Liverpool leave it late again to win at Palace
Liverpool continue to look like Premier League champions in waiting as they combined grit and good fortune to secure a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
The victory, secured by Roberto Firmino’s 85th-minute winner, made it 30 league games unbeaten for Jurgen Klopp’s side.
It also reinforced their imposing ability to turn draws into victories, a habit which looks set to carry them to a first Premier League title in 30 years.
Another vital win maintains the European champions’ eight-point lead over Leicester at the top of the table and opens up a 12-point gap on defending champions Manchester City prior to their clash with Chelsea later on Saturday.
Liverpool were shorn of Mohamed Salah, who started on the bench as he continues to struggle with an ankle injury, and lacked their usual fluency going forward in a first half dominated by Palace.
The half chances were falling to the home side, notably when Jordan Ayew skewed his shot wide before a Joel Ward free-kick was headed onto the top of the crossbar by Gary Cahill.
It appeared that a set-piece had given Palace the lead two minutes before half-time.
A Luka Milivojevic free-kick clipped the head of Georginio Wijnaldum and dropped into the path of James Tomkins to nod home at the far post.
But not for the first time this season, Klopp’s men had VAR to thank for ruling out the goal.
Ayew’s hand was on the back of Lovren as the pair moved towards the ball, yet VAR official Chris Kavanagh was clearly fooled by the Croatian defender’s theatrical fall to what could hardly be considered a push at normal speed.
If Liverpool had been somewhat ponderous in the first half, they sprinted into the lead within four minutes of the restart.
First, Jordan Henderson released Mane with a thrusting through ball only for the striker to drag his shot wide.
Within seconds, he atoned for that miss when Firmino flicked Andy Robertson’s cross into his path.
Mane swivelled and sent in a shot that possessed just enough force to skim the hand of Palace keeper Vicente Guaita and spin off one post onto the other and cross the line
The home side responded with rasping shots from first Andros Townsend and then Milivojevic.
At the other end, Firmino almost made it 2-0 after 67 minutes, toe-poking a shot which Guaita palmed away for a corner.
That seemed a costly miss as Palace fought their way back into the contest. Alisson was required to tip away a low Jeffrey Schlupp drive before substitute Christian Benteke went close with a spectacular bicycle kick.
The former Liverpool player then helped set up the equaliser, bursting into the area and finding Townsend who slipped the ball to Zaha. A quick shimmy later and Zaha struck a low shot beyond Alisson.
However, as so often this season, Liverpool found an immediate answer. Virgil van Dijk’s scuffed effort met with Palace panic following a corner and Firmino popped up to steer the loose ball into an empty net.
The fortune that follows champions surfaced again in injury-time when Zaha, superbly found by an astute clipped Townsend pass, slashed at the ball and sent his shot high over the Liverpool bar.