Friday 14 December 2018

Mane makes most of mistake to give Reds first taste of victory

Liverpool 1 Crystal Palace 0

Sadio Mane of Liverpool celebrates scoring the only goal of the game against Crystal Palace at Anfield yesterday Photo: Getty
Sadio Mane of Liverpool celebrates scoring the only goal of the game against Crystal Palace at Anfield yesterday Photo: Getty

Andy Hunter

Rejecting a series of Barcelona bids for Philippe Coutinho may be irritating for Liverpool, but they are doing a decent job of minimising the disruption. Jurgen Klopp's team recorded their first league win of the season, and first Anfield win over Crystal Palace for four years, courtesy of Sadio Mane's poacher's finish against Frank de Boer's win-less side.

Liverpool deserved victory on the balance of play, but it was gifted to them by an unforced error from Luka Milivojevic, who ran the ball into Mane's path for the decisive breakthrough. Christian Benteke missed a glorious chance to open the scoring against his former club, as Palace's difficult start to the campaign continued through their own failings.

Liverpool's Dutch midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum (L) vies with Crystal Palace's English midfielder Jason Puncheon Photo: Getty
Liverpool's Dutch midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum (L) vies with Crystal Palace's English midfielder Jason Puncheon Photo: Getty

The importance of the Champions League play-off and the effect of Tuesday's first leg in Hoffenheim was writ large on the Liverpool team-sheet. Klopp made five changes to the side that started the midweek win in Germany, shifting Mohamed Salah to the bench and resting Trent Alexander-Arnold in readiness for the return leg on Wednesday. In their place came Daniel Sturridge and Joe Gomez, though it was Andy Robertson at left-back who made the biggest impression in an otherwise unconvincing first-half display.

Liverpool's £10m (€11m) summer signing from Hull City adapted well on his full debut. The quality of his crossing stood out and will prove a potent asset for Klopp's team this season and they should have capitalised inside 15 minutes. Wayne Hennessey, the Palace goalkeeper, failed to connect with an inch-perfect Robertson delivery from the left, leaving Joel Matip with a free header in front of an unguarded net. The defender, at full stretch and perhaps expecting a touch from Hennessey, headed wastefully wide.

James Milner tested the visiting goalkeeper with a low shot, Mane miscued from another Robertson cross and Sturridge struck the Palace wall from an inviting free-kick, but this was a subdued start to Liverpool's first home game of the season. The changes took an inevitable toll on Liverpool's rhythm, but De Boer's team also deserve credit for a more resilient showing than at home to Huddersfield Town last weekend. Palace's formation remained the same as in the opening-day 3-0 defeat, but their defensive duties were executed properly at Anfield, albeit while sacrificing support to Benteke, Andros Townsend and Jason Puncheon in the opposition half.

After 40 long minutes, the contest came to life. Roberto Firmino forced Hennessey into a flying save after being teed-up for a 25-yard drive by Gomez.

Sadio Mane of Liverpool celebrates scoring his sides first goal with Jurgen Klopp Photo: Getty
Sadio Mane of Liverpool celebrates scoring his sides first goal with Jurgen Klopp Photo: Getty

Palace countered immediately through Townsend and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who released Puncheon into space on the left. The visiting captain shot first-time, but Simon Mignolet was equal to it.

There was more urgency to Liverpool's performance after the restart. Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson forced Hennessey to save at full stretch and the introduction of Salah for Sturridge restored balance to the home attack, allowing Firmino to return to a central role. But it was their former striker, Benteke, who had the best chance of the game before Mane's winner. Loftus-Cheek rolled Ragnar Klavan easily inside the Liverpool penalty area before cutting the ball back from the byline for Benteke. The centre-forward timed his run perfectly, but the same could not be said of his finish, blazed over from seven yards with only Mignolet to beat.

It was a rare opportunity Palace could not afford to squander, although their eventual punishment was self-inflicted. Patrick Van Aanholt blocked from Mane and Wijnaldum in a goal-mouth scramble, but just as the travelling support began to sense a shut-out, and the home crowd became edgy, Palace imploded. Or, to be precise and blunt, Milivojevic imploded to cost his team a result.

The Serbia midfielder was under no pressure when he intercepted a cross-field ball facing his own goal. Two careless touches, however, carried the ball away from Milivojevic and into the path of Mane, who seized on the invitation to sweep beyond Hennessey at close range.

Observer

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