Crystal Palace 2 McArthur 18’, 33’ Liverpool 4 Can 16’, Lovren 21’, Matip 44’, Firmino 71’
Sometimes you see something and you’re not entirely sure what just happened. Maybe it was an experimental film. Or a piece of outside art. Or a short online video. Very rarely does football make you feel like that.
Not counting today, Liverpool have played Crystal Palace four times in the Premier League since that 3-3 draw that officially killed their title challenge in 2013-14. Three of them were losses. Two of those losses were at Anfield, although that 3-1 at Selhurst nearly two years ago was particularly awful. Palace have become the one opponent outside of the Reds’ traditional rivals that they, and we, dread the most. Today was always going to be tough. I don’t think anyone anticipated it being so absurd.
First, there was the obvious. Three goals in five minutes. Emre Can with his lovely deflected shot on 16’. Before the travelling Reds fans could finish celebrating, Dejan Lovren made a poor attempt at a clearance and gifted an opportunity to James McArthur, who headed it over an on-rushing Loris Karius to level. At 21’, Lovren redeemed himself by heading home off a corner kick.
That was the kind of day we were going to have.
Knowing that this was far from over, Liverpool pushed to extend the lead right away. Roberto Firmino’s blocked shot. Alberto Moreno hitting the post. Sadio Mané hitting too high from close range. It was the kind of nerve-shredding play that we’re all a bit too familiar with.
McArthur pegged Liverpool back again at the 33rd minute with another header from Wilfried Zaha’s unchallenged cross. Level again.
Philippe Coutinho nearly restored the lead with a header but was thwarted by a brilliant save from Steve Mandanda. Coutinho’s passing was brilliant and kept the threat looming, but that header represented his best chance of the day to get on the scoresheet.
The Reds did regain their lead right before halftime, thanks to none other than Joël Matip with his first competitive goal for the club. By the time the whistle blew, there were five goals on the board and Liverpool’s back line had been either directly or indirectly responsible for four of them.
The second half was fairly tame, by comparison. Palace sensed there was still blood in the water and had no intentions of surrendering. Christian Benteke came out of the tunnel like a man on a mission. The hosts prosecuted an attack ending in near-misses and appeals for penalties.
Just like Liverpool’s stretch of play in the first half, Palace had a mad sequence of their own just before the hour mark, featuring pratfalls and penalty shouts and Benteke nearly getting the revenge everyone seems to think he craves.
Later, Emre Can nearly gave up an equalizer by appearing to trip Wilfried Zaha. Andre Marriner waved that one off too in was a rare show of charity from him. Or maybe it was just that luck was on our side at Selhurst Park, for once.
Ultimately, Liverpool’s relentless attack bore out. Jordan Henderson saw Firmino making a run and weighted a pass perfectly for him into Palace’s no man’s land. Bobby Firm ran onto it and chipped it over Mandana, and Palace defenders looked on helplessly as it bounced into the back of the net.
The hosts pushed hard to pull themselves back into the game— they’ve come back from larger deficits against us before, after all. But Liverpool’s defense pulled itself together and managed to close the deal. The endgame seemed more nail-bitey than it really was.
So, there you have it. Palace Away was always going to be a nightmare, but these implacable Reds found a way through the dark. Liverpool are unbeaten in 11 games in all competitions. Still in 3rd in the Premier League, thanks to City and Arsenal man-handling their respective oppositions earlier in the day. It’s easy to get wrapped up in one game, one stretch of play, and lose perspective. Things are fine. Things are good. Things don’t exactly make sense. Up the Reds.