Sunday 24 September 2017

Benteke back to haunt Klopp as old Reds failings return

Liverpool 1 Crystal Palace 2

Christian Benteke celebrates scoring the winner with his Palace team-mates at Anfield. Photo: PA
Christian Benteke celebrates scoring the winner with his Palace team-mates at Anfield. Photo: PA

Chris Bascombe

Christian Benteke did not have much fun playing for Liverpool, but it is carnival time every time he faces the Merseyside club.

The Crystal Palace striker took his career tally against his former club to nine as the latest Sam Allardyce survival act edged closer to another successful climax. The last time Benteke scored against the Anfield side he was defeating them in an FA Cup semi-final, precipitating the beginning of the end of Brendan Rodgers' reign.

His two goals here have the potential to scupper Jurgen Klopp's Champions League ambitions. Those previous seven had involved embarrassing Martin Skrtel. This time, Liverpool's Dejan Lovren seamlessly adopted the Skrtel role.

Frenzied

There was no frenzied celebration from the Belgian as he accepted some respectful applause when substituted late on. He opted for a statuesque 'here I am' pose, first in front of the Kop when he equalised in the first half, and then after a winning close-range header in front of his own fans.

His point was made as Palace won at Anfield for a third consecutive year.

Sam Allardyce celebrates his team’s victory at Anfield. Photo: REUTERS
Sam Allardyce celebrates his team’s victory at Anfield. Photo: REUTERS

"I was motivated, I would say," Benteke said. "I respect Liverpool but what happened when I was here is behind me and I was really looking forward to helping my team-mates."

Rodgers was so accustomed to seeing Benteke bully his side that he paid £32.5 million for the Belgian in his last truly meaningful act as Liverpool manager.

Klopp took over and promptly decided the striker was a poor fit for his vision of high-octane football, barely starting him in the Premier League. Pair Benteke with Palace - who have mastered the art of achieving results against Liverpool at stages in the season that inflict the most psychological harm - and this result bordered on the inevitable.

Palace were the first club to beat Liverpool in the Klopp era last season.

Philippe Coutinho gives Liverpool the lead from a freekick. Photo: PA
Philippe Coutinho gives Liverpool the lead from a freekick. Photo: PA

They also wrecked Steven Gerrard's farewell league appearance in this stadium, and they are still singing about that 3-3 draw at Selhurst Park in 2014 - the night Luis Suarez was in tears as the title race ended.

Liverpool's top-four hopes are not yet extinguished, but there is as much chance of Klopp's side finishing sixth as third if they cannot find some immediate cures to persisting ailments.

"On the corners, everyone knows Liverpool are pretty weak, they conceded six off corners which we told the lads about. It's now seven," said Allardyce of the winning goal.

"With our limited possession, we exposed Liverpool's weaknesses time and time again and I give the players huge amount of credit for the way they defended and how they exposed the weaknesses of Liverpool defensively which in the end they couldn't cope with. If I could have had a bet then I would have bet on him [Benteke] scoring.

"Liverpool at home play a superb attacking style in terms of football which means that both full-backs will go right up the pitch. It is very similar to Arsenal which means [Joel] Matip and [Dejan] Lovren are very exposed.

Crystal Palace's Christian Benteke scores the winning goal. Photo: REUTERS
Crystal Palace's Christian Benteke scores the winning goal. Photo: REUTERS

"Because they are very exposed in that position, if you get the right runners in behind then they are two big men that don't like turning and going back to goal.

Liverpool certainly looked vulnerable at the only hints of pressure. The equaliser was a consequence of the first time Palace had gone beyond Liverpool's backline, with a looped pass from Joel Ward to Yohan Cabaye enabling the Frenchman to pick out Benteke in the 43rd minute.

Benteke's second began with a mis-hit corner by Andros Townsend which somehow fell to the striker six yards out for an easy header 16 minutes from the end.

"Christian Benteke is an outstandingly good striker, especially if you leave him like we did," said Klopp. "But if you leave him alone like we did for the first goal I am not sure he needed all his skills for this goal. It makes no sense to leave him alone."

Liverpool had led thanks to Philippe Coutinho's 24th-minute free-kick, a rare moment of home excellence in another of those scruffy, difficult games that Klopp had predicted when his injury list expanded four weeks ago. This was an afternoon where the manager's clenched fists were welcoming feisty tackles rather than free-flowing moves.

Tripped

Playing 'ugly football' is not so easy with Coutinho in this mood, but Liverpool managed it. Having been tripped by Cabaye, the Brazilian stepped up to dip his 25-yarder past Wayne Hennessey.

The Liverpool fear of being struck by a series of counter-attacks subsided.

They then contrived to surrender a position of relative control. Coutinho was trying his best to rouse the Kop. But as the nerves grew, Palace waited for the mistake and - as has so often been the case here - Liverpool obliged.

They may now have made one too many to return to Europe's elite. "I know a lot of people think the Champions League slips through our fingers again. Only if we let it slip," said Klopp.

"We have to squeeze everything we can from this season. I am used to nothing more in my life than getting up after a knock. I spoke to the boys after the game and said we have to feel it today and now we have to recover from this. There is one month to go, four games, and we will not give up." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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