On Monday night, Liverpool landed their first counterpunch in what’s expected to be a heavyweight title race, responding to Manchester City’s 6-1 walloping of Huddersfield Town by overcoming the tough test of Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
James Milner’s penalty just before half-time saw Liverpool lead for much of the contest before Sadio Mane sealed the win with Liverpool’s second goal late on.
Selhurst Park has proved a difficult venue in the past for Liverpool, though, so coming home with all three points will signal job done for Jurgen Klopp.
A difficult game
Liverpool started on the front foot, dominating possession in the opening stages as Palace struggled to implement an effective pressing game.
Naby Keita was at the heart of everything. One piece of quality stood out early on from Keita: spinning a challenge deep in his own half, he drove forward finding Mohamed Salah with a delicate ball over the top, only for Salah to fire over uncharacteristically.
Unfortunately for Keita, his moment of magic was met by one of madness as he put a pass astray straight to Andros Townsend on Palace’s right. The winger cut inside and fired an effort that scorched back off Alisson’s crossbar.
Wayne Hennessey then saved smartly from Keita just before the half-hour mark. Palace spent the following ten minutes imprinting their style of play on the game as Liverpool toiled, Aaron Wan-Bissaka proved a threat down the right.
However, the Reds took a lead into halftime courtesy of a James Milner penalty brought about when Salah was hacked at in the penalty area by Mamadou Sakho. Michael Oliver, with a perfect view of the incident, pointed to the spot and Milner did the rest, sending Hennessey the wrong way.
Salah could have made it two just after the restart as Liverpool constructed a nearly lethal counter-attack: Hennessey did enough to divert him away from goal before Keita fired narrowly wide from the Egyptian’s following ball in.
Alisson’s first meaningful save in a Liverpool shirt followed, Luka Milivojevic’s free-kick beaten wide by the Brazilian.
That set-piece acted as a warning sign to the away side who looked to retain possession thereafter, springing counters where possible as Palace became more adventurous in their attacking play.
Wan-Bissaka, who enjoyed a good game, was a victim of that attacking play as he found himself desperately chasing a through on goal Salah. Bringing the attacker down just outside the area, Wan-Bissaka did enough to keep his side in the game but couldn’t keep himself on the pitch. Oliver had no choice but to produce a red card.
That was essentially game over for Palace unless they could do something special, Liverpool’s resilience shining through as Jurgen Klopp’s men doubled their lead late on through Mane.
As he raced away on the break four minutes into stoppage time, Mane danced past Hennessey to slot into an empty net.
Reds show title credentials
Despite heading into the fixture with consecutive wins at Selhurst Park, Liverpool never look forward to a clash with Palace after the scars from recent years.
However, this a new side that went about their business unnerved by the past as if Palace were completely new opposition.
Stroking the ball around well early on, the Reds set their stall out as a top side who weren’t going to engage in the sort of football that Palace wanted to play.
Patient yet purposeful, Liverpool had to wait to get their noses in front but made it worth the wait with a controlled second-half display.
After Manchester City’s Huddersfield hammering, Liverpool needed to pass this test and they did with minimal fuss.
Wan-Bissaka endures an up and down evening
Whilst Palace were disappointed to drop points, the performance of 20-year-old Aaron Wan-Bissaka was one to be pleased about — until he was sent off, that is.
Keeping Sadio Mane quiet and dealing fairly well with the overlapping threat of Robertson, Wan-Bissaka even created one or two promising moments for Palace, driving his way into the area in the first half only for Joe Gomez to divert his cross away.
Unfortunately, his evening ended with the red card. It was a challenge he will feel in his mind he had to make but one that he could perhaps have avoided by looking to pressurise Salah rather than push him.
It’s certainly one for him to look back on, perhaps over the next few games — games in which Palace will miss him.
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