After an impressive league start with the Reds hammering West Ham 4-0 at Anfield, it was the always awkward Crystal Palace away next, on Monday, August 20. It was a chance of a reunion with some of our former players, as well as a former manager.
Jurgen Klopp still couldn’t count on Dejan Lovren, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain remains out for the season. Ragnar Klavan has joined Italian side Cagliari on a permanent deal, while Joel Matip and Fabinho fought a battle with time to be fit for the trip to Selhurst Park. Matip eventually made the bench, while the Brazilian missed out.
The same starting XI was chosen as for the opener:
Roy Hodgson on the other hand had a full squad to choose from, including the four new signings (Vicente Guaita, Cheikhou Kouyate, Max Meyer and Jordan Ayew), as well as former Liverpool players Christian Benteke and Mamadou Sakho.
This was his selection:
The First Half
Liverpool started the game on the front foot as expected, but the home team didn’t exactly shy away from fighting back from the start. The contest was developing a nice balance when a great pass by Sadio Mane in the third minute found the run of Mo Salah who entered the box but was stopped by Sakho.
Nevertheless, Palace kept their heads and their spirits up. They didn’t look like they would be ‘parking the bus’ any time soon. They were, however, responsible in defence. Their attacking players tracked back constantly and the whole team showed real zest in their own half. A few hopeful balls were hoofed towards Benteke upfront, but Virgil van Dijk was up to the task. But mostly they tried to play out and pushed their back line high.
Meanwhile, Liverpool were patiently circling from one side to the other, keeping an eye out for any pocket of space they could perhaps exploit. Mane combined with Andy Robertson on the left, Salah with Trent Alexander-Arnold on the right, Keita, Wijnaldum and Milner worked tirelessly in the middle. Any sign of a counterattack by Palace at this point was disrupted quickly, although Gomez stopped one with a foul for which he would have likely been booked had it happened later in the game.
The stadium was loud in support of the home team and referee Michael Oliver was under heavy pressure from the stands at times, but he held out well.
With 19 minutes gone, a mistake by Sakho gave Naby Keita an interception and Salah a chance, but Patrick van Aanholt reacted very well to knock the ball out of the Egyptian’s control. Two minutes later a cross from deep by Trent caused a clash involving Mane, Wan-Bissaka and Wayne Hennessey, and the ball ended up in the net but the referee gave a foul on the Palace ‘keeper.
Then Milivojević sent a good ball for Benteke who extended it for Wilfried Zaha, but Liverpool defended well before Keita fabulously set Salah up for a great chance. However, Salah’s lob went high over the bar. As the game opened up, Keita sent a sloppy backpass picked up by Benteke and laid off for Andros Townsend who smacked it from 25 yards, beat Alisson Becker and hit the bar. Zaha’s volley on the follow-up was blocked.
Then Trent combined well with Firmino to set up Salah again but his shot was blocked, and Keita’s follow-up from a tight angle was saved by Hennessey. On the half-hour mark, a strong low drive from distance by Jeffrey Schlupp went slightly wide. As Palace grew bolder, Gomez and Trent displayed some fine defending on Zaha.
When Liverpool attacked, they seemed a bit too smart on occassion, taking an unnecessary extra touch or picking a tunnel too tight to go through. Eventually, Palace got them where they wanted them as the Reds started aiming hopeful balls into the box towards Salah and Firmino. They did however, create a good moment in such a way when Trent found Salah on the by-line and his pull-back fell for Robertson to smack, but the left back couldn’t control his shot.
In the 38th minute, Wan-Bissaka brilliantly got passed Mane in the box but his pull-back found nobody. A minute later Mane was a bit selfish and blasted one over the bar from a tight angle with Salah asking for it on the other side.
Palace then moved their lines forward and won a few fouls in Liverpool’s half, but Milivojević’s free-kicks were well defended. Three minutes before the break, van Aanholt was booked for a rather cynical foul on Milner.
A minute later, Firmino involved Salah inside the box and as the Egyptian turned to set himself up for a shot, Sakho reacted late and tripped him. The referee pointed to the spot without hesitation despite strong protests from the former Liverpool centre-back.
Milner was ruthless in execution and the Reds took the lead.
Soon afterwards, the players marched to the dressing-rooms to loud boos from the stands.
