AFTER 24 hours of rumour and counter rumour, there was more than a touch of surprise and element of trepidation when the teamsheet was released at 2pm.
Counter to internet gossip, Sadio Mane’s name was included in a much-changed lineup, with five changes from the team that started the first two games of the season.
Given the respective ability and ambitions of the two sides there was a hint among Kopites of giving Crystal Palace a little too much respect.
But with the spectre of a side Palace arrived at Anfield having won their three last league fixtures at Anfield and a player who loves finding the back of the net against The Reds in Christian Benteke, the fear might have been justified.
Despite not setting the world on fire in a mostly plodding display, Liverpool’s rejigged back four showed a resilience and discipline that, for the most part, restricted Frank De Boer’s new charges to bits and pieces, feeding off scraps.
Both Joe Gomez and Andy Robertson put in accomplished, solid displays, with Gomez’s prowess in the air, despite a shaky start, coming to the fore as the game wore on.
Robertson, making his competitive debut having not even made the matchday squad for the first two fixtures of the season, will draw comparisons with Steve Finnan for his fuss-free display and competent delivery on the overlap which will surely bear fruit over the course of the season.
Both displays will be have been a relief to Jürgen Klopp as he searches for solutions with a squad that looks a bit light if the season is to pan out how he hopes.
As will the performance of both Ragnar Klavan and Joel Matip, Klavan can get a bit of unfair stick sometimes given his price tag and status within the squad but is better on the ball than he is given credit and has been around the block enough times to be a solid, if unspectacular back-up option to be called upon.
And Matip, having been the subject of some criticism of late, put in a performance of strength and maturity, bossing the bogeyman that was Benteke with a calm and assured display, it’s entirely possible that he might just suit Klavan as a partner more than the rested Dejan Lovren.
Further up the pitch, James Milner was restored to midfield and initially struggled to find a rhythm with either Jordan Henderson or Gini Wijnaldum with the triumvirate on occasion occupying each other’s space, but found his foothold in the second period and showed a side not often seen since his arrival on Merseyside, dictating and controlling the play and pace as well as providing decent support to Mane and, later in the game, Mohamed Salah.
The tale of the tape will show a Liverpool side that dominated every metric, but up until taking the lead, Liverpool struggled to create any real clear-cut chances but in spite of a quiet, nervous crowd, never really looked like panicking and found a way to win.
Too often in the past the nerves and doubt that smother Anfield has transmitted itself onto the pitch resulting to a Saturday night-ruining late opposition goal, but the assurance of a shadow back four and the again impressive Simon Mignolet, never looked under any real threat and allowed Liverpool to build attack after attack.
It has been mentioned that a trait of Klopp, for better or worse and like Gerard Houllier and Rafa Benitez before him, subscribes to the church of timed substitutions unless necessary but, unlike against Watford last week, today they paid massive dividends.
Both Salah and Dominic Solanke came off the bench to make match-changing impressions on the game against tiring Palace legs, with Salah tying up his already Mane-weary opponents in knots.
That Solanke was the preferred choice to enter the fray on 70 minutes was both encouraging for the youngster but equally damning for Origi — thought that’s an entirely different article.
Solanke had only been on the pitch a few minutes when Liverpool’s attritional approach to attacking the Palace back four finally paid dividends, Mane putting the finishing touch constant Liverpool pressure to give The Reds a deserved, if scrappy lead.
Too often, once they’ve put themselves in a position to win, Liverpool have often contrived to claim a draw or defeat in the face of victory, but a season is often a lesson in discovery and maybe The Reds’ supposed second string isn’t as threadbare as some think.