Christian Benteke steals win for 10-man Liverpool at Palace
LONDON -- Three points on Crystal Palace 1-2 Liverpool, as Christian Benteke scored a last-minute penalty to win it for the 10 men at Selhurst Park.
1. Benteke and Liverpool lucky to be in top-four hunt
A controversial last-minute penalty from Benteke sealed Liverpool's victory at Crystal Palace and revived Jurgen Klopp's faint hopes of a top-four finish.
Benteke, on as a substitute, went down following a brief touch from Damien Delaney and Andre Marriner, the referee, pointed to the spot. Palace's fury was unabated and their anger was justified. It was a shocking turnaround -- Alan Pardew's team looked set for the three points until goalkeeping and refereeing errors gifted Liverpool two goals.
It had all looked so promising for Pardew's men. Joe Ledley gave the home side the lead three minutes after half-time and as so often for Liverpool, they conceded from a set-piece.
Alberto Moreno failed to clear a corner at the near post and the ball ricocheted around the box until it fell to Ledley. Roberto Firmino should have charged down the effort but the Brazilian advanced on Ledley with the utmost reluctance. The Welshman was allowed to rifle his shot into the net, giving Simon Mignolet no chance.
Things then got worse for Liverpool from a set piece at the other end. Klopp's team botched a short corner and Wilfried Zaha broke away with pace. James Milner, who had been booked in the first half for a challenge on Yohan Cabaye, slid in and took Zaha out. Marriner had no hesitation in showing the Liverpool midfielder a second yellow card.
Then the game changed. A calamitous mistake by Palace goalkeeper Alex McCarthy gifted 10-man Liverpool a route back into the game with a dreadful clearance that went straight to Firmino, who gratefully accepted the invitation to score.
Firmino's goal brought the away side to life and they poured forward as Palace began to display the nervousness of a side that have not won this year.
Benteke forced a good save from McCarthy deep in stoppage time before the Belgian went down in the box with seconds remaining.
Liverpool head to a Europa League doubleheader against Manchester United in good heart, but relegation fears persist for Palace before their FA Cup quarterfinal tie away to Reading.
2. Klopp's set piece woe
Liverpool still have plenty of work to do, though. One of the more disappointing aspects of Klopp's short tenure has been the continued inability to defend set pieces. The German can only coach the players he has inherited but it might be expected that he would spend hours on the training ground tightening up Liverpool's approach to free kicks and corners.
All the warning signs were here. Emmanuel Adebayor rattled the bar from a corner. Scott Dann rose above Dejan Lovren and Mamadou Sakho to win an undisputed header from a free kick 30 yards out. The away side took no heed. It seemed almost inevitable that they would concede from a corner.
There are a number of reasons for Liverpool's struggles in their own box. Mignolet transmits no confidence to his back line but that is only half the problem. Klopp has been unable to find a centre-back combination that plays with any authority. Lovren has never recaptured his Southampton form after his move to Anfield and Sakho looks skittish on the ball. Despite his obvious physical gifts, he has not quite learned how to use his body to his advantage.
The midfielders offer little help, either. Moreno should have done better with his attempted clearance before Ledley scored but there were chances to kill off the danger as the ball squirted around the box.
As a team, Liverpool should have been more alert and quicker to the ball. Firmino's lack of commitment in making things difficult for Ledley was damning. Klopp, and his team, need to go back to their Melwood training base and work on set piece situations before opponents start celebrating free kicks and corners as if they have already scored.
3. Adebayor an enigma
There are not many more frustrating players than Adebayor. When he puts in maximum effort, defences quiver with fear. But those days have become increasingly more rare as his career has progressed.
Here, he began the match like an eager 19-year-old trying to make an impact. Within the first 15 minutes, he got behind the Liverpool defence and set up Bolasie near the penalty spot. Mignolet had to be at his best to stop the Frenchman's shot but Bolasie should have done better.
Adebayor was targeting Jon Flanagan on Liverpool's right, gesticulating to teammates to send the ball in his direction. When he got it, the Palace striker looked a real threat. He tested Mignolet at the near post with a sharp shot from the corner of the box. From the subsequent corner, Adebayor headed against the bar. It was beginning to look like he was having one of his unplayable afternoons.
Charging into the area down the inside left channel, he tried to cross with a rabona. It might have been more rewarding for Palace had Adebayor controlled the ball and forced the Liverpool defence to deal with him. It was the sort of flamboyant wastefulness that has driven his managers mad.
It was a warning of things to come. By the end of the first half he was giving the ball away with a mindless back-heel near the halfway line. It was like a snapshot of his career: brilliant initially but petering out in frustration and indolence.
Tony Evans has been a sports journalist for more than 20 years. He writes for ESPN FC and is former football editor of The Times. Twitter: @tonyevans92a.