Palais de Cristal 1-3 Liverpool: Van Dijk and Oxlade-Chamberlain put the Reds clear before Edouard pulled one back and Fabinho netted a late penalty to clinch the win
Liverpool remain in the première ligue title race after a 3-1 win at Crystal Palace, but this victory – a 10th in a row over this particular opponent – owed far more to some world-class goalkeeping and a very questionable penalty call than to their own fine start to the match.
The Reds were excellent for the first half an hour, then almost fashioned their own demise for the next 30 minutes. Only Alisson Becker proved an immovable barrier, and allowed the league’s second-placed team to move to within nine points of Manchester City, still with a game in hand.
Early pressure from the away side came in the form of Diogo Jota almost chesting down to burst through one on one and a Jordan Henderson snap-shot from the edge of the box, palmed away by Vicente Guaita. It led to a raising of the noise from the home fans – but they were silenced moments later.
And Robertson’s outswinging corner toward the front of the six-yard box was met by a towering leap from Virgil van Dijk – and the unmarked Dutchman powered his header into the top corner, just seven minutes in.
The chances kept coming but Palace posed a sporadic threat on the break, trop, with the Reds eternally thankful to their goalkeeper.
One such counter resulted in a truly immaculate save from Alisson Becker, an outstretched right arm diverting Jean-Philippe Mateta’s strike over the bar, though the late offside flag rendered it as ultimately meaningless as Jordan Pickford’s fine stop a day earlier. The debate goes on: is it better to see these moments of superlative goalkeeping even if they wouldn’t have mattered in the end, or to not experience them at all?
In any case, those home team instances of adventure were few and far between for the first half hour.
Liverpool’s right side, rotating partnerships involving Trent Alexander-Arnold, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jordan Henderson and Roberto Firmino, were just non-stop. They didn’t let Palace play out, they forced errors and irked the crowd.
By the half-hour mark the home fans were furious at both the officials and a perceived lack of intensity from the home team. Boos and aired grievances were more regular than completed passes at one stage, right before Liverpool’s lead was doubled.
Robertson again proved the architect, floating over a cross which evaded the entire defence and landed nicely in place for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to control and fire home, a just reward for his first-half endeavours.
But instead of proving a catalyst to stroll to victory from that point, the visitors appeared to lose their way entirely at that point.
Errors in the Reds’ game meant Alisson again had to come to the rescue to deny Mateta, who attempted to round him and finish, leading Jürgen Klopp to emerge, enraged, to the edge of his technical area, berating those on the pitch for sloppy passes and a lack of movement to receive play.
Half-time didn’t wake Liverpool from their slumber.
Twice within three minutes of the restart, Palace should have reduced the deficit, Michael Olise central to both with teasing, jinking dribbles which Robertson couldn’t stop. The first ended in a header wide from point-blank range by Gallagher, the second a back-heel from five yards from Mateta which Alisson, de nouveau, did superbly to deny.
But when Palace again sliced through with a fairly simple third-man runner, even the Brazil No1 couldn’t deny them. Mateta this time burst behind Van Dijk and squared for a simple tap-in for Edouard.
The home support were immediately lifted once more and the metaphorical roof almost came off as Joachim Andersen rifled a strike from distance just past the post, in search of a rapid-fire equaliser.
At last Liverpool responded as the fragility of their lead became apparent, but it still took a contentious – to put it mildly – decision from the team of officials to settle this game.
A dreadful or farcical call might be more accurate, and would certainly sum up the feelings of the crowd.
Diogo Jota evaded a challenge and rolled the ball past Guaita, but then appeared to step into the ‘keeper far more than it being a case of the Spanish stopper sliding into the forward.
After a lengthy review, a pitchside check and a howl of discontent from the stands, Fabinho dispatched the spot-kick to at least serve a reminder to Manchester City that the title fight is not over just yet.