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Liverpool 4, Crystal Palace 3: A Minor Deviation From The Script

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A match that seemed destined to go one of two ways ended up surprising everyone.

Liverpool FC v Crystal Palace - Premier League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Liverpool 4 - 3 Crystal Palace

Liverpool: Salah 48’, 74’, Firmino 52’, Mané 90+2’
Crystal Palace: Townsend 34’, Tomkins 65’, Meyer 90+4’

Are we breathing normally yet?

Liverpool snatched victory from the jaws of not-victory today with a rollercoaster performance that cannot have been good for the constitution of 104-year-old Reds supporter Bernard Sheridan, who had been personally invited by manager Jürgen Klopp. Maybe next time invite the guy over for a match that’s more likely to go smoothly, like Manchester United.

Joël Matip returned to the back line while James Milner filled in for the injured Trent Alexander-Arnold, and elsewhere Naby Keïta earned a rare start in midfield. Facing them was a Roy Hodgson-managed Crystal Palace side that, while inconsistent in league form, possessed enough weapons to make things uncomfortable for any opponent - as Manchester City had learned. Added to that mixture was Crystal Palace’s recent knack for derailing Liverpool’s best laid plans.

It was fixture that seemed to portend one of two outcomes: a comfortable victory for Klopp’s increasingly resilient side, or a stumbling block - once again - on Liverpool’s push towards a title. In the end, we got neither.

From the moment Mo Salah kicked things off, Liverpool were very much in control, and Palace struggled to advance the ball into their opponent’s half during the opening twenty minutes. Keïta looked to be deployed on the left once again, and despite a few moments of neat interplay with Andy Robertson, the former RB Leipzig man labored to make much of an impact.

Instead, a good deal of the action flowed through Fabinho. The Brazilian has, at this point, made a strong case for not being left out of the midfield, and he was at the heart of Liverpool’s machine again, aided and abetted this time by an ever-present Jordan Henderson.

There were some early half-chances. Milner cleverly put through Matip - of all people - in the box but the veteran Speroni was alert to the danger and equal to the task. Shortly thereafter, Firmino was able to dance around Andros Townsend in what we used to call Coutinho territory, but the eventual shot - intended for the top corner - was always rising. What modest threat Palace was able to muster materialized through Wilfried Zaha on the left, who made sure Milner had his hands full.

Imperceptibly, the sense of unease built among those at Anfield, as the not-quite-chances piled up. From Salah’s floated ball, Robertson and Keïta conspired to get in each other’s way. Later, Keïta seemed to have had elicited a handball in the box, but Jon Moss was not moved.

Naturally, Palace took the lead on 34 minutes.. Not for the first time on the day, a Palace player was able to wriggle free from the attentions of three or four Liverpool players, and this time, the visitors took good advantage of the space created. The ball inevitably was threaded to Zaha, who surged past Milner into the box and teed up Townsend, who made no mistake.

In case there wasn’t enough drama, there was soon a bit of a “brouhaha” when Salah went down following a tussle with Mamadou Sakho - too easily in the eyes of Jon Moss as well as the Palace players, who surrounded Salah immediately with their indignant faces dialed up to maximum. Liverpool looked to be searching for a response, but none would come before halftime.

After the interval, it was quite a different story. The front three - despite Salah’s best efforts - were far from their best during the first 45 minutes, but there was a renewed sense of focus after the break. Minutes from the restart, Salah had restored parity. The Palace backline had momentarily gone to sleep, and with a ball over the top, Speroni was not quite sure whether to close in or stay back, and instead he allowed Salah to nudge a difficult chance past him.

An onrushing Robertson fizzed a shot just past the post minutes later. Liverpool were energized now. Inevitably, there was a second for the Reds. Roberto Firmino was given too much space and time in the box by a reeling Palace crew, and his eventual shot was scuffed but still rolled past Speroni, having taken a deflection en route to goal.

A third Liverpool goal after that might have been the expected narrative, given how the second half started, but the narrative gods had a few surprises in store. Palace were showing a bit more urgency now and getting past Milner more consistently. Zaha was once again able to zip into the box and look for Townsend but Liverpool were able to crowd Palace out this time and get it away. The pressure culminated in a set piece goal - of all things - for Palace, after James Tomkins was left unattended for a free header.

Xherdan Shaqiri came on for an increasingly anonymous Keïta. Liverpool then flipped the script again by getting a third on 75 minutes. Milner rolled back the years to race onto the end of a beautiful Fabinho diagonal ball. His cross was flapped at by Speroni, who volleyballed it and ended up putting it on a plate for a lurking Salah to just tip it home.

Milner’s next contribution of note was to get himself sent off following a second yellow card, and with Fabinho having picked up a knock (and getting replaced by Adam Lallana), Liverpool were in damage control mode. There was an eruption of relief when Sadio Mané took advantage of a ragged Palace back line to slot a fourth Liverpool goal past Speroni. It was a goal that turned out to be critical when Meyer, following excellent work from Townsend, shockingly notched a third for the visitors.

4-3 was how it ended, and it remains to be seen whether final scoreline will have exorcised some of the ghosts of that infamous 3-3 result under Brendan Rodgers. Klopp’s squad will fly off for some sunshine before getting back to business against Leicester City.