The Reds’ remarkable 4-3 win over Crystal Palace on Saturday afternoon was a topsy-turvy tale of enjoyment and endurance for the Anfield faithful
You never thought it would be straightforward, did you?
Liverpool are seven points clear at the top of the Premier League, but boy did they suffer to get there!
Anfield had forgotten what a Jurgen Klopp rollercoaster felt like, but they got a thrilling, terrifying reminder here. This was a throwback to days gone by, heavy metal football, organised chaos and all that. Crystal Palace, 14th in the table, gave the league leaders the fright of their lives.
The Eagles led at half-time and were level at 2-2 with just 15 minutes remaining. And they refused to go away even after Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane had seemingly made the game safe late on.
The noise which greeted the final blast of referee Jon Moss’ whistle said everything. This was a victory to be enjoyed, at the end of an afternoon to be endured.
At the end, Klopp made his way down to the Kop. A clench of the fist brought a guttural roar from English football’s most famous stand. He knew how important this was, and so did his supporters. “Someone asked me the main feeling, the main emotion, at the final whistle,” he said. “It was relief.”
Early in his reign, a defeat here to Palace left him “feeling pretty lonely” as fans gave up on their team as they toiled, but things have changed dramatically since then. Now, there is a perfect harmony, from the stands to the field. The faith is there, and so is the belief. Nobody was leaving this game early.
Sure, they would all have preferred a less taxing afternoon. Yes, Liverpool will come unstuck if they repeat some of the basic errors which were on show here, and yes there will be concern at James Milner’s red card and a late injury to Fabinho, with Klopp’s squad already stretched at present.
But the long and the short of it is simple; Liverpool remain in the driving seat, and passed yet another examination of their championship credentials. They’ve won 19 of their 23 league games so far; 14 more victories will end that long, painful wait for a league title, no matter what happens elsewhere.
“I’m pretty sure a lot of people thought today was the day that was lose it,” said Klopp afterwards. Manchester City, his pursuers, must have been rubbing their hands together in glee at times as events unfolded. Instead, Pep Guardiola’s side go to Huddersfield on Sunday knowing they are the ones under pressure. They have to win, and hope Liverpool’s luck runs out or that their nerve deserts them. Neither happened here.
Palace had blown the race open by winning at the Etihad before Christmas, and they threatened to throw another spanner in the works here.
Roy Hodgson had never lost, or even conceded a goal, in his four previous visits to Anfield – though his ill-fated stint as Liverpool boss, of course, balances that record out somewhat – and the Londoners, led by the dangerous Wilfried Zaha, gave an excellent account of themselves once more.
Andros Townsend had the Eagles ahead at half-time, the first time Liverpool had trailed at home at the break in a league game since December 2017, but whatever Klopp said during the interval had the desired effect. Liverpool, first through Salah and then through Roberto Firmino, scored twice within eight minutes of the restart.
“We needed players in decisive areas, and more bodies in the box,” Klopp said.
Still, there was a chaotic feel to proceedings, with Liverpool rattled by the threat of Zaha on the break, and unable to control the game in midfield. “Pretty much every time we lost the ball, it was a counter attack,” Klopp admitted. “Zaha had a really good game, and gave us lots of things to sort.”
Still, there was a frustrating feel to Palace’s equaliser for 2-2, with James Tomkins left pretty much unchallenged to head home Luka Milivojevic’s corner. It was the first time in 17 league games that Liverpool had conceded twice at home.
At that point, Zaha was terrorising Milner, but the stand-in right-back stil had enough in the tank to get on the end of a deep Fabinho cross, the ball flicking off Julian Speroni and dropping for Salah to slam home on the goalline. It was the Egyptian’s 50th Premier League goal; only Andy Cole, Alan Shearer and Ruud van Nistelrooy have reached that landmark in fewer games. “An exceptional achievement from a world class player,” said Klopp, who joked that Salah could have got there sooner “if I hadn’t used him so often on the right wing.”
Milner walked late on, booked twice for fouls on the rampaging Zaha, but with 10 men Liverpool still found a killer goal through Mane, courtesy of some brilliant work from Robertson down the left. Even Max Meyer’s late strike, which offered the briefest of late hope to the visitors, couldn’t sour the mood, though Klopp admitted to a moment of panic when substitute Rafa Camacho challenged Zaha in the box in the 96th minute. “I don’t want to think about if he had missed that ball!” he grimaced.
He didn’t, though, and seconds later came the end. And so Klopp and his players head away for some warm weather training, a welcome break from the frost, the snow and the chill of Merseyside.
City will play four times, twice in the league and twice in the cup, by the time Liverpool return to action against Leicester on January 30. Klopp says they will use the time to train and to recover, and he will hope to have at least a couple of his injured players back for that clash with the Foxes.
It will be a pivotal one, but then they all are when you’re in Liverpool’s position. This felt like a huge win for Klopp’s men, in a season where they’ve already had plenty of them.
They did it the hard way this time around, but they can put their feet up now. After a game like this, they’ve earned it.
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