Luka Milivojevic opens up on 'difficult' Crystal Palace season amid injury and personal tragedy

By Mark Wyatt

Crystal Palace captain Luka Milivojevic has opened up on his tricky start to the season with the Eagles both professionally and personally.

The 30-year-old has been limited to just 10 appearances under Patrick Vieira this season and missed the first three games of the campaign after his father passed away over the summer.

The Serbian has also suffered from injuries that have limited his game time, with his start against West Ham on New Year's Day his first since November.

"It's been a very strange season for me," the skipper told Premier League Productions ahead of Palace's away game at Brighton on Friday. "I missed a lot of pre-season and I missed my father at the beginning of the season so it's been a very difficult and very strange situation for me.

"I've tried to put myself in the best shape and in the best place for the team and I am trying honestly to be very focused.

"But I am always there for the team. At the moment the manager is using other players but as a captain when you go through difficult situations you always need to be strong and show an example to the other boys there.

"They're looking at you and I think that's important because in the future maybe there will be someone in a similar position to myself at the moment.

"So in my head is to do every single training properly, to give my best and give a good example to my teammates because I think I have to be the first one who has to give a good example, especially in tough moments."

Before signing for Crystal Palace in 2016, Milivojevic had won league titles in Belgium with Anderlecht and in Greece with Olympiacos, featuring prominently for the latter before earning his move to the Premier League.

He has now been at Palace for almost six years and has made 167 appearances in that time, scoring 28 goals - including hitting double figures in the league during his first two full seasons for the Eagles.

This year is the first time in a long time that the midfielder has been somewhat of a bystander, but with his role as captain of the team, he has accepted that gracefully and is committed to earning his place back in Patrick Vieira's team.

"I'm trying always to be realistic to be myself," added the Serbian, who also has 38 caps for his country.

"For almost nine seasons in a row, I have played constantly over 30 games per season so I have been very thankful to be healthy and to not have any injuries and to play constantly.

"So I know it is difficult for one player is when he misses pre-season. I didn't have much luck. Twice during [this] pre-season, I had injuries. One in pre-season which took me out of training for almost two weeks and the other one against Newcastle I took a bad kick and didn't train for seven days.

"I understand all of this and at the moment, I'm in the situation where I need to fight a lot for myself. I'm trying to do my best - for myself, for the club and for the fans."

The most immediate challenge on the horizon for Milivojevic and Palace is an away trip to fierce rivals Brighton this coming Friday.

The two sides drew 1-1 when they met earlier in the season at Selhurst Park, though the Eagles will be heading to the AmEx hoping to replicate their famous last-gasp winner on the south coast from last season, where Christian Benteke settled the game in stoppage-time with a now-famous finish past Robert Sanchez.

"When you win against Brighton away the mood is always on top so we're looking to have that mood again in the dressing room after the game," said Milivojevic.

"We really respect their squad and we know how difficult it will be for us. But we also respect ourselves and we know how good we can be. We are trying our best to prepare for the game and to do our best to win it for the fans."

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