Liverpool slip up again vs. Palace as Christian Benteke haunts former club
LIVERPOOL, England -- Three points from Liverpool's 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace at Anfield in the Premier League.
1. Liverpool slip up again
Where would Liverpool be now if they could stop slipping up against bottom-half clubs? Given that a win here would have put them two points behind title-chasing Tottenham, it doesn't take a wild leap of imagination. After two hard-fought wins away at Stoke and West Bromwich Albion, it seemed that Jurgen Klopp's side had cracked it. Apparently not.
This was Liverpool's season encapsulated. They started well enough, controlling the game and forcing Crystal Palace back into their own half. They didn't make many clear-cut chances, but Philippe Coutinho fired in a breathtaking free kick and it didn't seem as though they needed much more. But then they got sloppy.
Two minutes before half-time, Yohan Cabaye fizzed in a perfectly weighted low cross and former Red Christian Benteke was there to slam it home in front of the Kop, something he didn't do very often when he was employed here. Liverpool came back at Palace after the break, renewed and refocused, but again they failed to make their possession count and again, they slipped up at the other end, failing to deal with a routine corner and allowing Benteke to make this a very happy return to Anfield.
This is hardly the first time that Liverpool have been so careless. They pick up, on average, 1.68 points a game against teams outside the top seven. When pitted against the division's best, they score 2.16. That must be maddening to their supporters, especially when there were chances to put the game beyond reach long before half-time.
On 28 minutes, James Milner drilled in a cross from the left that Divock Origi somehow failed to reach. Fortunately for Origi, it wasn't long before Emre Can served up a blooper that covered his blushes. Georginio Wijnaldum, linking up with Milner to good effect on the left, burst into the box and cut the ball back to Can in the centre of the box. Can's shot, however, pinged off at a right angle. Liverpool would pay for that profligacy.
Palace were without inspirational Liverpool loanee Mamadou Sakho here, but only on the teamsheet. On the bench, he was very much in attendance. The French defender was seen celebrating Palace's equaliser against his employers. Sakho has been something of a cult hero for Palace in his short time on loan at Selhurst Park. He may wish to consider making that move permanent, as it seems unlikely that he will be forgiven at Anfield for this breach of etiquette any time soon.
2. Benteke's happy return
It is the immutable law of the ex; the near-guarantee that any maligned striker, upon his return to the site of his travails, will score. There is no point in any Liverpool fan being angry with Benteke. He was simply fulfilling his destiny. The smile of satisfaction on the face of Sam Allardyce suggested that he saw all this coming too.
But it had all looked very different three minutes earlier. There were roars of approval when referee Andre Marriner booked the big Belgian for going down too easily under the lightest of nudges from Dejan Lovren. Given that Middlesbrough's Gaston Ramierez was dismissed after first picking up a yellow for diving on Saturday, could this have been a portent for a very different law of the ex? Nope. So it was prophesied, so it shall be. Benteke was bound for the scoresheet, not once but twice.
At £27million plus £5m in add-ons he was Crystal Palace's record purchase. As these two goals have pushed Palace up to 38 points and all but eliminated any possibility of relegation, you'd have to say that it's money well spent.
3. Coutinho can't do it alone
In the absence of Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana, creative responsibilities fall heavily on the slender shoulders of Coutinho. But he cannot do it all alone. Before kick-off, Jurgen Klopp was philosophical about a squad so weak that the majority of the substitute's bench would struggle to be served alcohol without producing ID, but privately he must wonder if this is sustainable. Ten years ago, there was an entrenched big four who seemed to secure Champions League qualification whatever happened. Those days have gone. There are now seven teams with designs on that competition and there is no margin for error.
Coutinho, nevertheless, excelled. His goal, a wonderfully accurate free kick that gave Palace goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey no chance, will provide the bedrock for hundreds of Europop-soundtracked YouTube compilations, but his contributions elsewhere brought reassurance to the home fans as the second half seemed to ebb away.
Poor Martin Kelly, once of this parish, was left bamboozled by Coutinho's artistry shortly after half-time, zigging when the Brazilian zagged, almost losing his footing in the process. Moments later, Coutinho cut in from the left and beat nearly every man in the Palace defence, only to see his eventual shot blocked. But it wasn't enough. Liverpool need more. This summer, they need to spend again.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.