Despite the gap between them being a whopping 44 points in the Premier League last campaign, you can describe both Liverpool and Crystal Palace’s (who finished 2nd and 12th respectively) season with a similar phrase — the surprise package.
Liverpool was still a major force in the league. Yet, with the additions made by other teams and the lack thereof from Liverpool themselves, there were question marks on whether the squad was big enough to last the gruelling season; few pundits were picking the club to challenge for the title at the start of the 2021-22 season. Three-quarters of the way in, however, not only were The Reds in a tight two-horse race with Manchester City, but they were also amid an unprecedented quadruple trophy haul.
Meanwhile, there was much scepticism about new manager Patrick Viera upon his arrival to Crystal Palace. His time at his last club, Nice, was mixed overall and it was also widely reported that he was not the club’s first choice appointment following the departure of Roy Hodgson, The Eagles’ last manager. Those doubts have been soundly answered. He has retained the stability that Hodgson brought while instilling a more eye-catching style of play for fans to enjoy — overseeing an improved league finish and the club’s first positive goal difference in the Premier League.
Though both endured sobering ends to the season — Liverpool missed the title by a point and lost out to Real Madrid in the Champions League Final, and Crystal Palace exited the FA Cup at the semi-final stage — one thing is for sure, it has been a successful campaign and progress has been made. Both clubs will be eager to carry (and improve upon) that form into next season.
Preparations for that are already underway with pre-season training, and it just so happens that both clubs’ pre-season plans will intersect right here in Singapore; they will face off against each other on 15 July 2022 at the National Stadium. It’s a rematch of their last pre-season meeting in 2017, where Crystal Palace lost by two goals in Hong Kong, but more importantly, it is a preview of their meet-ups in the upcoming season.
Much has changed since 2017, so let’s go over both teams and what fans could expect to see when they meet under the night lights at National Stadium.
Patrick Viera had an immediate problem to deal with in the beginning stages of his tenure. With many players around the ages of 30, it was an ageing Crystal Palace squad that sorely needed a shake-up. Trimming began before the start of the season. Veteran players like Gary Cahill, Andros Townsend, Scott Dann, and Patrick van Aanholt were released by the club, among others.
Still, the club needed an injection of youth. Eberechi Eze was a young player brought in by Hodgson in his last season, and Eze turned out to be a revelation, but he was an outlier in terms of the club’s typical recruitment. Most previous player transfers were either older, ‘proven’ professionals, or prospects for the future but not yet ready for regular appearances. That was not the case during Patrick Viera’s first season.
In came players like Odsonne Édouard, Marc Guéhi, and Michael Olise — exciting talent that were not only ready to be among the starting eleven but were also young enough to form the core of the team for many years to come. Along with the loan signing of Conor Gallagher, this was a much more well-balanced team overall.
A shift to a more possession-based style of football was used for the 2021-22 season. While it took some time to get going, it eventually paid dividends with victories over big teams like Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspurs, and Manchester United.
The youth, in particular, stood out amongst the squad, with Guéhi and Gallagher becoming essential components of the team (Gallagher even won Crystal Palace’s Player of the Year for his performances during the season).
This season is more about tweaking rather than an overhaul. So far, player incomings have been fairly quiet compared to the season before. Three transfers have been completed by Crystal Palace thus far — Malcolm Ebiowei is a winger recruited for the long term, while Sam Johnstone will be an experienced back-up for current starting keeper Vicente Guaita.
The third player, however, is an interesting one. Cheick Doucouré comes in from Lens, a young player who will likely be in the starting squad for the upcoming season. He plays in the holding position but also has an eye for a pass to unlock defences. If teammates aren’t in good positions, he can also score a long-ranger himself. More importantly, he’s versatile and can play in the backline.
Doucouré is a vital addition to the midfield, especially with Gallagher returning to Chelsea after his loan spell ends. Some workarounds would be needed though, considering there is no one in the mould of Gallagher — who provided energy and pressing — in the squad at the moment. Viera isn’t a manager that sticks to a formation, so it will be curious to see how he adapts the new signing to the team.
Unfortunately, we won’t be able to see Doucouré in action in Singapore, along with a few other big players. Wilfred Zaha, Cheikhou Kouyate, Christian Benteke, and Will Hughes, along with Eze, Olise, and Guéhi, will not make the trip to the red dot; lack of fitness and entry requirement issues are cited as reasons for their absence.
A few of them were able to make an appearance for The Eagles’ first two pre-season games. The first, against Accrington Stanley, featured a youthful side and ended in a 1-1 draw, while the second was a nine-goal thriller when they faced Millwall. With the club’s internationals back, the game was a lively affair and saw them score five goals against a tricky Millwall side.
