Liverpool 1 – 2 Crystal Palace: Match Report
Crystal Palace visited Anfield as part of round 34 of the 2016/17 Premier League season on Sunday, 23rd April.
The season has reached that crucial stage where every point on the board is of vital importance, and with the Eagles known to cause trouble for the Reds, there was no room for mistakes in this game.
There were several worries about the fitness of players for Jurgen Klopp ahead of the clash, and with Adam Lallana, Jordan Henderson and Sadio Mane already missing, the news caused some anxiety among the supporters. However, it turned out that only Daniel Sturridge and Ragnar Klavan actually weren’t in contention. When it comes to Sturridge, no surprises there, really.
So, the German opted for the following line-up:
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) April 23, 2017
The formation looked mostly like the standard 4-3-3, but occasionally Matip and Lovren would go wider and Lucas would drop between them, with Clyne and Milner both pushing forward as wing-backs in a 3-4-3.
His counterpart for the day, Sam Allardyce, sent the following men out into battle:
— Crystal Palace F.C. (@CPFC) April 23, 2017
As expected, Liverpool dominated possession from the off, threading passes through the middle of the pitch while Palace defended rather deep and looked to threaten from counterattacks. Within the first five minutes not much worth noticing happened – a cross from Milner and a corner for the Reds, both moments ending as nothing.
After 15 minutes, Firmino lead a fast attack through the middle and tried to cut across for Coutinho, but the ball hit Wijnaldum on its way and the Palace defence dealt with it.
Five minutes later, former Liverpool striker Christian Benteke performed a little slalom through his former teammates, something he’s often been accused of not being capable to do, but then he dragged his shot wide from just outside the box.
Similar to the game against WBA last week, Coutinho kept looking for space for a shot from range but was repeatedly closed down. One such situation however resulted in a foul on the “Little Magician” about 25 yards out.
And then – magic. A perfect shot over the wall, into the near top corner, as close as he could get to reproducing his goal at the Emirates in August. There was nothing the 6’5” tall Hennessey could do.
Just three minutes later Origi almost made it double but Milner’s cross from the left was just an inch too high for the Belgian.
The visitors managed to start a counterattack on occasion, but Liverpool, mostly Lucas, dealt with it quickly time and again, albeit by sometimes committing a foul on Zaha or Townsend.
Liverpool kept increasing the pressure and after 38 minutes Milner came in from the left, threaded a neat nutmeg pass for Wijnaldum, the Dutchman pulled it back across for Emre Can but Emre completely miskicked it.
A minute later Benteke tried to act out a penalty but all he got was a booking for a dive.
Slowly the energy and focus of Liverpool players started dropping at that point as the game entered a slower period, and after 43 minutes they paid the price.
Cabaye unexpectedly went forward and managed to escape Lovren, running towards the right wing. He entered the box and cut a sharp cross into six yards where he found Benteke who made no mistake from such close range.
The last minutes of the half saw the Reds looking dejected and clumsy, and the sound of the half-time whistle was welcome.
After the break Coutinho started taking matters into his own hands. After 50 minutes he tricked a few Palace players and shot over the bar. Less than 60 seconds later he cut inside the box from the left, his fast feet got several Palace defenders bamboozled, but his shot from 7-8 yards was eventually blocked by Tomkins. From the ensuing corner Lucas shot over the bar.
In the very next attack a cross from the right found the head of Coutinho but the Brazilian hit Origi this time. Two minutes later, Liverpool got a free-kick deep on the right because Schlupp had used his hand to touch the ball. The cross from Coutinho was inviting but no Liverpool player got to it. As the play continued, Lucas sent a fantastic through pass for Firmino, but Firmino was a tad too slow and Hennessey saved his team.
With an hour gone, it was starting to look as Liverpool would get back into lead, and the visitors started displaying some frustration as Luka Milivojevic got booked for a strong foul on Can. At that point, Palace started defending in a 6-3-1 formation, with Zaha and Townsend dropping all the way into full-back positions and the actual full-backs tucking in more towards the centre-backs. It was very reminiscent of the way Manchester United defended against Liverpool at Anfield earlier in the season.
And as was the case then, now too Liverpool simply could not find a way through, and their focus was again starting to waver. Sam Allardyce’s men took advantage of this and started pushing forward again as hope of the full prize kindled in them.
With 70 minutes gone, a free-kick from Cabaye went into the box, and after some head-tennis involving Matip, Benteke and Tomkins, it fell for Cabaye again at some 6 or 7 yards but he blasted it over the bar. It was a warning sign if there ever was one.
Two minutes later, Lovren misplaced a pass that resulted in a Palace counterattack, and Milner was forced to throw it out for a corner with a sharp sliding tackle. The corner was swung into the six-yard box, both Firmino and Matip looked confused as the ball went past them, Benteke escaped the attention of sleepy Emre Can and was faster than Lovren.
From that moment on, Allardyce had clearly instructed his players to defend deep, “park the bus” to use the popular phrase, and stop the play as often as possible for as long as possible.
Just three minutes after he had scored his second goal, Benteke slammed his elbow into the face of Lovren and the Croatian was left on the ground; and subsequently replaced. Trent Alexander-Arnlod came on, while Patrik Van Aanholt also entered the fray instead of Zaha with Allardyce’s intention as clear as a summer day.
It was hard to discern the formation in which Liverpool were playing now, as it somehow seemed to have lost shape completely. Lucas and Can alternated in dropping beside Matip and stepping into midfield.
Five minutes later, Allardyce strengthened his defence further by introducing Damien Delaney for Yohan Cabaye, just as Klopp took Milner out and sent Alberto Moreno in.
Crystal Palace completely managed to kill the game off during its last stage, and the last substitution by Klopp – Marko Grujic for Clyne 6 minutes from time – made as much difference as the two that preceded it: none whatsoever.
The obvious man of the match, the double scorer Christian Benteke, left the game after 87 minutes to applause from both sets of fans, and Fraizer Campbell came on. A minute later Grujic was booked for expressing frustration through a needles hard foul from behind.
Referee Andre Marriner, who did his job well in this game, gave Liverpool six minutes of added time to try and salvage a point, but it was hopeless. Crystal Palace were simply too good at not allowing the play to run. A perfect example of that was when Puncheon stopped Alexander-Arnold from taking a throw-in, prompting an angry reaction from almost the entire Liverpool team and of course, delaying the play from continuing.
Soon afterwards the final whistle was heard around the shocked Anfield.
Liverpool 1, Crystal Palace 2.
This outcome, together with Manchester United beating Burnley at Turf Moor earlier in the day, presents the worst possible scenario for this weekend, considering that Arsenal and Manchester City played each other in the FA Cup earlier.
Still on 66 points, Liverpool remain in 3rd place, but now Manchester City on 64 and Manchester United on 62 have two games in hand each, while Arsenal on 57 have three.
Liverpool still have the most favourable list of remaining fixtures, but they can’t allow any more slip-ups.
Next up – Watford.
We walk on.