It was at a later point in the season, but in 2013-14, Liverpool were leading the table, Manchester City were the chasers and the Reds had to play Crystal Palace. The Eagles scored three goals at Selhurst Park and ended the Reds’ title push for that season. Today, they again scored three goals, albeit at Anfield. But Liverpool had that sliver of extra insurance in the form of a fourth goal, which will help them keep their lead at the top of the table at a minimum of 4 points.
Crystal Palace are one team that have made Liverpool fight for a win almost every time the two sides have met in the last few years. They are one of those bottom-half sides that have a good recent record at Anfield. So, it was expected that they will cause the Reds a few problems. The first half justified those expectations, as, despite Liverpool going close for a couple of chances, it was the Eagles who were leading after 34 minutes. Wilfried Zaha, who tormented Liverpool’s defence throughout the match, pulled the ball back from the left for Andros Townsend to open the scoring for Palace. Liverpool’s 72% possession at the end of the first half counted for nothing as Crystal Palace became one of the few teams this season to have ended the first half ahead of the Reds and that too at Anfield.
A reaction was expected from Liverpool and it came very early in the 2nd half as a shot from Virgil van Dijk was deflected high and it dropped to Salah, who poked it into the goal with sublime technique in the 47th minute. Within the next five minutes, Liverpool continued to threaten and eventually delivered on the threat in the 53rd minute as Crystal Palace could only clear James Milner’s cross to Andy Robertson, who passed to Naby Keita and who passed it to Roberto Firmino who was lurking inside the box. The Eagles’ defence was slow to react and Firmino’s right-footed shot, although scuffed, was on the mark. For some reason, after this goal Liverpool’s attack intensity dropped and they tried to play keep-ball, which led to some counters from Palace and eventually to a corner for the Eagles in the 65th minute. Jordan Ayew managed to keep VVD subdued and James Tomkins got a clear header, which he made sure was on target.
Liverpool responded by reapplying pressure, which led to a long ball from Fabinho to James Milner, which the Englishman whipped in a sort of a low-cross/shot, which was palmed by Speroni into the path of Salah who was steaming in from distance. It might have been an own-goal or the last millimetre save, but Salah was not taking any chances. This goal again elicited a response from Palace, who decided that James Milner defending against Zaha was clearly a mismatch and decided to press home the advantage. While it did not give them a goal, it led to Milner earning two yellow cards for two late tackles on Zaha. With their right-back gone, Liverpool were vulnerable but before they gave in, Andy Robertson and Sadio Mane combined on the left flank for one last-ditch attack, which Mane ensured ended in the Palace goal. Although Mane’s goal came in the 2nd minute of injury time, Palace clearly sensed that they could still get something from Anfield and when Connor Wickham laid up the ball inside the edge of the Liverpool box in the 94th minute, the subbed-in Max Meyer pounced and reduced the goal difference to one once again. However, the 10-men Reds managed to survive the last few nervy seconds, ensuring that for one more game week, they will stay above Manchester City by at least four points.
In all fairness, it was their attacking performance in the second half that saved Liverpool today. With his brace, Mohamed Salah scored his 50th Liverpool goal in just his 72nd appearance for the Reds. Roberto Firmino also returned to goalscoring ways, and Sadio Mane put in his customary goal against Crystal Palace. Liverpool attempted 19 shots to Palace’s 9 and had 9 shots on target, to Palace’s three. As a result, Liverpool’s xG ranged between 2.57 to 2.9 depending on the model we select, while Crystal Palace’s xG ranged between 0.67 to 1.0. The heroes of the two attacks were Mohamed Salah and Wilfried Zaha respectively. Salah showed that his speed in reaching the ball and his precision in front of the goal are second to none in the league, while Zaha underlined his quality and speed against James Milner who was filling in for the injured Trent Alexander Arnold.
Three shots on target for Palace and all three went in. Their total xG was less than 1.0, but they still managed to score three goals. These are some facts that prove that this was clearly an under-par performance from the best defence in the league. Alisson had one of his poorest games as Liverpool goalkeeper as did Virgil van Dijk in the Reds’ central defence. The makeshift nature of the Reds’ defence meant that the opponents were bound to get a few shots in. But previously, the combination f Alisson and VVD have managed to keep the ball out of their net more often than not. Today was perhaps the regression to mean that many pundits expect from Liverpool’ defence. Liverpool conceded a whopping 8 shots from inside the box, to Palace’s 13 such concessions. Roy Hodgson’s side clearly targeted James Milner as the weak link, as 5 of the Palace chances came from Liverpool’s right flank. Once Liverpool’s first choice defence is back there may not be another game where the Reds will concede three in a game, you can search all of the best free bets sites to get odds on that! In Crystal Palace’s defence, Mamadou Sakho and Van Aanholt did a decent job of keeping Liverpool’s attacks in check but Speroni and to some extent James Tomkins were the weak links.
Crystal Palace became the first team this season to score more than one goal at Anfield and still ended up losing the game. They were unlucky today but as they have repeatedly shown, their counter attacks are some of the best in the league and will possibly be enough for Palace to extend their stay in the Premier League for one more season at least.
Liverpool, on the other hand, survived this scare from Crystal Palace, thanks to their returning to form attack. But they also nearly lost their four-point lead at the top of the table as their defence put in a decidedly under-par performance. A ten-day gap beckons the Reds before they take on Leicester on 30th January. Jurgen Klopp will be hoping that either Joe Gomez or Trent Alexander Arnold are back for that game as otherwise, he will have to send another newbie in at right-back, giving an easy outlet for Vardy and co.