Wednesday 13 December 2017

Resurgent Liverpool finally end their Palace hoodoo

Crystal Palace 1 Liverpool 2

Liverpool's Adam Lallana celebrates scoring the winning goal with team-mate Martin Skrtel
Liverpool's Adam Lallana celebrates scoring the winning goal with team-mate Martin Skrtel
Daniel Sturridge celebrates scoring Liverpool's equalising goal
Palace defender Joel Ward puts his arm on Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli
Liverpool's Adam Lallana on the ball during the FA Cup fifth round match at Selhurst Park
Crystal Palace's Fraizer Campbell celebrates scoring the opening goal with Dwight Gayle and Marouane Chamakh

Dion Fanning

Liverpool's need for a trophy this season overrides nearly all other considerations but as they moved into the sixth round of the FA Cup with a victory at Selhurst Park last night, the result might have had another psychological significance.

"It's a different feeling to when we were here before," Brendan Rodgers said last night. "For us to get the victory like we did and to create a lot of chances was very, very pleasing."

The FA Cup semi-final programme from 1990 was included with yesterday's match programme, a reminder that Palace had been causing Liverpool problems long before Selhurst Park was approached with a sense of impending doom.

Liverpool hadn't won on their last six visits to Selhurst Park but it was their previous two trips which had done most damage. If the draw in May was the cruel epilogue to a title challenge which had already slipped away with the defeat to Chelsea, then the defeat in November represented all that was going wrong at Liverpool since the summer.

It had also functioned as something of a turning point or perhaps just a regression to the mean as Liverpool slowly moved away from the worst of that form, even if their exits from tournaments of significance suggested that nobody should get too carried away with the recovery.

"We were at a real low point at that time," Rodgers said. "Players were still trying to cope with the expectancy of playing for Liverpool. It was my responsibility, I needed to find a way to make it work. We had to arrest that momentum which was a negative momentum. After the game here at Palace, we had to have an intervention."

Liverpool have altered their behaviour. They remain in contention for a top four place and last night they showed resolve. When they went behind to a goal which demonstrated the worst of Rodgers' Liverpool, it seemed that they would again fail on familiar territory.

Instead, through goals from Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana, they came from behind to win and display much that is good in Rodgers' remodelled Liverpool.

They have lost only twice since that defeat in November but it may be of some significance that those defeats were to Manchester United and Chelsea. Rodgers described that November defeat as "the making of the team" and the purpose they showed at Selhurst Park last night was a world away from the haunted team that sunk into winter.

There are still weaknesses. The first half could have acted as a good summing up of how it sometimes goes for Liverpool. They dominated possession and Philippe Coutinho floated around the Palace defenders tantalisingly. Unfortunately there was a bit too much tantalising and not much else. Sturridge could have given Liverpool an early lead but he didn't connect properly after Emre Can had burst forward and released Lazar Markovic whose cross deserved more.

It was Markovic's finest contribution. Palace used Dwight Gayle on the left and Markovic was useful only as a landmark for the home side as they charted their attacks.

Of course it was Gayle, who had scored three times in the previous two games, causing plenty of problems in the first half as he drifted into the space behind Markovic which also exposed Can's limitations as a defender.

Palace were finding room down the left but they were also causing problems across the back four and they took the lead when Joe Ledley played a straight ball down the middle which Martin Skrtel misjudged. Gayle ran in from the left and got behind the defence. His header was saved by Simon Mignolet but Fraizer Campbell calmly finished.

There were early signs of Liverpool's resolve as they responded strongly. They opened up the Palace defence with a series of passes which ended with an Adam Lallana shot which Julian Speroni saved brilliantly.

Palace retreated and Liverpool played twenty yards from their goal as they moved the ball swiftly between them.

The performance was one of the worst since Alan Pardew arrived, he said afterwards.

Sturridge should have been awarded a penalty when Pape Souare made the kind of rash challenge which appears to be an integral part of his game but Palace also remained dangerous when they could get forward.

Mignolet saved well from Gayle when Palace burst forward after Allen had given the ball away and Yannick Bolasie exposed the uncertainty between Can and Skrtel.

Liverpool started the second half with Mario Balotelli on the field, a demonstration of their need for goals. If the first half had been about their possession, the second began with purpose. Joe Allen played a pass to Henderson who floated a ball into Sturridge's path and he didn't hesitate with the finish.

Gayle nearly put Palace ahead again almost immediately but Liverpool were now revived, Balotelli, who played with greater drive than he has at any moment in his Liverpool career, took a free-kick which Speroni could only push away from goal. Lallana followed up and Liverpool had the lead.

For a time after Lallana's goal, Liverpool drifted aimlessly but if they had moments of doubt, they never looked uncomfortable. "The team is functioning at a high level," Rodgers said. "The last time we were here was a low moment."

Right now, Liverpool look as if those moments belong in the past.

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