Liver­pool labour be­fore Salah kills Palace with deadly touch

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Premier League - By Sam Dean at Sel­hurst Park

Such is the qual­ity of Mo­hamed Salah, and such is the fear he in­spires, there was an air of omi­nous in­evitabil­ity about this match-win­ning in­ter­ven­tion even as his team-mates strug­gled and scrapped around him.

To be clear, this was a long way from vin­tage Liver­pool, who found the go­ing tough against a Crys­tal Palace brim­ming with en­ergy and speed. But with Salah fin­ish­ing like this, Jur­gen Klopp’s side hardly need to play well to win.

An­field’s “Egyp­tian King”, as ever, needed just one clear opening to make the dif­fer­ence. It ar­rived with the match in the bal­ance, six min­utes re­main­ing. He took one touch to kill the ball, and an­other to kill the game.

“That makes him a proper striker,” Klopp said. “If you only score when you have a per­fect day, you can’t score in all the games he has. Out­stand­ing.”

It was Salah’s 37th goal of the sea­son, and his 29th in the Pre­mier League. It was also the 21st league game in which he had scored, equalling the record for an en­tire sea­son that was pre­vi­ously shared be­tween Cris­tiano Ron­aldo and Robin van Per­sie.

The late strike, added to Sa­dio Mane’s sec­ond-half equaliser, sent Liver­pool 10 points clear of fifth-placed Chelsea in the hunt for Cham­pi­ons League qual­i­fi­ca­tion. There will, how­ever, be ques­tions asked of their de­fence, which again looked vul­ner­a­ble ahead of their Euro­pean meet­ing with Manch­ester City this week, and of the of­fi­cials, who failed to show Mane a sec­ond yel­low card for a de­lib­er­ate hand­ball in the sec­ond half.

There will be a post-match in­quest for Palace, too, and par­tic­u­larly for Chris­tian Ben­teke, who spurned two of the clear­est chances he could have hoped to get against his for­mer side.

Roy Hodg­son, the Palace man­ager, was quick to praise Ben­teke’s all-round per­for­mance, but he will know as well as any­one that the Bel­gian’s abysmal re­turn of just two goals all sea­son is a ma­jor fac­tor behind the side’s in­abil­ity to push up the ta­ble.

“When you are a for­ward and you have not scored for a while, and then you miss a cou­ple of chances, that is all peo­ple want to talk about,” Hodg­son said. “I judge him by dif­fer­ent val­ues.”

Thank­fully for Palace and Ben­teke, they have a favourable run-in and there was more than enough pos­i­tiv­ity here for the home fans to feel com­fort­able about the club’s Pre­mier League fu­ture.

Wil­fried Zaha, for ex­am­ple, was un­playable at times. An­dros Townsend pro­vided in­dus­try on the right, and the re­turn of Ruben Lof­tus-Cheek can only be good news for a side lack­ing in guile. Palace, in short, should be fine.

“Our pos­ses­sion was good, our move­ment, our abil­ity to ask ques­tions of Liver­pool’s de­fence,” Hodg­son said. “So it was a bit­ter blow to con­cede the sec­ond goal as we did. A point was the min­i­mum we could have ac­cepted.”

They started the game en­er­get­i­cally, and Zaha had al­ready blown a hole in the vis­i­tors’ back line be­fore he blitzed past Trent Alexan­der-Arnold and was clat­tered by goal­keeper Loris Kar­ius. There was no doubt about the penalty de­ci­sion, and it was no sur­prise to see Luka Milivo­je­vic sub­se­quently lash the ball into the bot­tom cor­ner of the net.

It was the fourth penalty Zaha has earned this sea­son – no player has won more – and third spot-kick Milivo­je­vic has scored in six games.

With Ben­teke dom­i­nant in the air and Zaha so sharp across the floor, Liver­pool looked wob­bly. There were still chances, though, with Salah test­ing Palace keeper Wayne Hen­nessey and Mane di­vert­ing a cor­ner inches wide.

Mane had the ball in the net be­fore the break but was rightly flagged off­side, while he was also booked for div­ing af­ter a de­layed and dra­matic fall fol­low­ing a chal­lenge from James McArthur. “There was no dive,” Klopp said. “Div­ing is with­out con­tact and there was con­tact, 100 per cent.”

Af­ter the break, Liver­pool found the equaliser through Mane, tapping home from a low James Mil­ner cross. For a mo­ment, it seemed that might herald a pe­riod of Liver­pool dom­i­nance, but this was far too dis­jointed and fran­tic an af­ter­noon for either side to take sus­tained con­trol.

As Palace con­tin­ued to press, their op­po­nents al­lowed Ben­teke two clear op­por­tu­ni­ties in the space of a minute. He skewed both ef­forts off tar­get.

Liver­pool were then lucky that Mane, whose af­ter­noon was veer­ing be­tween bril­liance and buf­foon­ery, was not dis­missed for pick­ing up the ball when he thought he had been fouled. Neil Swar­brick, the ref­eree, awarded Palace a free-kick but de­clined to show Mane a sec­ond yel­low.

Klopp was less gen­er­ous, in­stantly re­plac­ing Mane with play­maker Adam Lal­lana. To his cha­grin, and to the worry of any­one with in­ter­est in Eng­land’s World Cup hopes, Lal­lana soon hob­bled off nurs­ing what ap­peared to be a ham­string prob­lem.

Klopp ad­mit­ted the in­jury looked “ab­so­lutely bad”, es­pe­cially as Lal­lana has al­ready missed so much foot­ball this sea­son. “Maybe one of the big­gest achieve­ments of our team is that they could play a sea­son like they have played with­out Adam.”

Back on the field, Salah was wait­ing for his mo­ment to grab the head­lines.

A deep cross from Alex OxladeCham­ber­lain, on as a sub­sti­tute, found Andy Robert­son at the back post. The Scot­land full-back found Salah in the six-yard box, and Salah sim­ply did what Salah al­ways does.

Busi­ness as usual: Mo­hamed Salah cel­e­brates his 37th goal of the sea­son

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