Lovren hero and villain as Liverpool keep pace
Liverpool kept pace with Premier League top two Manchester City and Arsenal with a dramatic 4-2 success at Crystal Palace on Saturday.
A breathless first half saw both sides take advantage of defensive errors, with Palace twice levelling through James McArthur after Liverpool took the lead with goals from Emre Can and Dejan Lovren.
Joel Matip’s 44th-minute header gave the visitors a half-time advantage and Roberto Firmino’s second-half effort secured a win that left Jurgen Klopp’s men behind City and Arsenal on goal difference.
While the Merseysiders’ vibrant display showcased their attacking talents -– assisted by a generous Palace defence — lapses at the back again raised questions about their ability to sustain their title challenge.
Liverpool have kept just one clean sheet in 10 league games this season and Lovren’s failings in particular complicated what should have been a routine victory.
But if Klopp had reason to be frustrated about elements of his side’s display, Palace manager Alan Pardew had even more grounds for complaint.
The hosts’ porousness meant that even when they twice came back to level, they never looked like kicking on to record what would have been only a sixth league win in 2016.
Initially the game had the look of an uneven contest when a typically incisive move, orchestrated by Philippe Coutinho, brought about Can’s opening goal after 16 minutes.
Coutinho picked out left-back Alberto Moreno, whose volleyed cross was turned home by Can with a first-time shot from 10 yards.
Already things looked bleak for Pardew’s side, but within two minutes they were gifted a route back into the game.
A long clearance by Palace goalkeeper Steve Mandanda was headed on by former Liverpool striker Christian Benteke.
The flick should have been dealt with comfortably by Liverpool’s centre-backs, but Matip squared for Lovren, whose mishit, looping pass allowed McArthur to nip in and head the ball over the advancing Loris Karius.
– Firmino chip –
That was the first time Palace had threatened and should have given the home side the chance to settle into the game.
Instead, they were undone in similarly routine fashion in the 21st minute when Lovren made amends for his error by easily rising above Palace skipper Scott Dann to head past Mandanda from Coutinho’s corner.
Both managers were already fuming at their side’s mistakes and there was worse to come for Klopp, who saw his side pegged back once again 11 minutes later with Lovren once again the weak link.
The move was familiar: a ball lifted towards Benteke, whose headed flick found Wilfried Zaha wide on the right.
When the winger delivered a cross towards the near post Lovren was flat-footed and McArthur nipped ahead of him to head home.
Fortunately for Klopp’s side they were facing an equally vulnerable side whose defence appeared on the point of collapse whenever threatened.
The fact that the diminutive Coutinho was allowed to win a header unmarked spoke volumes about Palace’s problems and it took an excellent save from Mandanda to push the Brazilian’s effort against the post.
Sixty seconds later Sadio Mane sliced a first-time shot over the bar when he had time and space to pick his spot.
In another game those misses might have been costly, but another chance was always likely to come along quickly.
So it proved a minute before the break when Matip was left completely unattended to head past Mandanda.
The second half continued in similar fashion, albeit with fewer glaring defensive errors, with Mane again guilty of failing to make more of a clear chance while Benteke was denied by a fine save from Karius.
But Firmino’s well-taken chipped finish from Jordan Henderson’s through ball in the 71st minute ensured Liverpool could see out the final stages in relative comfort.