There will be plenty of reunions when Crystal Palace visit Anfield this weekend.
From the dugout, where former Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson – yes, it really did happen – will look to plot the Reds’ downfall, to the field, where one-time Kopites Mamadou Sakho and Christian Benteke will play key roles in the visitors’ gameplan. Even Zaf Iqbal, the Eagles club doctor, spent four-and-a-half years on Merseyside.
However, with 17 years’ service in a red shirt, Martin Kelly can top that. The versatile defender made 62 appearances at Anfield between 2008 and 2014, and was part of the squad which delivered Liverpool’s last major trophy, the 2012 League Cup.
He can also boast, if that is the right word, the shortest ever senior England career, his one friendly appearance totalling just two minutes.
This weekend, he will seek to bring down his former club. Kelly played when Palace won at Anfield in April 2017. Of the 31 home league games since, Liverpool have won 22 and drawn nine. It is the third-longest unbeaten home run in their history.
“It’s always nice to go back home,” says Kelly, speaking exclusively to Goal. “And especially with the new stand. It’s always a nice fixture in terms of the stadium.”
Palace are not only the last visiting team to win a league game at Anfield. They were also, in November 2015, the first side to inflict defeat on Jurgen Klopp in the Premier League.
Of course, it was Palace who famously ended the title hopes of Brendan Rodgers’ side at the tail end of the 2013-14 campaign. ‘Crystanbul’, they called it.
They’ve been upsetting the big boys this season too. Draws with Manchester United and Arsenal were admirable, but it was their victory over Manchester City at the Etihad, three days before Christmas, which blew the title race open.
Liverpool’s lofty position in the table owes plenty to the Londoners.
“We all get excited playing the big teams,” says Kelly. “You go to the best stadiums and it’s exciting.
“But we will take it as another Premier League game and will go with the game plan that has been set by the manager and the staff.
“We know that we’ve got great ability in our squad and we can hurt any team in the league. We’ve shown that by getting a result against Manchester City, the draws with Arsenal and Manchester United this season, so all we can do is stick to our game plan and see what happens.”
Kelly, like the rest of the country, has been watching events at the top of the table with interest. Liverpool can extend their lead over Manchester City, who play at Huddersfield on Sunday, to seven points with a victory over Palace this weekend.
“I don’t think they will be thinking about that,” says Kelly. “They are professional athletes and all you think about is the next game and your next opponent – you don’t try to think too far ahead.
“I can see the title race going right down to the wire. Liverpool are in the driving seat at the minute, but Manchester City, with the way they play, will be right there. It’ll be exciting for every Premier League fan.”
As for Kelly, he is able to reflect on his time at Anfield with fondness. Injuries denied him the chance to truly establish himself at his boyhood club, but not many Academy graduates can match his achievements.
Indeed, until Trent Alexander-Arnold’s emergence, no home-grown player had played more than Kelly’s 62 games for Liverpool since Steven Gerrard.
“I think it’s vital for the club and the fans to see home-grown players come through,” he says. “With Trent, it seems that he has everything in his grasp to become a world-class player. Watching him play, he’s got all the attributes.
“He’s still young so he probably needs the experience wrapped around him like I did. Having Jamie Carragher helped me, and Trent has the likes of Virgil van Dijk around him, so if he keeps his feet on the ground, he can go a long way.”
Kelly is also ideally placed to judge the progress of another supremely gifted young English full-back.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s development at Palace this season has been to the detriment of Kelly’s first-team prospects, in truth, but the England under-21 international is already catching the eye of the Premier League big boys with his performances.
Sadio Mane will have a testing afternoon against the 21-year-old, for sure.
“Playing alongside Aaron, you forget how young he is,” Kelly says. “He’s a player that only broke into the first team last season but playing with him, it’s like he’s played 10 seasons.
“He plays with experience, he’s always in the right position, he knows when to go forward and when to stay. He’s coming on leaps and bounds.
“He must be made up with the progression he’s making, and a player of Aaron’s ability he’ll probably want to start adding more assists to his game.
“He helps the team massively defensively, and you can leave him more or less one-on-one with any attacker knowing that he is going to do his job.
“He’s a great player to have on the team.”
Liverpool, you have been warned…
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