CRYSTAL Palace — the team of the 80s.
That become the media’s billing for Terry Venables’ bright young Cockney things who went from promotion to the top flight to being considered the fresh new dynamic face of modern football in a short space of time, at the turn of 1980.
Young manager, young team. They would build something that would define a decade. Except they didn’t. They fell as sharply as they had risen. They flitted and farted between the divisions and never won a thing.
They loom large in Liverpool history in that era — when the Reds were the actual team of the 80s — as a consequence of a fortuitous and dramatic 4-3 win in a mad FA Cup semi-final in 1990, but more significantly as lambs to one of the top flight’s greatest slaughters — Liverpool’s 9-0 win over them in 1989.
I was at Anfield to be witness to events that evening. A mid-weeker, under the lights. It was cold. John Aldridge was playing his last game for Liverpool, and the last truly great Liverpool team was giving what history came to see as something of a swansong performance.
We didn’t know then that we were privileged to be watching the last Liverpool title-winning side in now going on over 25 years.
It all came so easy then. There were setbacks for sure, but always more rise to match every fall. The teams I grew up watching from the late 70s onwards always played as if to a script. The narrative arc was always compelling.
Heroes, villains, trials and tests, but always — always — ultimate victory.
There was a lust for goals in those times — typified in that 9-0 shellacking of Palace — that seems absent today. Watching my formative Liverpool teams you never felt they were done. There was a sense that a goal was its own reward. Four nil was so much better than 2-0.
Now lads get hauled off and rested on hat tricks. Defensive midfielders get brought on to shore things up. Shops get shut.
It took the 2013-14 season under Brendan Rodgers management and Luis Suarez’s spell to remind of what it felt like to watch a team that lived only to score goals. Threes, fours, fives and sixes. Each murder a blueprint for the next. Goals begat goals.
I don’t think enough modern coaches fully appreciate this. It is better to win 4-0 and be a touch more tired than to take 2-0 and a bit of a breather because of what the former does to the mind. Four-nil winners feel like champions. Feel like they can take all comers. Like nothing can stop them.
Rodgers demonstrated that he understood this principle in the second half of his messy first season at Liverpool. LFC finished a disappointing seventh in the table but the final third of the season had seen goals starting to rain down.
The 6-0 Liverpool win at Newcastle seemed too much too late to a football world looking to more important games being played elsewhere but at St James Park in April 2013 a new Liverpool was putting down a marker.
The incredible surge to the brink of the title in 2014 was the manifestation of that team discovering its goals lust.
The 2016 vintage Reds go to Palace still very much a work in progress and one caught up in a classic model ‘transition’ season. Punditry will see this as one that could go either way.
Palace have been hurting Liverpool routinely in the past couple of years. They are out of sorts in the league but significant cup wins have roused their people again. They think they’ll be pleased to see Liverpool.
They’re wrong to think that. Jürgen Klopp’s side are — whisper it — just beginning to build up a head of steam. No one has beaten Liverpool in normal time in the past seven matches. Crucially, the goals are beginning to flow again.
Not so long ago, three against Arsenal and five against Norwich. More recently, six against Aston Villa and the three against Manchester City in midweek. Liverpool are the Premier League’s joint top scorers in 2016. Nineteen goals in eight games. It’s a very healthy ratio.
It’s quite a turnaround from being the side that could barely manage a goal-per-game average in the latter half of 2015. Coming into the current new year it looked as though Klopp still had it all to do — come the summer — in terms of the requirement to ‘buy goals’ for the squad.
Now the squad has lads amassing goal tallies everywhere. With a modest tailwind quite a few could finish the season on 10 plus goals in all comps. Roberto Firmino is beginning to score goals very consistently and Philippe Coutinho continues to add to his reputation as a reliable midfield goal contributor.
Others who could hit the 10 include Christian Benteke, James Milner and, with even breaks fitness wise, Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge. Even Adam Lallana looks like he might just be able to make double figures.
Goals and options everywhere now for a Liverpool manager used to having his starting team dictated to him by injury and circumstance.
Klopp was able to rest his two best players, Sturridge and Coutinho, and yet still oversee a demolishing of Manchester City in the week. The prospect of bringing this pair back in to relieve the weary feels like serious luxury.
Alan Pardew and Palace are relieved to have Liverpool nemesis Yannick Bolasie back in their team, but not half as pleased as we are to be able to look at a potential Reds selection that permits holding back the likes of Firmino, Origi and Benteke to cameos from the substitutes’ bench.
I’m expecting Kloppo to go with a front three of Lallana, Coutinho and Sturridge. Firmino deserves to be first pick, but he’s played a lot of football lately, and the double header with Manchester United looms large.
In centre mid, the manager has less options. Lucas Leiva is now out injured for five to six weeks meaning only Joe Allen is available to provide a rest for one of the mainstay three.
At the back, midweek cult hero Jon Flanagan should get another crack at it, his handling of Raheem Sterling a worthy audition for a match up with the dangerous Bolasie.
In central defence, Dejan Lovren seems sure to keep his place, but Klopp will then have to decide between recovering Mamadou Sakho, rehabilitating Martin Skrtel and a tired Kolo Toure for the most suitable partner.
Liverpool haven’t won three league games on the spin in over a year. Klopp says this is the most important phase of a season. He says our starting postion — six points off fourth place — isn’t the worst. Our form is decent, our men are looking fitter and hungrier.
To the gates of the Palace, Reds! Let’s tear them down.
Klopp’s avengers: Mignolet; Flanagan, Toure, Lovren, Clyne; Can, Allen, Milner; Coutinho, Lallana, Sturridge.