While Crystal Palace is undoubtedly travelling with a weaker side than usual, there are still several players to look out for in Singapore. Jean-Philippe Mateta finished the season well after a slow start and will be looking to continue his ascendancy in the forward line. As is the case with Tyrick Mitchell, an academy graduate who became the club’s undisputed left-back under Patrick Viera. Meanwhile, Édouard is a player who is likely to be one with a point to prove, considering the mixed season he had.
The last campaign was a roller coaster for Liverpool fans. At the halfway mark, it seemed as though the season was going to peter out to a predictable conclusion after losing points in three consecutive matches, allowing Manchester City to strengthen their grip on the top spot. Come April, the club had won the League Cup, closed the gap with a 10-game winning streak in the league, and secured a spot in the final and semi-final of the FA Cup and Champions League, respectively. It was a massive turnaround.
A significant reason for that is the recruitment of Luis Diaz from Porto in the January transfer window. Diaz provided trickery and unpredictability from the wing, and combined with Sadio Mane’s transition into a centre-forward, it brought a new dimension to Liverpool’s front force. Though there was heartbreak at the end of the season, fans will be excited at the club’s trajectory.
This upcoming season will be an interesting one to uncover. With Sadio Mane leaving for Bayern Munich, we will no longer see Liverpool’s famed front three in action. Fans have been gearing up for that inevitability, what with Mohamed Salah’s contract dispute and Roberto Firmino’s decreased minutes, but Mane’s departure is certainly not one they would have expected a few months ago.
Liverpool has to change up their attack, and they have recruited early for this purpose this transfer window. Darwin Núñez is the big name to join the team. A towering 1.87m lad from Uruguay, he comes on the back of a breakout season for Benfica, where he has 34 goals in all competitions and was the top scorer for the Portuguese League.
Núñez is an intriguing buy from The Reds. At first glance, he doesn’t look like the profile of a Liverpool forward — ironically, he resembles much more like an old-school English centre-forward in build — but he has pace in abundance and is very direct in his style of play, making him a frightening prospect for defenders.
Fábio Carvalho is another addition to the team. Snapped up from Fulham, he only turns 20 in August, but is expected to be in and around the first team. Liverpool may utilise him as a winger, which was where he played at times for Fulham, but his long-term position will most likely be as an attacking midfielder.
This is because of the possibility of a transition to a new formation. Liverpool usually lines up in a 4-3-3, but lately, they’ve had trouble creating chances against teams employing a low-block. Their forward line is amongst the best in the world, but by eliminating the space for them to do their magic, they start to look more predictable and ordinary. This was the case in the Champions League final against Real Madrid.
Thiago was recruited in 2020 to allow for more creative opportunities from the midfield, but while he has been excellent for Liverpool, his fitness remains a concern. Manager Jürgen Klopp might be keen to change to a 4-2-3-1 to lessen the burden on his front three and give more responsibility to his midfield, who, due to the system employed, haven’t been able to contribute with goals as much as they would like. Carvalho would help serve that transition, as would Núñez, since he seems to play best with an attacking partner.
Another incoming player that might help with the attack, though not in the traditional sense, is Calvin Ramsay. Ramsay is a right-back in the mould of Trent Alexander-Arnold, and if you follow Liverpool, you’d know that their full-backs are a big contributor to their goals. Ramsay will likely be an understudy to Alexander-Arnold, allowing the starting right-back to rest while not compromising on the creative output.
We won’t be able to see Ramsay in Singapore due to an injury, but we will see Núñez and Carvalho. In fact, much of the full squad has travelled for their pre-season game here, so fans will be able to experience an LFC side at close to full strength. Liverpool’s first pre-season ended in a 4-0 defeat to Manchester United, though the game was heavily rotated and featured three different sides.
We can expect a more stable line-up and possibly even the new formation at play for Crystal Palace. More importantly, it will be exciting to see how the two new players link up in Liverpool’s new look attack.
Standard Chartered Singapore Trophy 2022
Who do you think is going to win the Standard Chartered Singapore Trophy at the National Stadium? Liverpool will be the favourites (and my pick to win) but just like in the Premier League, you can never know what happens in those 90 minutes! Crystal Palace might just surprise us.
Tickets are still available for you to catch the game live in person, but you can also watch it online through meWATCH with the platform offering free viewings of not just this game, but other Premier League clubs as well.
Photos by Darren Chiong of the DANAMIC Team.