06 March 2016

Liverpool 2-1 Crystal Palace

Ledley 48'
Firmino 72'
Benteke 90+6' [pen]

That was unexpected.

After 71 minutes, it was all set up for another Liverpool v Palace match perfectly in line with recent meetings, and perfectly in line with what we've seen from Liverpool in matches such as these.

• Liverpool fail against Crystal Palace, for what would have been the fourth consecutive league loss since the soul-crushing 3-3 draw that made Luis Suarez cry.
• Liverpool fail after an impressive win, yet again unable to string together good performances.
• Liverpool fail against a side happy to sit deep and concede possession, daring Liverpool to break them down, which Liverpool inevitably fail to do.
• Liverpool fail after we spend a few days discussing the unlikely possibility of fourth place.
• Liverpool fail because Liverpool concede from a set play.

Liverpool dominate possession, but stutter and stumble in the final third. Liverpool fail to put a single shot on-target until the 65th minute; coupled with last season's 1-3 loss on this ground, Liverpool went 152 minutes with challenging Crystal Palace's goalkeeper in the league.

Despite (or because of) Liverpool's possession, Crystal Palace have all the best chances – Bolasie denied by Mignolet on a seventh-minute counter, Adebayor heading off the crossbar in the 11th, Cabaye into the side netting after a giveaway in the 25th, Flanagan's wonderful clearance on the back post against Adebayor from Bolasie's box cross in the 34th – before scoring, from a set play, just after halftime. Two shots from said corner blocked before Ledley got his chance at the top of the box, someone squirming his shot between Firmino's paltry attempt to block and the post. Palace had scored the second-most set plays in the league this season, Liverpool can't seem to stop conceding from them.

And then, in an attempt to change proceedings, Klopp brings on Coutinho in the 62nd minute for Flanagan, ostensibly switching Milner to right-back. "Ostensibly" because we never actually saw it; seconds later, Milner picked up his second deserved yellow, making a challenge that no sane player should make when already booked. It seemed a perfect summation to proceedings, and would lead to a result similar to 0-3 v West Ham after Coutinho's dismissal, the opposition continuing to soak up marginal Liverpool pressure before extending their lead on the counter, even if that happened under a different Liverpool manager.

All against a Crystal Palace side that hadn't won a league match in 2016. Par for the eminently frustrating course.

Except that didn't happen. The exact opposite happened.

Sure, Liverpool needed help: a horrific mistake from stand-in keeper McCarthy, slipping when trying to clear, only setting up Firmino for an easy equalizer; and a contentious penalty for a winner in the dying seconds, Delaney's knee just clipping Benteke's heel when trying to pull out of the challenge. Crystal Palace will fume at the decision, and understandably so. Andre Marriner wasn't going to give the penalty until seeing his linesman flag furiously. But there was contact, even if exaggerated, and it was a penalty. And Benteke stepped up, stutter-stepped, and coolly slotted in after sending McCarthy the wrong way.

The Christian Benteke Experience is baffling.

Regardless, every single chance after the sending off came from Liverpool. Firmino from nowhere, but at least on-target, and Origi side-footing wide from close range before the equalizer; Benteke shooting at McCarthy from a well-worked corner, Moreno slamming a long-range effort off the inside of the post, and Benteke denied when put through by Coutinho in added time before the late late late winner.

When down to ten men, Liverpool suddenly had space to operate. With an extra man, Palace had more of the ball, especially when needing to attack after Liverpool's fortunate equalizer. Liverpool had more chances and more space to counter, most evident in the through balls by Coutinho and Can for Benteke late on. Liverpool had more space to operate in the final third by removing an attacker; unlike against City, Lallana, Firmino, and Milner constant interchanging simply compressed space instead of pulling defenders out of possession. Liverpool remain better without the ball.

And Liverpool had nothing to lose. Liverpool have disappointed us time and time again this season. Liverpool have tripped over multiple hurdles that you'd think they'd easily clear. Liverpool have repeatedly demonstrated the same failings.

But, under Klopp, Liverpool are learning to never give up. 2-2 West Brom, 3-3 Arsenal, 5-4 Norwich, even 1-1 City in the cup final. The've shown fight and spirit and all those intangibles we hadn't seen since the Suarez-led title challenge in 2013-14. It hasn't happened with any great consistency – like everything Liverpool does – but that's to be expected with a new manager, unbalanced squad, changing XIs, etc. It's still happening more than we'd come to expect.

Liverpool have now won or drawn despite falling behind in nine of Klopp's 35 matches (5W-4D, counting the cup final where Liverpool drew at full time but lost on penalties).

As far as I can tell, Liverpool have never come from behind to win when having a man sent off and already losing. They've won when the sending off happened with scores level or Liverpool already ahead, but not when losing. LFC History's complete red card stats only go back to 1990-91, and it definitely hasn't happened over that span, while club statistician Gea Rea also said, "According to existing records it is the first time ever that we have come from behind with 10 men to win a game."

All against a team that Liverpool hadn't beat since October 2013, who'd humiliated Liverpool in the last three league meetings.

What a way to exorcise the demons. And not a bad way to go into a European match against the Evil Empire.

1 comment :

drew said...

Just going to take a moment to imagine a world where we're in the CL (by either, though I'd prefer the silverware) and City, United, and Chelsea are not, before reality kicks back in.