Liverpool entertained Crystal Palace at Anfield with both teams having a chance to pull away from their respective chasing pack. In the case of Liverpool, away from Manchester City who did not play due to their FA Cup commitments and in the case of Crystal Palace, away from the bottom three towards further safety.
Philippe Coutinho put the Reds ahead before former Reds player Christian Benteke equalised for the visitors. He scored once again in the second half to clinch the win for the Eagles and Sam Allardyce’s men saw the game out to inflict a major blow on Liverpool’s hopes of finishing in the top four.
Here are the five talking points from the match.
#1 Liverpool are dealt a familiar tactic by Palace
Liverpool started the game with the same eleven as last week against West Brom despite doubts hanging over the fitness of Joel Matip, Lucas Leiva and Roberto Firmino. The Reds started out slow unlike the blistering starts at the beginning of the season. This was partly due to how Crystal Palace were set up.
Palace made one change with James Tomkins coming on for Mamadou Sakho, who was ineligible. Although Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend started out as wingers, they spent most of the first 45 minutes in their own half tracking the runs of Liverpool full-backs Nathaniel Clyne and James Milner. This was due to Sam Allardyce setting his team deep and they were effectively playing 4-5-1 while defending and waiting to hit on the counter.
This tactic worked initially as Liverpool faced a familiar problem of not being able to break down teams who sat back. On top of all this, the Reds’ passing did not infuse confidence either while the Eagles seemed happy to let Liverpool dominate possession.
#2 The main men step up
After a dull start to the game, Philippe Coutinho was fouled by Luka Milivojevic at 25 yards from goal. And what followed was what dreams are made of. Coutinho scored via a terrific curler to beat goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey to put the Reds in front and in the process, entered double digits for goals in the league this season.
The goal woke up Liverpool as they started to find their rhythm and they should have scored another when Georginio Wijnaldum played a neat one-two with James Milner on the left side and then squared off the ball for Emre Can only for the German to horribly mishit it.
That lack of end-result from the attack proved costly as Joel Ward played a superb ball to free Yohan Cabaye on the right-wing. The Frenchman got ahead of Dejan Lovren, who was caught out in an advanced position. Cabaye took one look and delivered a first-time cross for Christian Benteke to finish with ease as Joel Matip was caught in no man’s land. It was Benteke’s sixth goal in eight games against Liverpool and his fourth at Anfield, showing he rejoices scoring against his former club.
#3 Open start to the second-half
The goal before half-time definitely gave impetus to the visitors to win their third consecutive match at Anfield, a record held only by Chelsea so far. While the intent was definitely visible from Palace, they still allowed Liverpool to have possession and tried to hit them on the counter.
The home side kept pushing for a goal and were constantly thwarted by Palace, who had a chance of their own when Jeffrey Schlupp playing at left-back ran through the heart of Liverpool but could not finish.
For the Reds, Coutinho looked like the only one likely to create or score as he constantly linked up well and had a great chance close to the hour mark, where he outfoxed three defenders inside the box only for his shot to be blocked by James Tomkins.
As the game went on, frustration started to creep in for Jurgen Klopp’s men and the crowd’s voice started to go down. Meanwhile, the Brazilian Lucas delivered a wonderful through-ball for Roberto Firmino who could not get to the ball ahead of the keeper.
#4 Dip in key players’ performances for Klopp while Benteke continues to flourish
Dejan Lovren has been sensational in recent games keeping the likes of Romelu Lukaku at bay. However, he had a torrid game against the Eagles as he was caught high up the pitch leading to Cabaye setting up Benteke for the first goal. The Croatian was at fault for the second goal as well by once again getting caught high up the pitch, this time by Andros Townsend. Mignolet made the save but Benteke scored unmarked from the resulting corner and put Palace in front.
Lovren was eventually replaced by Trent Alexander-Arnold as Liverpool went to three at the back. However, Emre Can’s touch continued to desert him and Wijnaldum was unable to get his bearings right in key moments as opportunities slipped away. The dynamism of Adam Lallana and the directness of Sadio Mane were sorely missed and having a bench with an average age of 19.9 years did not exude any confidence.
Yet, Klopp threw the kitchen sink as Marko Grujic came on after Alberto Moreno replaced James Milner, who could not provide the quick delivery needed in these kinds of games owing to he being naturally right-footed. Benteke on the other hand, came off to a superb ovation from the travelling fans after proving a point to his former bosses, as Palace made defensive changes to preserve their lead.
#5 Palace strengthen their survival bid as Liverpool are hit a major blow
Liverpool’s resolve petered out as the game wore on with the Reds committing silly fouls and the Eagles eventually saw the game out to complete their third successive league win at Anfield, thereby becoming the first team to do it since Chelsea achieved it 12 years ago.
Meanwhile, Sam Allardyce won his first game at Anfield as a manager in his 14th attempt and the three points took Palace to 38 points, which is the exact number set as a target by Allardyce to confirm safety from regulation.
On the other hand, Liverpool’s top four hopes suffered a major blow with the home loss. Although they stay third for now, Manchester City and Manchester United are two and three points behind respectively with two games in hand.
After the show of mental fortitude in the past two weeks, this was a timid performance from Jurgen Klopp’s men and they are headed for a nervous finish to claim a top four place as the loss of key players, lack of squad depth and teams breathing down their neck are hurting their immediate future as well as next season’s plans.