The Warm Down: Fabinho penalty secures hard-fought 3-1 Liverpool win at Crystal Palace

Following a free-flowing, dominant opening by the visitors which saw them take a deserved 2-0 lead courtesy of Virgil van Dijk and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain efforts in the eighth and 32nd minutes respectively, Odsonne Édouard’s 55th-minute goal had given Patrick Vieira’s men a route back into the game.

The Eagles were themselves well worth their place on the scoreline by that stage, having forced Alisson Becker into a succession of saves either side of half-time.

They put the Reds under notable pressure for much of the remainder of the half, with Joachim Andersen and Michael Olise both coming close to equalising, before Diogo Jota was controversially adjudged to have been fouled in the box by home goalkeeper Vicente Guaita late on.

Much like his second goal in the Merseysiders’ 2-0 Carabao Cup semi-final second-leg win at Arsenal on Thursday, Jota latched onto a brilliantly accurate Trent Alexander-Arnold diagonal pass before a VAR intervention went in his favour.

This call seemed considerably less clear – and arguably less necessary – than the one which ruled him onside at the Emirates, however.

There was clear contact between the Portuguese and the goalkeeper, but penalising Guaita – particularly when referee Kevin Friend hadn’t originally pulled him up – seemed harsh.

Nonetheless, once a check of the pitchside monitor had led Friend to point to the spot, Fabinho coolly converted from 12 yards to notch his fourth goal of 2022.

That helped ensure that the defensive midfielder headed into the winter break as the club’s top-scorer this calendar year and that Liverpool cut the gap between them and Manchester City to nine points, after the Sky Blues drew 1-1 at Southampton on Saturday evening.

Full-on full-backs

In a week that has brought three Liverpool wins and eight Liverpool goals, seven of them have involved either Trent Alexander-Arnold or Andy Robertson.

That’s three assists apiece, plus the brilliant Alexander-Arnold ball to Jota which led to the penalty at Selhurst Park.

Their influence on Klopp’s team is hardly news, but this last week has represented one of the clearer demonstrations. And it has arguably been additionally valuable with Naby Keïta, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané away at the Africa Cup of Nations.

It was Robertson who came to the fore in the first half.

The Scot’s outswinging corner curled ideally into the stride of Van Dijk early on – allowing the Dutchman to thump a free header into the top corner.

Then, after a flowing move, his floated far-post delivery superbly picked out Oxlade-Chamberlain who had time to chest it down before he volleyed home left-footed.

A considerably more backs-to-the-wall second half was then given a slightly gentler conclusion after Alexander-Arnold intercepted Tyrick Mitchell's pass and pinged a 70-yard diagonal – with almost baffling ease – into the path of Jota, who let it bounce before his collision with Guaita won the penalty.

Set-piece takers. Creators. Pressure relievers.

The pair of them offer this team so many dimensions – and, as such, they continue to be one of its most pertinent.

Alisson saves the day

The Brazilian’s prominence in South London on Sunday was, in itself, a marker of how good Palace were for much of the contest.

Even prior to the hosts hitting their stride around the 35th minute, he’d done brilliantly to palm a close-range Jean-Phillipe Mateta effort over in the 21st.

It was one which wouldn’t have counted due to Joel Ward being offside in the buildup but it was a sign of things to come, nonetheless.

18 minutes later, he spread himself well to block Michael Olise’s right-footed attempt – after Joël Matip’s loose-pass found the 20 year-old on the edge of the Liverpool box – before he did brilliantly to help Mateta’s 42nd-minute effort wide when he looked to have been rounded.

There was an excellent point-blank stop from Édouard’s backheel two minutes into the second half and, while he could do little to prevent the former Celtic man's goal soon after – as Mateta, having been cleverly slid through by Jeffrey Schlupp, unselfishly squared the ball to give his teammate an open goal – he would make a further key intervention late on.

Olise broke the visitors’ high line and latched onto Joachim Andersen’s excellent flighted pass in the 83rd minute.

Having originally advanced, Alisson had to swiftly backtrack once the Frenchman got the ball under control and that made his save – clawing away the volleyed lob that followed – all the more impressive.

Yet again, these big contributions of his – within another assured personal display – were simply further enhanced by the platform they provided and the result they led to.

This team is so often able to be what it is because of its backbone – a backbone to which he gives such solidity.

Gap down to nine

Securing their 14th league victory of the season on Sunday gave the Premier League table a slightly more promising look from a Liverpool perspective as the top flight heads into its winter break.

Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City – with 57 points from 23 games – remain top. Klopp’s second-placed side, though – with 48 from 22 – have narrowed the gap from 11 points to nine over this latest weekend after Saturday’s 1-1 draw at St. Mary’s halted City’s excellent 12-match winning run in the league.

Success at Palace also kept the Merseysiders above third-placed Chelsea, whose 2-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur later on Sunday took them onto 47 points from 24 matches.

The ground to make up on the champions remains sizeable – especially considering the Sky Blues’ consistency in recent years – but the Reds have also shown similar traits in the not too distant past.

That, along with the fact that they have a game in hand and that they travel to face City in early April, can represent reasons for Liverpudlian belief as the season edges into its final four months.

Cardiff City's trip to Anfield in the FA Cup fourth round on Sunday 6th February marks the next time the Reds will take to the field, before they return to Premier League action with the visit of Leicester City on Thursday 10th.

By then, there’s a good chance that each of Keïta, Salah and Mané will again be available after their AFCON exploits, while the likes of Thiago Alcântara, Harvey Elliott and Divock Origi could also have completed their returns from injury.

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