Roy Hodgson was affronted by a seat among the scouts and delayed admission to the boardroom on his previous visit to Anfield. Saturday's return was made a far more pleasurable experience, not by a place among the jewellery-rattlers in the directors' box but the sparkling form of Daniel Sturridge as Liverpool comfortably defeated Crystal Palace.
Sturridge was one of the England manager's many problems on that day of perceived snubs against Manchester United, scoring the winner and revelling in the responsibility of being Liverpool's lead striker only to withdraw from international duty with a thigh injury. Against Palace he offered Hodgson a solution before the critical World Cup qualifiers against Montenegro and Poland. "He's fine for England," said Brendan Rodgers, with a tone that recognised the accusations that surrounded the Liverpool striker when he missed two matches for his country last month but none for his club.
"In the form he is in he's going to be a real asset for England after unfortunately missing the last games," the Liverpool manager added. "You only have to look at his game to know he will really hurt defences. It's great for him that he's fit and is going in with great form."
Sturridge scored his eighth goal of the season as Liverpool briefly returned to the Premier League summit courtesy of a penetrating first-half display. His partnership with Luis Suárez was, inevitably, the deciding factor as their movement and finishing was on a different plain to Ian Holloway's team. Palace wasted several opportunities to punish Liverpool and their profligacy was compounded by an uncertain defence.
Hodgson must hope Sturridge develops the same rapport with Wayne Rooney as he has shown with Suárez since the Uruguay international returned from a 10-match ban. The Englishman's confidence has soared on the promise of regular first-team football and a leading role at Liverpool. The natural next step is to take that on with England.
"If you look at Daniel and Rooney as a combination, that would be brilliant for England," Rodgers added. "You have got Daniel's cleverness, Rooney in behind him with his movement between spaces and his exceptional quality. Then you've got Dan who can move but has also got that pace to really hurt teams in behind them. At that level it's so important. He's 24 and that's a great age. He's scoring goals and playing well and that bodes well for him."
Rodgers was encouragingly critical of Liverpool's performance against Palace, encouraging in the sense that top spot did not prevent the manager demanding more. But their work in the final third was spared the manager's wrath. Holloway's team created and wasted several gilt-edged chances but lacked conviction at both ends of the pitch. Liverpool had that and more in Suárez and Sturridge. The contest ended after 38 minutes as a result. "They are a joy to watch and they enjoy it too," Rodgers said. "There were a couple of combinations where they understood exactly where the other player was."
Suárez steered the opening goal beyond Julian Speroni despite being on the floor after a flowing move involving Victor Moses, himself and José Enrique. Sturridge added a fine second having been sent clear by a mistake from the Palace defender Adrian Mariappa, and Steven Gerrard scored the third from the penalty spot after a slight but foolish tug by Dean Moxey on Raheem Sterling. The consolation for Holloway was that a sixth defeat in seven Premier League games did not become more emphatic.
Palace recovered in the second half, aided and abetted by Liverpool knowing the game was up. The substitute Dwight Gayle headed in a late response from José Campaña's free-kick but it was the defensive solidity – completely absent in the first half – that offered some hope for the Palace manager.
"We've got to take solace from our second-half performance," said Holloway. "We won the second half 1-0. Is that good enough? Not really, but a lot of teams would have folded at 3-0 and we didn't. We have enough fighting spirit but we have got to cut out the mistakes. We are getting punished for every slip at the moment but we will improve."
Man of the match Luis Suárez (Liverpool)