After a good look at the slow-motion footage, there’s absolutely no doubt Oliver got the decision spot on. Sakho was extremely clumsy, and he did trip Salah, not once but twice.
The Second Half
As was to be expected, Palace came out after the break with attacking intent, but Liverpool weren’t going to make it easy for them.
With three minutes gone, Robertson broke on the counter down the left and squared the ball into the box for Salah. Hennessey did just enough to prevent him from scoring and force him wide. Still, Salah managed to pull it back for the incoming Keita whose effort from the edge of the box was disappointing.
Liverpool started looking comfortable with defending and relying on counterattacks. But as one such moment from Keita earned a corner, Palace hit on a counter themselves and Zaha caused all sorts of trouble before being eventually stopped by Trent, who got booked for his effort. The free-kick from around 20 yards was taken superbly by Milivojević, but it prompted a spectacular save from Alisson.
Palace were, however, growing in confidence again and pressed the Reds hard. A shot by van Aanholt went over the bar and Benteke’s good header from a corner was saved by Alisson with difficulty, before the linesman signaled Zaha being offside right in front of the Liverpool ‘keeper.
The Reds weren’t doing well in possession in these moments. Their sloppiness helped the Eagles spread their wings and keep attacking. It took them almost 15 minutes to organize their first possession-based attack in the second period and calm the proceedings down a bit. It eventually ended with Sakho almost slamming it into his own net after a sharp Trent cross. After the corner, Salah tried a volley from the edge of the box, but Schlupp stuck his head out and diverted it out.
Around the hour-mark, a hard battle was developing as both teams now tried to stamp their authority on the game. That normally shouldn’t pose a problem for Liverpool against Crystal Palace, but the Eagles seemed very motivated and constantly lifted by the support from the stands.
After 67 minutes, Milner made way for captain Jordan Henderson as Klopp decided to add some fresh legs into the midfield.
One thing to be noted was that Benteke had started preferring his left side of attack, which would lead him into clashes with Gomez as opposed to van Dijk, but the young defender did very well against him.
With 20 minutes left on the clock, the Belgian striker made way for Alexander Sorloth. After a scramble in and around Liverpool’s box in the 73rd minute, a great chance fell from Zaha but his shot from close range went straight into Alisson.
But Palace pressed on looking for an equalizer. And then, all hell broke loose for them as Salah broke free, going one-on-one towards Hennessey when he was tripped from behind by Wan-Bissaka, right on the edge of the box. Oliver gave the foul and gave the Palace youngster his marching orders by flashing the red card. The free-kick was taken by Salah himself, his shot diverted by the wall for a corner.
Eleven minutes from time, Joel Ward replaced Townsend for Palace to fill the hole made by the sending off of Wan-Bissaka.
Liverpool were now in control. A good combination between Firmino and Salah gave Mane a nice chance to shot from 12 yards but Hennessey read his shot well. Palace were however trying to hit back on the counter, and some good work from Zaha and Sorloth enabled McArthur to come into a good position, and the crowd screamed for a penalty as Wijnaldum knocked the ball out of his control. But Oliver was once again close enough and resisted the pressure. At the other end, a good cross by Keita found Salah in the air but the header was tipped over by Hennessey. Then a sharp low cross by Zaha from the left failed to meet anyone in the box.
With four minutes to go, Keita was replaced by Adam Lallana.
After a cross by Trent found Firmino in the box, Tomkins produced a good tackle to dispossess the Brazilian who was then left lying on the pitch seemingly with a cramp.
Two minutes into the four-minute stoppage time, Lallana fouled Ward in a dangerous position wide on the right. The free-kick was cleared, as was the following corner, and Salah picked the ball up and picked out the run of Mane on his left. Mane smartly cut across the path of the back-tracking van Aanholt and got around Hennessey before coolly finishing the home team off.
Daniel Sturridge then came on for Firmino but that was it. Oliver’s whistle sounded loud to mark the end of the game.
This was one of those games when the Reds simply had to grind out a result against an extremely difficult opponent, and they managed it well. Crystal Palace really made them work hard, and work hard they did, deserving the win in the end. They travel home happy to carry the points in their bag as they maintain a 100% record, but Hodgson has no reason to be worried by what his team produced against a very strong Liverpool.
We Walk On.