LIVERPOOL, England — Three thoughts from Liverpool 1-0 Crystal Palace at Anfield in the Premier League on Saturday afternoon.
1. Mane the man as Liverpool edge Palace
Liverpool, 1-0 winners over Crystal Palace, would love to welcome Philippe Coutinho back but Sadio Mane is carrying the torch for their attack in his absence.
The Reds missed Coutinho’s creativity for large sections of Saturday’s win. Without Mane, Jurgen Klopp’s side would be staring down the barrel of a winless start to the Premier League campaign. His second goal in as many games helped Liverpool just about see off Frank De Boer’s defensive side.
For 73 minutes, Coutinho’s absence made the heart grow fonder among the 50,000 Liverpool supporters inside Anfield, who were contemplating whether it would be a case of deja vu this season after a frustrating opening draw at Watford. Here, they struggled to break through Palace until Mane’s intervention 17 minutes from the end.
Palace were looking to become the first team to record four consecutive top flight wins at Anfield since Arsenal in December 1935. After shock results on Merseyside for the past three seasons, they can be well and truly classed as Liverpool’s bogey side.
Like Klopp’s men, the South Londoners had to play the game without their best player in Wilfried Zaha, who was sidelined with a knee injury. It made the visitors largely unimaginative, aside from pumping balls up to Christian Benteke in the hope Andros Townsend would be able to pick up on the scraps.
After their 2-1 win at Hoffenheim in midweek, Klopp had no choice but to rotate, making five changes. He welcomed the return of Daniel Sturridge from a thigh problem, while Andrew Robertson made his competitive debut following his summer move from Hull City.
It was a drab first half, but for one minute of end-to-end action. Four minutes before half-time, Roberto Firmino cracked one from long range which forced a save from Wayne Hennessey before Palace countered and Jason Puncheon tested the gloves and concentration of Simon Mignolet.
There was more life after the break. Palace should have gone one up, but Benteke blazed over from close range off Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s cutback.
Sturridge and Georginio Wijnaldum made way for Mohamed Salah and Dominic Solanke to inject more intent into Liverpool and it didn’t take long for the substitutions to have the desired effect. Mane forced the initiative from the left and received a fair share of luck when the ball ricocheted off Luka Milivojevic to put him through on goal.
The Senegalese winger poked in past Hennessey to relieve the pressure around the stadium, proving Liverpool still have match-winners in their side — even without Coutinho.
2. Robertson’s decent debut
Robertson, in his first Anfield outing as a Liverpool player, looked assured at left-back — far more than James Milner did in the position at times last season. Judging from his selection in the first three matches of campaign, Klopp sees Milner as a midfielder again as a result of the Robertson signing.
As a natural left-footer, it is easier for Robertson to help Liverpool in an attacking sense. The Scotland international sent in multiple enticing crosses in the first half that teammates should have converted. It was a welcome change from when Milner would often cut in on his favoured right foot, slowing Liverpool’s attack down.
Defensively, there are improvements to be made. He was often found to be lagging behind Liverpool’s other three defenders when pushing out, playing Palace players onside. But it was a performance that may put him ahead of Alberto Moreno in the left-back pecking order.
3. De Boer will need time
De Boer’s introduction to the Premier League has been brutal. After the opening day 3-0 defeat to newly promoted Huddersfield Town, Palace barely looked like troubling a shaky Liverpool.
The former Barcelona defender has ripped up Sam Allardyce’s foundations that staved off relegation last season, opting for a back three that looked uncertain when they met Liverpool in Hong Kong for the Asia Trophy in preseason.
It does get easier, however. Palace face four winnable fixtures, taking on Ipswich Town in the second round of the League Cup before facing Swansea, Burnley and Southampton in their next three Premier League matches. They represent a realistic opportunity for De Boer to get some wins on the board.
While his achievements of four titles at Ajax is to be respected, the stench of his failed 85-day stay at Inter Milan remains.
The Dutchman needs time at Selhurst Park with the changes he is making, but only wins will get total confidence from the supporters and the board.
Glenn is ESPN FC’s Liverpool correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter: @GlennPrice94.