Liverpool overcome another obstacle with anarchic win over Crystal Palace
Seven point lead at the top of the Premier League restored after a 4-3 win at Anfield
A game of seven goals ended with Liverpool seven points clear. Crystal Palace struck as often as the previous 16 visitors to Anfield in the Premier League had between them and still departed with nothing to show for their considerable efforts. And yet the bare facts cannot explain the anarchy.
It was perhaps best illustrated when Sadio Mane delivered the ultimately decisive strike. Roberto Firmino was doing an implausible impression of a right-back, the Brazil centre forward pressed into service in defence, when his attacking sidekick escaped.
The game still was not over – Max Meyer struck in stoppage time, by which point Rafael Camacho had become Liverpool’s third right-back – but the points were clinched.
Another obstacle was negotiated, neither stylishly nor convincingly, but crucially. "The result is massive,” said Jurgen Klopp. “We have 60 points now. It's crazy, it's an important number.”
Other figures stood out. Palace, who won 3-2 at Manchester City, lost 4-3 to Liverpool. Roy Hodgson rarely affected the title race at Anfield. He has done in his time at Selhurst Park.
Yet this was a tale of three Liverpool managers: Klopp, a successor who seems Hodgson’s antithesis, galvanised a team who had produced a soporific first-half display to score twice in seven minutes to increase his chances of joining the ranks of Liverpool’s champion coaches.
The most decorated of all, Bob Paisley, was celebrated in the week of the 100th anniversary of his birthday. As Liverpool’s first three goals were aided by deflections and poor decisions, mistakes and misfortune, the pivotal blunder came from a man born in Paisley’s reign.
Recalled because Palace’s two regular goalkeepers were injured, Julian Speroni became the Premier League’s oldest player this season. He displayed the reflexes of a younger man to deny Joel Matip, but showed his age when he made such a hash of dealing with James Milner’s volleyed centre that he was diverting into his own net even before Mohamed Salah applied the final touch to bring up 50 Premier League goals. Only three players have done so in fewer games. “An exceptional achievement from a world-class player,” said Klopp.
Hodgson was more preoccupied by his goalkeeper. “The cruelty of football shows itself at its most wicked,” he said. “You won’t find many better servants at any club in the world.”
Speroni was not the only errant veteran. Milner’s mixed outing included an assist but ended prematurely: he collected two cautions after being outpaced and outclassed by Wilfried Zaha.
Hodgson deemed the dismissal unfortunate and Klopp insisted loyally: “Milly did outstandingly well. Zaha is a world-class player.”
Liverpool finished outnumbered but triumphant, having displayed flaws but demonstrated spirit. “Nobody should be surprised by the character of the boys,” Klopp said. “There are different ways to win games. Today we had to dig in with all we had.”
Palace began with the blueprint that brought three points at the Etihad Stadium, based on keeping 10 men behind the ball but breaking at eviscerating pace. “They are really good at counter-attacks and set-pieces,” noted Klopp.
Each produced a goal. After a swift break, Andros Townsend, who scored at City, reprised the act, in less spectacular style but a precise finish to convert Zaha’s cutback. From Luka Milivojevic’s corner, James Tomkins headed in emphatically.
They were separated by a swift Liverpool double after Klopp’s intervention. “We needed more bodies in the box,” he explained.
Salah hooked in their first, when Speroni perhaps could have done better, after Patrick van Aanholt misdirected a clearance and Virgil van Dijk’s long-range shot looped up off McArthur to the Egyptian.
Firmino’s shot then deflected in off Cheikhou Kouyate. His fourth goal in two games at Anfield was, it transpired, only the prelude to a role as an ersatz full-back.
“You need a bit of luck,” added Hodgson, who felt Mane handled in the build-up to his goal. “Their [first] three [goals] had more luck than ours.” But luck can be a prerequisite for champions.
Updated: January 19, 2019 10:17 PM