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May 5, 2014

Three Things: Crystal Palace vs. Liverpool

LONDON -- Three observations from Liverpool's 3-3 draw with Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.

1. Liverpool will rarely blow a chance as badly as this ...

The image of a crying Luis Suarez inconsolable at the end will become one of those imprinted on the collective memory of English football, but so much of this incredible 3-3 draw will be impossible to forget.

The dimensions simply cannot be ignored, just as you simply couldn’t take your eyes from this incredible final 15 minutes of football.

With Liverpool looking to really put it to Manchester City in their bid to win a first title in 24 years, they suffered a collapse so sensational similar to one of their greatest victories: Istanbul.

Now, as the faces of their distraught players and fans pretty much confirmed, it’s very difficult to see where they can win the league from here. City can even afford to slip up. Liverpool so badly did here.

It is one of the worst slips in English history. Brendan Rodgers side may actually be back on top of the table, but that is far from how they're feeling.

2. Liverpool's defensive frailties exposed at the worst possible time

While the events of this game were incredible, the final remarkable result was far from incomprehensible.

All season, the worry for Liverpool was whether their notoriously shaky badline would hold out. They so badly failed, and it will likely lead to a failure to win this title.This brought every single one of their defensive issues to a head, as Palace simply ripped through them with abandon.

At the heart of that was the irrepressible Yannick Bolasie, who was on such flowing form that his own teammates often couldn’t keep up with him. There were two occasions when he was thinking too far ahead that the ball went out of play, but it mattered little because his input helped bring on those three painful goals.

Just after Damien Delaney got that fortuitous deflected first from distance, Bolasie then stretched the entire Liverpool backline with a blistering run. The Reds had no response to it. They were reduced to a shambles by the time Dwight Gayle hit both of his thrilling efforts.

In that, Liverpool’s failure is almost the opposite of Chelsea’s, and that is symbolically symmetrical given all the deep discussions about philosophies of the past week. Just as Jose Mourinho’s team couldn’t score enough goals, Liverpool couldn’t keep enough out. They have conceded 49 goals, a poor record champions generally just can’t afford to have.

Before this game, Rodgers had said they would know what to expect. He meant from Palace. He should have been thinking about his own team’s recurring defensive problems.

3. Reds' overconfidence allowed Palace to rally back

What should be all the more galling for Liverpool is not just difference in mood from the first 15 minutes of the second half to the last 15, but the difference in play.

At that point, having come out after the break so brilliantly, Rodgers’s side were leading 3-0 and looking to make up that goal difference so momentously. There was a freedom to their play made clear by the moves for those latter strikes, as reflected by Daniel Sturridge’s delightful first touch and then the riveting exchange of passes between Raheem Sterling and Suarez for the third.

All seemed to be going to plan. Reinforcing that belief, there as the manner they gave themselves that platform. Liverpool scored their 25th goal from the opening 20 minutes of games, and through a surprisingly familiar route: a set-piece. Joe Allen’s header followed a pattern set by both derbies against Everton and the 5-1 win over Arsenal.

It seemed all the more ingenious because of the precise team they were up against, as reflected by the fact this was the first goal Palace had conceded from a set-piece under Tony Pulis. But then, their own defence fell apart.

After that, the frantic final few minutes offered football radically different to what went before. Palace defended with an intense desperation reminiscent of West Ham United against Manchester United on the last day of the 1994-95 season. It was incredible. It was what Liverpool should have done at 3-0, let alone 3-2.

Instead, they are top of the table but feeling rock-bottom.