Liverpool vs Crystal Palace: Chaotic and calamitous but a mental hurdle cleared thanks to Mohamed Salah’s double

Liverpool 4-3 Crystal Palace: Salah was gifted two goals when the Palace defence lost the concentration at the worst possible time, but a red card for James Milner soured the occasion somewhat

Simon Hughes
Saturday 19 January 2019 17:20 GMT
Liverpool FC: A look back at 2018

An outrageous game with ridiculous goals, but another challenge hurdled for Liverpool, this one mental. They were behind to Crystal Palace, then they were ahead and then the scores were level. They did not play particularly well and at times defended badly but still, you could not claim they were not convincing victors.

Roberto Firmino spent most of injury-time playing as right back following James Milner’s late red card. He was marking Wilfried Zaha, Palace’s outstanding player – their greatest threat by a mile. All sorts of unusual things had happened, not least the goal that tilted the momentum Liverpool’s way; a howler from Julian Speroni, who did his finest Jordan Pickford impression. To some degree, each of Liverpool’s goals involved mishap and fortune. A favourable assessment would say this is what happens where there is incessant pressure, causing opponents to yield.

It is a result which extends Liverpool’s advantage over Manchester City to seven points, with City travelling to Huddersfield on Sunday afternoon. It came at some expense: Milner will miss the visit of Leicester in ten days’ time through suspension, meanwhile Fabinho was substituted with a leg muscle injury.

The outcome in the end was astonishing, really, because Palace, managed by Roy Hodgson, were initially exactly what you’d expect them to be: organised, not particularly adventurous. A critic might say they were uninspiring. A fair judge would conclude they were being pragmatic. Theirs was a low block narrow defence of four and a midfield five with a conscientious central three which rarely moved forward. Jordan Ayew, the striker, allowed Liverpool’s defence to play, rarely applying pressure. It felt as though Palace were not interested in playing football, only stopping it happen.

Anfield waited. On a freezing day, Jurgen Klopp wore a snood, chiselling his chin into his breast in an attempt to escape the vile wind. Liverpool needed to amplify their speed to increase the temperature of the stadium.

A Palace goal changed the mood and eventually ignited a red fury. It came as Liverpool pressed two Palace players who looked like they were in danger of surrendering possession while facing their own goal. Had James McArthur or James Tomkins messed up – and they did seem like they were on the verge of messing up – then Liverpool would probably have scored. Instead, what happened next illustrated the perils of such rabid commitment because somehow, the Palace players were able to squeeze their way out of trouble and suddenly, Liverpool were low in numbers defensively themselves. Zaha zoomed past Milner and his cut-back for Andros Townsend was perfect.

Townsend's goal shocked Liverpool into life
Townsend's goal shocked Liverpool into life (AFP/Getty)

Liverpool were behind. Palace were emboldened. Mamadou Sakho, who was given the push by Klopp for essentially being a nuisance three summers ago, was powerful, tigerish and dominating his area of the pitch despite the presence of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane. Liverpool’s best chances of the first half both fell to Joel Matip and that revealed a lot about the way they were performing, though it could have been even worse for them had referee Jon Moss seen Naby Keita’s stamping into a tackle as he met Townsend.

The Sakho of Liverpool, 2013 to 2016, would return, however. The second half was barely a minute old when a breakdown in communication with Patrick van Aanholt led to a wild clearance. When Virgil van Dijk’s shot went looping into the air, Sakho seemed to melt away. Salah was on his own and was able to flick an unusual shot past Speroni.

Roberto Firmino put Liverpool ahead soon after
Roberto Firmino put Liverpool ahead soon after (Reuters)

Sakho was not the only Palace defender who in those moments of the game when concentration needed to be especially sharp, seemed to shut down completely. It was telling that Liverpool had turned a bad situation into a good one within the first eight minutes of the second period. Tomkins, for some reason, allowed Roberto Firmino to turn inside the box and via a deflected shot, Liverpool were ahead.

Palace, though, came back at them. Zaha’s skill, athleticism and power was proving too much for Milner and when he was able to force a corner, the conversation about the standard of defending would switch to Liverpool because Tomkins was unmarked and hardly inconspicuous when he headed in the equaliser.

Speroni turned the ball towards his own net to give Salah his second
Speroni turned the ball towards his own net to give Salah his second (Reuters)

Fifteen minutes remained when Speroni’s error changed the course again. It was the sort of error a goalkeeper makes when he hasn’t played much. This was his first start since December 2017. He clawed at Milner’s switch back into the box and sent the ball spinning back towards the Kop. This allowed Salah to pinch his second of the game.

Mane would make it 4-2 and there was still time for Palace to make it 4-3 through Max Meyer, the substitute – as well as the red card of Milner. It was all beautifully chaotic, with Firmino's taking up an unfamiliar station summing it all up. But Liverpool would just about survive.

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