After going down early in the second half of their Selhurst Park matchup and staring down the barrel of yet another league defeat against Crystal Palace, Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp sought to inject just a little bit more footballing wizardry into his side. On came Philippe Coutinho for Jon Flanagan, with James Milner tasked with taking over the role at right back. Almost immediately, Klopp's chessboard was upended by a second yellow card for Milner, leaving Liverpool with a numerical disadvantage for the remainder of the contest.
"We knew about [Milner's prior yellow card], of course, and we had to make a decision. We wanted to bring Coutinho onto the pitch [and thought about] how we could do this. On the right wing we thought we could be a little bit more offensive with Milner instead of Flanno.
I think it was the first moment after they had a short corner, lost the ball, bam, second yellow. Things like this happen. It’s not the first time in my life, maybe it’s the first time in Milly’s life, I’m not sure.
It’s not the biggest problem, we were one man down and 1-0 behind but it’s not a problem for the offensive things because you don’t need 11 players for offensive play."
With Coutinho already committed, Klopp conceded that, at that point, the ultimate outcome would come down to intestinal fortitude and luck. Luck was the first to materialize. Alex McCarthy's disastrous clearance fell directly to Roberto Firmino, who made no mistake in bringing the sides level. Liverpool still faced an uphill climb at that point to hang on to their point, to say nothing of claiming a win.
This is where a willingness to fight, and key players waiting in the wings, played their part. The equalizing goal stunned Palace into a brief period of uncertainty and ineffectiveness. The home side were unable to punish the shorthanded Liverpool side, and instead surrendered the initiative to the visitors, who seemed to find more space as well as a higher gear playing with ten instead of eleven.
Despite the desperate circumstances surrounding their respective appearances, Coutinho and Benteke contributed noticeably to the revival. Coutinho's importance to this Liverpool side is no secret, but the much maligned and almost forgotten Benteke made enough of a nuisance of himself up front to keep Palace honest for the final stages of the match. Recent form and injuries notwithstanding, having players like Benteke and Daniel Sturridge as options late in a match like this is a luxury, and Klopp acknowledged as much.
"To be honest, I have never had a bench with this quality in 15 years as a manager – this bench was important.
We’ve had a lot of form and shape on the bench, but never fitness because they’ve come back after four and five weeks [after injury]. It’s a good moment and hopefully it stays like this.
The boys did well. Phil came on and did great. Christian came on and did great. Kolo in the last few minutes, saved the world for us. That’s cool."
They say a cornered animal is a dangerous animal, and Liverpool certainly lent some truth to that adage with their gutsy comeback performance against Palace. Klopp will hope to keep some of those fires burning in his players' bellies, observing that Liverpool need to "stay angry" and that they have "nothing to lose" at this stage in their Premiership and Europa League campaigns. Tactics took a back seat to passion today, but Liverpool will need both in the weeks ahead.