Liverpool’s title fight left in tatters after losing their nerve and their status as comeback kings

Liverpool 0-1 Crystal Palace: Ebe Eze scored the only goal to all but extinguish the Reds’ hopes of overhauling Arsenal and Man City

Richard Jolly
at Anfield
Sunday 14 April 2024 20:47 BST
(Getty Images)

Instead of the fairytale finish, it is increasingly looking like being an anticlimax of an ending for Jurgen Klopp. There was a time when it appeared that he might win trophies in each of his final three games. Eight days ago, it seemed he might sign off with silverware in his last two. After his worst week of the season, it feels as though the celebration will be for his reign, not this year’s achievements.

Because, after stumbling to a draw against Manchester United, Liverpool have dropped five points in two league games. After floundering against Atalanta, they have suffered back-to-back Anfield losses in front of a crowd for the first time since 2017. It has proved a disastrous four-day spell: instead of the reaction to Atalanta Klopp wanted, he got a sequel. Eight and a half years ago, Klopp’s first defeat as Liverpool manager was at home to Crystal Palace. If this proves the last, he will have come full circle.

A landmark day for Eberechi Eze, the match-winner, and Oliver Glasner, the manager who has his first major scalp in charge of Palace, was a dismal one for Liverpool. Slow out of the blocks and sloppy, they have lost their ability to mount comeback after comeback.

Perhaps this underlined a pragmatic reality: that teams who keep too few clean sheets and keep going behind rarely become champions. It suggested the three-horse title race may be reduced to a duel between Arsenal and Manchester City.

Liverpool looked a shadow of the side who had powered to the top of the table, their indefatigability replaced by fragility. They had pressure without precision, urgency without accuracy, a frenetic air while hurrying themselves towards defeat. They lost their chemistry amid miscommunications. They were undermined by poor touches, passes and decisions; plenty of promising opportunities did not even result in a shot.

Off the ball, their identity certainly was not intensity. Lacklustre and lacking organisation, Liverpool looked easy to play against; Palace invariably had players in space and a chance to counterattack whenever they regained possession. Glasner was the managerial overachiever from the Bundesliga who looked to have his team expertly configured.

For Liverpool, few could escape blame. Andy Robertson seemed to be playing Palace alone for some of the first half, making an astonishing goalline clearance, foraging forward. Alisson was blameless for the goal and made a terrific save on his return after two months out. Cody Gakpo was an influential substitute.

Robertson cleared a shot off the line (Getty)

Beyond that, however, too many others underperformed.

Wataru Endo’s mediocre display was curtailed at half time. Mohamed Salah was ineffectual, Darwin Nunez wasteful. Virgil van Dijk perhaps should have been closer to Eze for the goal, while Ibrahima Konate was erratic. None of it felt a recipe for success.

For Palace, however, there was great defensive resolve to accompany their attacking incision. Nathaniel Clyne made a goal-saving intervention from a Diogo Jota shot just as, in injury time, Tyrick Mitchell may have done likewise to deny Salah. Dean Henderson was well protected but made two terrific saves: the first when Nunez wastefully directed a half volley at him, the second from Harvey Elliott’s header from an acute angle. Liverpool could rue the moment when Curtis Jones, sent clear by Gakpo, side-footed wastefully wide. A total of 21 shots showed a profligacy, though many were not clear-cut openings.

The goal certainly was. A lead for the opponents is now almost as much of an Anfield ritual as a rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. Liverpool have trailed in 10 matches at Anfield in all competitions; home and away, they have gone behind in 21 Premier League games. And Liverpool were opened up all too easily by slick passing, culminating in Mitchell supplying a low cut-back for the unmarked Eze to slot in his shot.

Eze scores for Palace (REUTERS)

Palace were inches from a second, with Liverpool reprieved by a remarkable rescue act from Robertson. Van Dijk slipped, but this was not to be his Steven Gerrard moment, nor Jean-Philippe Mateta the new Demba Ba. The striker dinked his shot over Alisson but Robertson hared back to hook the shot away. Part of the ball crossed the line, but not all of it.

Yet, as when Alisson made a terrific close-range save later from Mateta, it was not the catalyst for a response. The knack of comebacks deserted Liverpool when they required one.

On the turn, Endo had lifted a shot against the bar, following a Robertson corner. But the Japanese departed for Dominik Szoboszlai. Trent Alexander-Arnold’s comeback was fast-tracked when Conor Bradley was injured a minute after half time. Gakpo and Jota were to follow, with Elliott still later.

Klopp tried everything and everyone, but nothing worked. Now, barring an astonishing turnaround against Atalanta, he only has two matches left at Anfield. This, it seemed, was not the way it was destined to end.

But as Liverpool suffered a first defeat in 29 home Premier League games, it felt defeat, too, in their attempts to regain the title.

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