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Liverpool crack resilient Crystal Palace to solidify Premier League title credentials

Liverpool 3-0 Crystal Palace: Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Naby Keita scored as Jurgen Klopp’s side ultimately navigated an onerous hurdle in style

Melissa Reddy
Saturday 18 September 2021 19:57 BST
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Liverpool navigated another onerous hurdle, crushing Crystal Palace to offer a further reminder that anyone who doesn’t consider them title contenders are fighting the obvious.

Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Naby Keita did the damage at a sun-drenched Anfield on Saturday afternoon.

Victory was not straightforward, which made it all the sweeter for Liverpool. Patrick Vieira’s Palace is unmistakably more aggressive, enterprising and infused with belief that they can match whomever the opponent.

They turned up on Merseyside having hurricaned past Tottenham after drawing with both Brentford and West Ham as the manager’s proactive approach takes greater shape.

Palace were uncomfortable adversaries for Jurgen Klopp’s unbeaten men and while the result was not what they wanted, there were plenty of positive shoots for their new era.

Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring for Liverpool (AFP via Getty Images)

Liverpool’s rearguard, featuring neither Andy Robertson nor Trent Alexander-Arnold in a Premier League starting XI for the first time since December 2018, was targeted from the off by Palace.

With James Milner deputising at right-back, Konstas Tsimikas coming in on the opposite flank, and Ibrahima Konate making his debut for the club alongside Virgil van Dijk, the visitors aimed to unsettle a defence that had never played together before.

The early sketches of that design were promising as Palace hit the woodwork twice in the opening three minutes. Conor Gallagher’s deep free-kick was hooked away by Tsimikas, but the danger was still alive.

Palace’s star midfielder lifted it back into the area to Wilfried Zaha, with Alisson rushing out to thwart him and just managing to palm the ball onto the post. It was a scare for Liverpool that was sharply followed by another.

James McArthur directed a corner back across goal which hit the woodwork, but there was respite for the hosts with the offside flag going up.

Liverpool conjured a series of chances: Diogo Jota couldn’t generate enough power on a header, before shooting wide from a tight angle.

Vicente Guaita did brilliantly with a strong hand to deny Jordan Henderson, who arrived at the back post to side-foot in a Mane cross.

Liverpool started to increasingly squeeze Palace, forcing them to park attacking ambitions and be diligent in obstruction.

They looked to be floored when Thiago headed in Henderson’s stunning cross after fine link-up play from Mane and Salah, but Guaita pushed it out. His intervention landed at Jota’s feet around three yards out, and quite shockingly, the Portugal international slashed over.

It was feeling eerily like one of those dominant but dangerously fruitless days for Liverpool until Mane changed that narrative. Tsimikas swung in a great corner, which Salah headed low aiming for the far corner. Guiata produced another top-shelf save, but Mane sped onto the rebound and smashed it into the roof of the net from an awkward angle.

That was the Senegal international’s 100th goal for Liverpool, which also signalled a new record. His habit of muddling Palace made him the first player in Premier League history to score against a single opponent in nine consecutive matches.

Palace attempted to kill Liverpool’s vibe quickly via Joel Ward’s 20-yard hit, but Alisson quashed that intention.

Klopp ceded Thiago through injury in the second half, while Vieira called on Odsonne Edouard off the bench. Van Dijk had to twice get in the way of Palace’s new recruit adding to his two goals that pierced Spurs last weekend.

Edouard, left unmarked by Milner and Konate, was alive in the area and reacted quickest to a Martin Kelly cross but the chance died due to a heavy touch that allowed Alisson to push clear.

Salah was left unattended to at the back post from a Tsimikas corner and wrapped up the victory with a typically emphatic volley.

His shirt came off and Palace’s ambitions of a late upset were undressed, even more so when substitute Keita’s supreme left-footed volley caressed the net.

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