The back page of the Liverpool Echo proclaimed “The Return of the King” – at the sight of Kenny Dalglish roaming the corridors of Anfield once more, this time as a director of the club.
It was, however, the return of the prince that captured the imagination of the old stadium yesterday. The last time Luis Suarez appeared at Anfield, it was against a London club, both he and Daniel Sturridge scored and Branislav Ivanovic had his arm bitten. This was much the same but without the teeth marks.
Suarez was announced like a boxer entering the ring for a title fight. They read his name out last, as they always do here, but this time it was: “Welcome back, Luuuisss Suarez.” He appeared on the pitch with his daughter, Delfina, and his 10-day-old boy, Benjamin, in his arms; something Carlos Tevez, another troubled, brilliant striker who played his football on the banks of the River Plate, used to do.
You might think this a rather fawning welcome for a man who had employed every available tactic to leave Liverpool in the summer and who in the deathless words of the chief executive, Ian Ayre, had “damaged the brand”.
However, this is to ignore the magic in his boots and the fact that he fills Liverpool’s No 7 slot almost as completely as Dalglish once did. The England manager Roy Hodgson, who had dashed over from watching Manchester City’s earlier game, sat alongside him in the directors’ box to watch Sturridge score and strike the post.
Liverpool stand top of the Premier League this morning and Dalglish’s second spell as manager has left little appetite for a third. In his first, in 1989, the Scot oversaw a 9-0 crushing of Crystal Palace, and just before the half-time whistle blew yesterday, it seemed that was a scoreline that might be emulated.
During the interval, Ian Holloway did not address his team on the pitch as Phil Brown once did with Hull City, but the Crystal Palace manager did send them out for a spot of extra training.
That determination not to be humiliated and some deeply lethargic and careless Liverpool play ensured that the goals did not pile up and Palace even scored when Dwight Gayle headed Jose Campana’s free-kick beyond Simon Mignolet. Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers was unusually downcast at the end and even kicked over some water bottles.
Nevertheless, the first half was a sometimes ridiculously one-sided affair. It began with the crash of smoke bombs and clouds of purple and black haze drifting over the away end, which resulted in at least one Palace fan being ejected. It might seem strange to travel the not inconsiderable distance between south London and Merseyside and then get yourself thrown out after a couple of minutes but perhaps he knew what was coming.
The opening goal showcased everything that is brilliant about Suarez. He was played in by Luis Enrique and then slipped. As he fell to the turf, with Damien Delaney attempting to block and Jason Puncheon almost on top of him, the Uruguayan somehow managed to propel the ball into the net. It was absolute box office.
Suarez and Sturridge have already been touted as the most lethal Premier League partnership and certainly the former’s absence while banned had allowed Sturridge to blossom in a way he was seldom allowed at Chelsea. Liverpool’s second goalwas in its way even better than the first as Sturridge, on the left side of the Palace area, turned Delaney one way, then the other before arrowing a shot into the corner of Julian Speroni’s net. He was taken off a few minutes from the end but Sturridge will be fit for the games that will decide England’s World Cup qualification campaign.
Any prospect that Palace might salvage this match disappeared when Dean Moxey pulled back Raheem Sterling as he ran on to Suarez’s little looping chip. The linesman awarded the penalty, although Holloway questioned both whether it was a foul and whether it was inside the area. Steven Gerrard scored his 99th Premier League goal with the Kop singing his name.
There might have been a fourth before the interval as Suarez slithered through to find Victor Moses three yards out. Moses, the one striker Chelsea have let go who cannot find the net, proved it by striking the crossbar.
Liverpool (3-4-3): Mignolet; Toure, Skrtel, Sakho (Agger, 66); Sterling, Henderson, Gerrard, Luis Enrique; Moses (Alberto, 66), Suarez, Sturridge (Aspas, 88).
Crystal Palace (4-3-3): Speroni; Ward, Mariappa, Delaney, Moxey; O’Keefe, Jedinak, Puncheon; Kebe (Gayle, h-t), Jerome (Campana, h-t), Chamakh (Bolasie, 68).
Referee: Anthony Taylor.
Man of the match: Suarez (Liverpool)
Match rating: 7/10