By Matt Ramirez – @Matt_J_Ramirez
A pulsating, crazy and thoroughly ridiculous Premier League match eventually ended in a 4-3 win for Liverpool at the Reds just about saw-off the challenge of feisty visitors Crystal Palace.
On the day that Anfield paid homage to the late, great Bob Paisley on his 100th birthday, the visitors proved to be tough opposition, but goals from Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané ensured that all three points remained on Merseyside.
Injuries to Gini Wijnaldum and Trent Alexander-Arnold saw Jürgen Klopp forced to shake up the squad that beat Brighton last week. James Milner slotted in at right-back, with Naby Keita filling in for Wijnaldum in midfield. It wasn’t all bad news for the Merseysiders though, as a fully recovered Joel Matip was back in the centre of defence next to Virgil van Dijk.
From kick-off it was clear to see what Roy Hodgson’s game plan was, soak up pressure and attempt to strike on the counter. This meant that the Reds saw a lot of the ball in the opening minutes, securing their first shot on target courtesy of Matip.
The former Reds manager’s tactics worked a treat as his side took the lead in the 34th minute. The Palace back-line beat the Liverpool press and shifted the ball wide to Wilfried Zaha.
The Ivorian winger blitzed past Milner before delivering a low cross for Andros Townsend to smash into the back of the net. Klopp will no doubt feel aggrieved as moments earlier the goal-scorer seemed to handle the ball in his own penalty area, which went unpunished by referee Jonathan Moss.
Unfortunately for the Reds, they were unable to carve out a clear chance after going behind, and went into the break trailing for only the third time in the league this season. Anfield belted “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as the teams came back out onto the field, and the support was well rewarded as the Reds drew level within 60 seconds of the restart.
Jordan Henderson found the ball at his feet outside the penalty area, passing it to an advancing van Dijk who let fly from distance. The Dutchman’s shot took a massive deflection before dropping to Salah. The Egyptian managed to stay onside and volleyed the ball past Julian Speroni with an expertly timed flick of his left boot.
Anfield were barely done celebrating the equaliser before the Reds struck again. Keita found Firmino with ample space in the box, and the Brazilian did what he does best, expertly turning James Tomkins before firing towards goal.
The shot deflected off Cheikhou Kouyate and bobbled into Speroni’s net. The Reds had turned the game on its head and had the lead in the 53rd minute.
Just 12 minutes later the visitors struck back. With their first corner of the game, Tomkins compensated for being beaten by Firmino, climbing high and arrowing a header across goal into Alisson’s far corner.
The set piece routine seemed to come straight off the training ground as Jordan Ayew expertly blocked off van Dijk, ensuring the English centre back could jump unchallenged. 2-2.
The game seemed finely balanced after the visiting equaliser, but the level score-line didn’t last long, with Salah bagging his 50th Premier League goal of his career. Fabinho expertly dinked the ball over the Palace backline and into the path of an advancing Milner.
The make-shift right-back looked to play a cross into the box, but a Speroni mistake saw the ball head goal-bound. A sprinting Salah ensured the net rippled, and further inspection confirmed that the Egyptian had netted his 16th of the season.
The excellent Fabinho went down hurt with five minutes to go and had to be replaced by Adam Lallana – a worrying sight for the Anfield faithful as we head into the business end of the season.
In the 88th minute, another blow had Liverpool fans sweating as they went down to 10 men. Two yellow cards in quick succession for fouls on Zaha saw veteran Englishman James Milner sent for an early shower.
Despite being a man down the Reds continued to push on, sealing the win in the 93rd minute. A long throw by Alisson found Andy Robertson bombing down the left flank in typical fashion. The Scottish captain linked up well with Mané who drove at the Palace keeper and slotted it into into the right hand corner.
The Mané goal proved essential, as one minute later Palace drew a goal back. Townsend fired in a cross which was touched onto Max Meyer by Conor Wickham. The German expertly beat Alisson, striking the ball round the keeper with a curling effort from his left boot. However, it was too little too late for the travellers, as Liverpool bagged all three points.
Liverpool are now off to Dubai for some warm-weather training where they will look to prepare for the visit of Leicester on January 30th.