02 April 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 2-1 Crystal Palace

Previous Match Infographics: Watford (h), United (a), Porto (h), Newcastle (h), West Ham (h), Porto (a), Southampton (a), Tottenham (h), Huddersfield (a), Swansea (a), Manchester City (h), Everton (h), Burnley (a), Leicester (a), Swansea (h), Arsenal (a), Bournemouth (a), West Brom (h), Everton (h), Spartak Moscow (h), Brighton (a), Stoke (a), Chelsea (h), Sevilla (a), Southampton (h), West Ham (a), Maribor (h), Huddersfield (h), Tottenham (a), Maribor (a), United (h), Newcastle (a), Spartak Moscow (a), Leicester (a), Burnley (h), Sevilla (h), Manchester City (a), Arsenal (h), Hoffenheim (h), Crystal Palace (h), Hoffenheim (a), Watford (a)

Match data from WhoScored, except average position from the SofaScore app. 

(Here's the formation diagram usually included in match reviews.)

"I hate when Liverpool play against ex-Liverpool players." - Me, loads of times

Christian Benteke: two clear-cut chances off-target with the score at 1-1
Mamadou Sakho: a defensive error leading to Liverpool's winner

I might have to reevaluate the above theorem. And jokes aside, that was kind of the difference in this match.

When Liverpool's players made mistakes, Liverpool usually survived.

When Crystal Palace had chances to profit from of Liverpool's mistakes, Palace either couldn't or didn't aside from a 13th-minute penalty, or Liverpool did enough in defense to cover.

When Crystal Palace's players made mistakes, Liverpool had the players to punish them.

When Liverpool's players had clear-cut chances in front of goal, Liverpool scored. And aside from Milivojevic's penalty, Palace didn't.

Crystal Palace, bless their hearts, tried to do to Liverpool what Manchester United did to Liverpool three weeks ago. United took full advantage of Lukaku's aerial prowess, Liverpool's high line, and a left-winger's pace against Alexander-Arnold, with Rashford twice scoring from Lukaku's flick-ons in the first quarter of the game. And those two early goals ended up to be enough to see out the win. For as much as we like to criticize Hodgson – honestly, after 2010-11, we deserve that right – he is not a stupid man. That was, after all, Liverpool's only loss in the previous nine matches.

So, on Saturday, in the eighth minute: Cabaye over the top to Zaha, inside of Alexander-Arnold and in behind the rest of Liverpool's defense, the clear-cut chance thankfully denied by Karius.

In the 12th minute: a goal kick flicked on by Benteke to Zaha, inside of Alexander-Arnold and in behind the rest of Liverpool's defense, taken out by Loris Karius with the resulting penalty aced by Milivojevic.

Long balls. A very, very fast left-winger up against Alexander-Arnold and a big lump of a striker in aerial duels against Liverpool's center-backs. And at least one goal. Deja vu all over again. If not for Karius, it's potentially a two-goal deficit, as it was at Manchester United.

But that was the last of it from Palace, at least for the rest of the half. They didn't have another shot for the next 45 minutes. Part of it was a very Hodgson "we just protect this," but Liverpool did well to limit Zaha's touches in dangerous positions, with just four in Liverpool's half: three unsuccessful touches and a lay-off back into Palace's half. Benteke's few flick-ons weren't finding other attackers, and van Dijk even charged into that side of the pitch to win a few aerial duels – unlike against United.

Yet Liverpool still couldn't find an equalizer. 10 shots from Palace's goal until halftime, with five blocked by a deep Hodgson defense trying to hold what it had, with four on-target but fairly easily saved.

But then, four minutes into the second half. Sadio Mané presses Mamadou Sakho into a mistake, dispossessing him just outside the box. Mané to Salah to Milner to Firmino to Milner, well centered through two defenders to Mané, who'd drifted inside an unaware Sakho just outside the six-yard box.

Alright, here we go. You can't stop the bum rush.

Not so fast.

But, despite some good football – especially from Alexander-Arnold down the right – Liverpool had zero shots between the 52nd and 82nd minutes with the score still level.

But Palace nearly scored twice. Palace should have scored twice, set up by Liverpool both times. Milner's clearance intercepted by Milijovejic, fortunately redirected to Townsend, headed to an open Benteke. Van Dijk's attempt to control a hoof forward is a failure, and Townsend steals and Townsend's away and Benteke's set up. And Benteke misses both. Badly. In little more than a minute.

But Liverpool's attempted game-changing subs had to be immediately changed, with Lallana injured within minutes of coming on, with Liverpool switching to a barely-familiar 3-5-2 rather than bringing on Danny Ings.

But Liverpool still won, because hey, there's Mohamed Salah. There's Oxlade-Chamberlain's storm down the right and cross between three defenders to an open Robertson, with Palace out of position because Townsend's caught up field and Wan-Bissaka's ignorant of Robertson's advance. There's Robertson's smart center towards Firmino and Salah rather than a speculative volley at goal. And there's Mohamed Salah, taking advantage of Sakho caught flat-footed and falling, controlling beautifully in little space to make a right-footed finish look so easy.

You can't stop the bum rush.

Mohamed Salah gets the headlines again, but this was much more The Sadio Mané Match. For both better and worse.

• He headed Van Dijk's set-play effort wide immediately before Palace's goal
• He picked up a yellow card for diving when he could have won a penalty
• He had a goal rightfully ruled out for offside
• He scored the equalizer
• He somehow avoided a second yellow when handling after failing to win a free kick just outside Liverpool's penalty box

He had an eventful 64 minutes, to say the least.

The above average position map is telling. Mané's the furthest forward, as Salah usually is. Salah, forced into a slightly deeper role because of the need to watch both Zaha and van Aanholt, becomes Liverpool's most creative front-three attacker. Even though Firmino leads the side in shots, Mané's at the end of Liverpool's most-promising moments: the header wide, the penalty shout, the offside decision, another set-play header well saved, the equalizer.

Even though his day could – and probably should – have ended differently, Mané put Liverpool into the position to come back from the early deficit. And Salah – with a little help from his friends – made the most of it.

Those are the small margins. A referee's decision to not send off Karius or not send off Mané or not give a penalty that yeah okay maybe could have been given even if Mané over-egged the pudding. Two clear-cut chances missed versus two taken. A defensive error seized upon versus at least one – by Opta's definition, at least – that wasn't.

And so the story ends as we've thankfully seen a few times this season. 2-1 Leicester, 2-1 Burnley, 2-1 Everton – three consecutive matches around the turn of the New Year.

Liverpool may not be at its best, and Liverpool may do some actual bad things, but Liverpool grind it out. Liverpool grind it out despite set-backs and then Liverpool win it late.

Because Liverpool have Sadio Mané and Liverpool have Mohamed Salah and all too often this season, Liverpool simply have more talent than you at the sharp end of the pitch. Liverpool know they have that talent, and Liverpool will ensure you know they have that talent, and by the end of 90 minutes, that talent will show through.

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