Salah brace helps Reds dodge Palace bullet
Liverpool 4 Crystal Palace 3
The good news for Manchester City is that Liverpool suddenly look quite vulnerable.
They conceded three goals here and ended up with 10 men after James Milner had, almost inevitably, picked up a second yellow for a foul on Wilfried Zaha. The bad news is that they are still winning, even in adverse circumstances.
The home side's 10 men managed what should have been a decisive goal when Sadio Mané cut in from the left to score in stoppage time, and even though there was still time for Max Meyer to grab a last-gasp third for the visitors, Liverpool clung on for another three points.
One way or another Crystal Palace have had a big say in the absorbing battle at the top of the Premier League. They halted the City procession by unexpectedly winning at the Etihad before Christmas and they might have pegged Liverpool back here but for lapses of concentration in defence that ruined a promising start.
In Manchester, Palace mounted a spectacular comeback after going a goal down, scoring twice in quick succession to allow Liverpool to open up a gap at the top of the table. Here they seemed to grow tired of waiting for the league leaders to go in front, so effective was their blanket defence, and after half an hour of comfortably repelling everything Liverpool could throw at them they went upfield to show the home side what a quick and incisive move looks like.
The much anticipated contest between Milner and Zaha did not really happen in the first half because Palace did so little attacking, but when Liverpool found themselves overstretched and Patrick van Aanholt picked out the winger on the left he took full advanatge. Zaha was round Milner on the outside in a flash, reaching the byline and cutting the ball back across goal, where Andros Townsend reacted quicker than Fabinho to beat Alisson from near the penalty spot.
The goal was against the run of play, but the run of play and a wealth of possession had not been doing Liverpool any favours. With Xherdan Shaqiri on the bench Liverpool seemed to lack ideas and penetration, constantly shuttling the ball from side to side of the pitch without coming close to breaking through Palace.
Julián Speroni made an early save from Joël Matip and Virgil van Dijk headed narrowly over the bar from a free-kick but those two half-chances represented the closest Liverpool came to a goal in the first half. Naby Keïta was disappointing, Mané surprisingly quiet, and though Mohamed Salah showed some neat touches neither he nor Roberto Firmino could prove influential closer to goal.
But that was just the first half. With the sort of luck that will worry City supporters, Liverpool were back on terms almost immediately after the interval with a goal that was more of Palace's making than their own. First Van Aanholt and Mamadou Sakho dithered over a loose ball in the area, eventually deciding on an unconvincing clearance. Jordan Henderson fed Van Dijk, whose shot from 30 yards was hopeful in the extreme, yet the ball struck James McArthur on the way through and ended up hanging tantalisingly in front of Speroni. The goalkeeper might have been more decisive, and his hesitance was punished by Salah, who simply stuck out his left leg to collect one of the easiest goals of his career.
Palace were unnerved after that, and the defence that had stood so firm in the first half gave way again after another six minutes. James Tomkins unwisely stood off Firmino in the area, allowing him to take Keïta's pass and turn and beat Speroni with a shot into the bottom corner. Less than 10 minutes after the restart the match had been turned on its head, whatever Roy Hodgson told his players at half-time now an irrelevance. At least Tomkins was able to atone for his earlier error when he levelled the scores from a corner, rising almost unchallenged at the far post to head past Alisson.
That could have been a decisive moment in the title race, and perhaps should have been, yet another defensive mistake left Liverpool with all three points. Milner did well to reach Fabinho's diagonal pass and turn a first-time cross back into the danger area, but there was no one to accept the invitation until Speroni tried to intercept and succeeded only in wafting the ball backwards towards goal. Once again Salah was on hand to accept the gift but the ball would probably have crossed the line anyway.
There was still time for two more goals and a dismissal as the day's second 4-3 showpiece did its best to match the excitement seen earlier at Molineux, though there was more riding on the result of this match.
Judging by the roar from the Kop that greeted Jürgen Klopp's fist-pumping salute at the end, Liverpool might just have dodged a bullet.
Sunday Indo Sport