As Jurgen Klopp fist-pumped aggressively three times in front of the emotional Kop, the relief was palpable. How they all would have longed for the sustained controlled possession to continue from first half to second, but rather – in typical Liverpool fashion – this encounter with Crystal Palace became a true humdinger.
Klopp was adamant post-match that winning the three points outweighed the vulnerable showing which might give title-challengers Manchester City confidence. They conceded three goals, ended up with 10 men, struggled to hold on to the victory and deployed Roberto Firmino at right back. And yet these are the types of matches which can define title-winning seasons, here Liverpool showed the character to emerge as deserved victors against a stubborn Palace side.
Liverpool don’t do things easy. This was a case in point. The helter-skelter second half couldn’t have been further from the controlled first period in which Palace struggled to get beyond the halfway line but did manage to score with a well-executed counterattack against the run of play. It was after half time when this encounter became a team effort; this was nervy, hectic and enthralling football all in equal measure.
Liverpool thrive amidst adversity
Liverpool seem to relish a challenge; for much of the first half, when a glove was barely laid upon them, the hosts prodded and probed but to little effect. As Klopp said, “there were plenty of players preparing to make the final pass and preparing to receive it but few actually made it.” It led to a first half of possession for Liverpool but few goalscoring chances and a goal down at half time to some bewilderment.
It was the second half though when it all came alive. The hosts scored early through Mo Salah but struggled to keep Palace at bay. The control was gone and the hectic style had returned to the dismay of Klopp and his fellow coaches. But it is amidst the adversity – and some of it self inflicted, James Milner being sent off being an example – that Liverpool thrive.
The cool, calm heads that Liverpool have shown for much of this season were somewhat lost in the second half here. Gone was the control and in came the more direct feisty football which saw them score four goals. But with Palace hot on Liverpool’s heels, it was the character that Klopp’s players showed that took them beyond their opponents.
Palace’s second-half fight was commendable
This match was highlighted as a potential banana skin for title-chasing Liverpool; it was 637 days since Klopp’s men last lost a league game at Anfield and that came against Palace. In fact, Palace had won in three of their last four visits and that confidence and the belief that they could improve that record grew as the match developed.
It was the threat of Wilfried Zaha that consistently had Liverpool’s defence worried, especially Milner. As Liverpool began to pour forward leaving more and more space behind, the Palace winger became an increasingly lethal weapon. Milner had a fairly easy job of it in the first half as Palace did so little attacking but by the time he got sent off in second-half stoppage time he had been shredded by the pacey and skilful Zaha.
Milner’s performance was not entirely poor though, he was stationed hard to the touchline in an attempt to stretch a rather compact Palace backline and he did play a major role in the pivotal goal that gave Liverpool a 3-2 lead when he slid to keep the ball in play and lifted the ball towards Julian Speroni who tipped the cross for Salah to score.
Speroni was nervy in what was his first start since December 2017 and soon enough became the afternoon villain for the Anfield crowd to continuously heckle and boo. To an extent it was fair, the 39-year-old goalkeeper consistently took an eternity with his goal kicks, whether it was down to old-age or not, he did not have the sympathy of the home supporters but he did get some slack from referee Jon Moss who seemed to ignore it.
Liverpool edge it late on
Liverpool did show their spirit and with Virgil van Dijk’s deflected shot falling kindly for Salah, Firmino’s scuffed shot finding the bottom corner and Speroni’s mishap, they also received their fair share of luck. But this was the same Liverpool that came within 11 millimetres of scoring a possibly priceless early goal in the game away at City a few weeks ago.
Roy Hodgson’s team did capitalise on the open second half and in truth looked like they could score with every attack that they mounted after the break. Andros Townsend was cool to dispatch Palace’s opener against the run of play following more good work from Zaha. James Tomkins rose well to tower over the tall Joel Matip and Van Dijk to get the visitors back into the game, and even both of Palace’s substitutes combined neatly to score a consolation with more or less the last kick of the game.
The enduring image of this match though was that of Klopp standing in front of the Kop, arms raised and at one with their support. This week marks the 100th birthday of Bob Paisley who won six first division titles and three European Cups with the club in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and it was celebrated prior to kickoff. The current manager experienced somewhat of an emotional rollercoaster during the 90 minutes of play but the relief was telling by the end.