Premier League

5 Things We Learned From Liverpool 1-2 Crystal Palace

 • by Matt Gault
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Crystal Palace dented Liverpool’s top-four hopes with an impressive 2-1 win over the Reds at Anfield.

Former Liverpool striker Christian Benteke struck twice to cancel out Philippe Coutinho’s fantastic opening free-kick as the Eagles took a huge step towards Premier League safety.

The result leaves Liverpool looking nervously over the shoulder at the two Manchester clubs in fourth and fifth place, intensifying the pressure on Jurgen Klopp to deliver a top-four finish.

Here are five things we learned from the game.

Liverpool are still inexcusably poor at defending set-pieces

It’s not difficult to pinpoint why Liverpool are exceptionally poor at defending set-pieces: they just don’t do what they’re supposed to do. The real worry, though, is that they don’t seem to be learning from their mistakes and their crippling ineptitude from corners was once again a major feature in the defeat to Palace.

For Benteke’s second goal, Emre Can is tasked with picking up the striker. Before the corner is taken, the German is sticking to his job and wrestling with the Belgian on the penalty spot, as you’d expect. However, when the corner is taken, Can freezes and lets Benteke ghost past him and head home the winner.

Can’s inability to carry out the fundamentals is a problem that has plagued Liverpool’s campaign – they’ve now conceded nine goals from set-pieces. Things seemed to be looking up after a strong display against set-piece specialists West Brom but they now find themselves back at square one.

The manager has to be held accountable, at least to some extent, too. In Klopp’s post-match interview, he told Sky Sports that his players missed the ball at the near post and that it wasn’t a case that they had defended the set-piece poorly. Those were alarming remarks as defending a set-piece surely includes clearing the danger. The German also failed to recognise his compatriot’s lapse in allowing Benteke to meet the cross completely unchallenged.

They need to improve, and very soon, because it’s costing them points.

Credit where credit is due for Big Sam

The last year has been an emotionally draining rollercoaster one for Sam Allardyce and, like him or loathe him, it’s impossible not to applaud the job he’s doing at Palace.

When Alan Pardew was sacked in December, Palace were one place and one point above the relegation zone having lost eight in their last ten games. Within 24 hours, Allardyce was confirmed as Pardew’s successor and the swift nature with which he swooped in to save the day revealed how sure Palace chairman Steve Parish was about his new appointment.

Like Tony Pulis, Allardyce has that rare firefighting ability which allows him to parachute into the wreckage of a team’s failing season and haul them from disaster. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing – losing 4-0 at home to Sunderland was particularly calamitous – but Allardyce deserves a great deal of credit for continuing to believe in an approach which has saved Palace’s skin. In the last month they’ve beaten Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool and that would have been utterly unthinkable under Pardew’s rudderless ship.

Allardyce is back in his element and he’s doing exactly what we expected of him. Palace aren’t always the most attractive, expansive or enterprising of sides, but Allardyce has them organised, committed and, most importantly, winning – and that’s all that matters when you’re in the bottom-half of the table. It’s as simple as that.

Firmino can’t afford any other games like this

Roberto Firmino has enjoyed a fine season spearheading Liverpool’s attack alongside Sadio Mane and Philippe Coutinho. He’s scored 11 goals and added six assists and has often combined beautifully with Coutinho to leave defences as quivering wrecks.

That certainly wasn’t the case against Palace. While Coutinho did everything in his power to rescue the game, Firmino went missing. In his last six appearances leading up to Sunday’s clash, the Brazilian had scored three, assisted three, created 17 chances and totalled 16 shots, showing just how effective he has been.

However, he was largely anonymous at Anfield and went missing in the second-half just when Liverpool needed him, which raises questions about his character. With Sadio Mane sidelined for the rest of the season, Liverpool simply can’t contend one of their key attacking threats having an off day.

Benteke will always love playing against Liverpool, not for them

It was a big moment for Benteke. The goals were important, yes, but the most satisfying part of his afternoon arrived in the 88th-minute. As the striker’s name went up on the board, the Kop got to their feet and applauded the Belgian.

Looking up to see applause from people clad in red for his efforts when he had just inflicted a great deal of pain was a particularly heartwarming sporting gesture. It completed another pleasing afternoon stroll around Anfield for Benteke, who has reserved his best for the Kop while playing for Aston Villa or Palace.

For a player who was maligned by some sections of fans and marginalised by his manager during his time at the club, a winning double was just the catharsis he needed on his return. He reacted to both goals by standing up straight and offering no more than a chilling glare, as if to hammer home the point he was proving to Klopp.

Benteke now has four goals in three league appearances as an away player at Anfield and four goals in 13 as a home player. That statistic, more than any, epitomises Benteke’s tortured attempts to please the Kop, and his delight in rubbing salt in their wounds.

Defensive struggles need to desist

Klopp will definitely make defensive upgrades a priority in the summer and we can’t blame him. Liverpool hadn’t lost in the 13 games that saw Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip paired in defence, but that doesn’t disguise the fact that they’re defending has been sub-par for much of this season.

In fact, they’ve only kept four clean sheets since the turn of the year, two of which came against Plymouth Argyle.

So it’s not entirely surprising that defensive errors cost Liverpool dearly once again. For the opener, Lovren was caught on the wrong side of Yohan Cabaye who, despite not being the quickest player, broke clear and crossed for Benteke.

Five minutes later, Lovren failed to move the ball out of defence. However, having got caught, further blushes were spared as the Belgian striker failed to punish him for the second time.

But Matip was at fault for failing to defend the near post at the corner for Benteke’s second and, unfortunately, these are the types of schoolboy errors which have undermined Liverpool’s breathtaking attacking football all too regularly this season.

Liverpool have now made nine defensive errors, as per Squawka, leading to goals (only West Ham have more) and 17 errors overall (only West Ham and Swansea have more). These figures need to improve dramatically if Klopp is to mount a genuine title challenge in his third season in charge next year.

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