Liverpool beat Crystal Palace on Saturday. On paper, that maybe that doesn’t sound like much. The league leaders who have taken 60 of 69 possible points so far this season, beat the side that sits 14th and is just three points clear of the relegation places.
That, though, doesn’t account for just how often Liverpool have struggled against Palace in recent years, and so too the fans—and to the players as well—it seemed much more than that. And they may just have owed that victory to 18-year-old Rafa Camacho.
“I told him immediately after the game that he’d made the most important challenge of his life,” Jürgen Klopp said of a stoppage time tackle made by Camacho on Wilfried Zaha in the penalty area. Last man back, one goal lead, the referee getting ready to blow.
Miss-time it and Zaha, who had been Palace’s best and most dangerous player and who had just gotten James Milner sent off for the second yellow he picked up trying to defend against him, was either through on goal or a penalty was going to be called.
“I’m not sure he really got it but it was really massive,” Klopp added. “He’s good in defensive challenges. He’s an offensive player in his mindset and everything but look at our full-backs and where are they most of the time? You need these offensive skills.
“On the other side there will be moments when you are alone on the pitch against a world-class player and they are looking to nutmeg you or whatever. It is the learning process. I was really happy in that moment but I have seen similar from him before.”
Camacho had been set to head out on loan in search of playing time this month but the decision to let Nathaniel Clyne depart has meant keeping the youngster on hand as an emergency option, and on Saturday that choice certainly appeared justified.
Whether he sees the pitch with any regularity from here out will depend on the fitness of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez, but even if Palace ends up his only league appearance, it could go down as, potentially, a title-deciding cameo.