardew’s (pictured) men still awaiting their first victory in the Premier League this calendar year. Their lengthy winless run looked like it was coming to an end against Sunderland on Tuesday night, when a Connor Wickham brace gave the visitors a 2-1 lead at the Stadium Of Light with second-half injury time fast approaching. A late leveller from Fabio Borini saw the Black Cats snatch a point at the death, though, extending Palace’s run without a league triumph to 11 games. It is now 11 weeks since their last top flight success, a 2-1 win at Stoke City that put them in sixth place and level on points with Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United just before Christmas.
Palace supporters are hopeful that Yannick Bolasie’s return to the side can bring about an upturn in fortunes, with Pardew admitting in the last few days that his team are now in a relegation battle. Falling through the trapdoor still seems unlikely – Palace are nine points above the bottom three with 10 matches remaining – but the fact that demotion is even being mentioned as a possibility just goes to show how far the previously high-flying Eagles have fallen since mid-December.
Liverpool have been much more inconsistent this year, winning three, drawing two and losing three of their eight Premier League encounters. They have emerged victorious in their last two outings, though, defeating Aston Villa 6-0 19 days ago and Manchester City 3-0 on Wednesday evening to move up to eighth place, just six points behind the top four. A Champions League spot still remains unlikely, but supporters of the Reds may be quietly hopeful that their team can make a late dash and sneak in ahead of Manchester City in this most open and unpredictable of Premier League campaigns.
With Bolasie, Bakary Sako and Dwight Gayle all returning from injury lay-offs in the last few days, Pardew has far more options at his disposal heading into the weekend’s clash than has been the case at any other point in the last couple of months. Pape Souare is also available for selection again after completing a three-match ban, but James McArthur (ankle) and Jason Puncheon (hamstring) remain sidelined. Wickham, who has scored four goals in his last two appearances, is almost certain to start ahead of Emmanuel Adebayor once more.
Liverpool, meanwhile, will be unable to call upon the services of Lucas Leiva, Jordan Rossiter, Danny Ings and Joe Gomez, although Mamadou Sakho could return from the head injury he sustained at Wembley last Sunday. Daniel Sturridge will hope to be included in the starting XI after beginning the league game with City on the bench, while Jon Flanagan, Kolo Toure, Dejan Lovren will be aiming to retain their places in the back four.
Despite Palace’s awful form, the sight of Liverpool’s players on the other side of the tunnel could give them a pre-match lift as they look to pick up three points for the first time in two and a half months. Having won three and drawn one of their last four Premier League meetings with the Reds, Palace may fancy their chances of picking up what would be an invaluable victory this weekend. It would be quite a turn-up for the books, but there is plenty of value in backing the hosts to triumph at Selhurst Park on Sunday afternoon.