Sadio Mane’s stoppage-time goal proved decisive, as Liverpool opened up a seven-point gap to Manchester City after a thrilling 4-3 victory over Crystal Palace.
Palace took an early shock lead when Andros Townsend fired the ball into the bottom corner of Alisson’s net. James Milner had been done for pace by Wilfried Zaha, whose pulled back pass found his teammate to notch up his sixth goal of the season.
The away side held onto the lead going into the break, but it did not take long for the Premier League leaders to find the equaliser. That man Mohamed Salah found himself alone in the centre of the Palace box after van Dijk’s shot was deflected by James McArthur. With just Julian Speroni to beat, the Egyptian kept his cool to poke it past the Palace keeper.
The comeback was complete within minutes as a James Tomkins clearance was collected by Naby Keita, who found Roberto Firmino in the box, and he drilled his shot past Speroni to put the Reds ahead. Anfield was silenced however when Tomkins was left unmarked as Luka Milivojević delivered the corner, and the defender headed it past the unprotected Brazilian to put the South London side back on level terms.
Due to the injuries to Vincente Guaita and Wayne Hennessey, Julian Speroni set the record as the oldest player to make an appearance in the Premier League this season at the age of 39 years and 246 days, the oldest since Shay Given (40 years and 151 days) played for Stoke City against Palace in September 2016. However, the mistake he made for Liverpool’s third is not the way he would want to remember the day. Milner knocked the ball across the box, and in an inexplicable act, Speroni somehow punched the ball towards his own goal, and Salah was on hand to touch the ball over the line.
There would be two further goals in a manic second half, as Mane sealed the points for the home side, scoring in the third minute of extra time, before a consolation goal a couple of minutes later from Max Meyer; his first for the club.
Salah Silencing the Doubters
A month ago, Mohamed Salah was crowned African Player of the Year for the second successive occasion, but the Egyptian has certainly had his critics this season. There were complaints in the early months of the new campaign, where many were saying that he wasn’t the same Salah that broke all those records last season, that he was a “one season wonder”, and that he was overshadowed by teammate Sadio Mané’s impressive start.
Salah scored just the seven goals from his first fifteen league games; in comparison, his first year on Merseyside yielded twelve goals in that same period.
However, he has certainly rediscovered his previous explosive form in recent months, scoring nine goals in the last eight league games, including a hat-trick against Bournemouth and a brace today against Palace. Not only getting on the scoresheet himself, but also an upturn in the contribution to goals for his teammates, with a goal and an assist in three consecutive games at the end of December, against Wolves, Newcastle, and Arsenal.
The Egyptian now tops the goalscoring charts with sixteen goals, two clear of rivals Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Harry Kane.
Off Day for the Backlines?
Palace have a reasonably good record at Anfield in recent seasons, having won three of the previous four visits to the red half of Merseyside, scoring seven goals in those wins, and only conceding a single goal in each of them. They hadn’t conceded four goals in a league game since January 2018, when they lost 4-1 away to Arsenal.
Liverpool, in a similar manner, have not conceded three goals in a single game for a year, winning 4-3 on that day too at home to Manchester City. Palace have proven themselves to be a stubborn side to break down this season, and the result today is probably more of a reflection on the strength of Liverpool’s attacking forces than Palace’s defensive frailties. It would be expected that the Eagles side would be a lot tighter when they make the trip to the south coast in the next round of games.
Since the arrival of Virgil van Dijk in the January transfer window last season, the Liverpool defence has been a lot more robust and secure, keeping 22 clean sheets in the league games since his switch from Southampton.
A number of injuries have seen Jürgen Klopp having to use midfielders as makeshift defenders, whether it’s James Milner at right-back, or Fabinho partnering van Dijk at the heart of the backline. Whoever they have to field in defence, it seems like that department has been sorted out, and today’s three goals in the conceded column will probably prove to be just a blip.
Crunch Games Coming Up for Palace
Although it was an impressive away performance at the league leaders, it only resulted in another defeat, making that two on the bounce and leaving the Eagles rooted to 14th place in the league, just three points off 18th placed Cardiff City. Next up, Palace take a break from league duty and welcome Tottenham to Selhurst Park for a FA Cup fourth-round clash, but after that, they have some important games which they must win.
On the 30th January, Palace face the side directly below them, Southampton, a team that unlike Palace have won their last two games, 2-1 victories over Leicester City and Everton. They then have a struggling Fulham visiting Selhurst Park, who have only won just one of their last nine league games.
With games against West Ham and Leicester City up after those two, before a meeting with Manchester United at the end of February, Palace must be aiming to get maximum points from these four games as they look to move away from the danger zone, and look up the table, trying to reach the likes of Brighton, Bournemouth and Everton.
Wallets Staying Shut for January
It’s hard to see either of these two sides doing much in the January transfer window, for differing reasons. Liverpool are riding high at the top of the league, having won 19 of the 23 Premier League games this season, and with cover for each position, there’s not that much they need to add to the squad.
Obviously, a number of injuries at the same time, especially in central defence, has meant that some have had to play out of their usual positions, but when they have been asked to play there, they usually do an impressive job. Even if they were to lose any of the front three, there is back up in the form of Xherdan Shaqiri, Daniel Sturridge, and Divok Origi; all of whom would make it into almost any other team in the league.
Palace, on the other hand, do need some recruitment. This game was almost an example of the opposite to what a regular Palace performance has been this season.
Usually, it is a tight defence coupled with the inability to convert any of the numerous chances they create, but today was a game where the back line was no match for the strength of Liverpool’s attack, and the Palace forwards, more surprisingly perhaps, converted on the minimal chances they had.
The Eagles had three shots on target, and scored all of them, however, the need for a striker still persists. Jordan Ayew reverted back to his ineffectual form of 2018, and although Connor Wickham was joined on the bench by the returning Christian Benteke, there is still not enough goals in that team to be able to win games when the defence has an off day.
Several rumours about the likes of Solanke and Defoe have proved to be just that, rumours, as it seems a distant hope of the Palace fans seeing a new striker coming in, at least one with Premier League quality experience.