Shrewd transfer business pays off
Where one Premier League title challenge famously bit the dust, Liverpool's latest assault on the Holy Grail received a real shot in the arm.
It's early days but the joyous celebrations in front of the travelling Kop spoke volumes. This was a massive win for Jurgen Klopp's side.
An assignment laced with danger at Selhurst Park was passed with flying colours.
The Reds were far from their fluent best but they dug deep to inflict Crystal Palace's first defeat since March and keep pace with champions Manchester City.
After the free-flowing masterclass against West Ham on the opening weekend, Liverpool showed the other side to their game in the capital.
This was all about guts, spirit and defensive resilience as they ground out a precious three points
The Dutch centre-back was a commanding presence and young Joe Gomez once again excelled alongside him as they nullified the threat of Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke.
Behind them, Alisson Becker dealt with everything Palace threw at him on his true introduction to English football.
You get what you pay for and the Brazilian keeper is a £65million class act. He oozed composure and made some big saves.
The club's shrewd summer transfer business has addressed areas of glaring weakness and this is a squad capable of taking the “next step” Klopp craves after the agonising near misses of recent years.
There's silk but there's also steel. There's plenty of inspiration but it's coupled with an abundance of perspiration. It's on nights like this that the unity Klopp has fostered shines through.
Liverpool were given a helping hand by a familiar face as Mamadou Sakho's clumsy challenge on Mohamed Salah enabled James Milner to fire them ahead from the penalty spot.
Roy Hodgson complained bitterly but he should have directed his criticism at Sakho. It was typical of the kind of rash defending that contributed to the Frenchman being shown the door by Klopp two years ago.
In the second half Liverpool weathered the storm and then did their damage on the counter.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka was dismissed for a cynical professional foul on Salah and then in stoppage time Sadio Mane had the final word with his third goal of the season.
“The atmosphere is quite famous but it's our job to calm it down. It's part of the plan,” Klopp had declared on his arrival at Selhurst Park.
Liverpool should have achieved that early on as they dominated possession but struggled to make it count.
It was classic Hodgson as a well drilled Palace side were set up to contain. They sat deep and soaked up the pressure before looking to counter through the pace of Zaha and the aerial prowess of Benteke.
Liverpool promised much but delivered little for most of the first half as they puffed and huffed in search of a breakthrough.
Klopp retained the same line up which had routed West Ham eight days earlier but the Reds' passing lacked the same zip, their build up play lacked the same guile. Palace didn't leave the same kind of space for the visitors to exploit.
Salah's strike was blocked by Sakho before Wayne Hennessey pounced on a dangerous cross from the impressive Andy Robertson after neat work from Naby Keita and Mane.
Roberto Firmino dropped deep in a bid to shake off the attentions of Palace's backline with runners bursting beyond him. Mane was thwarted by Wan-Bissaka after a surging run into the box.
Gini Wijnaldum delivered another tireless shift in the holding midfield role and Keita attacked with menace. The Guinea international pounced on a howler by Sakho but Salah was shut down and the opening disappeared.
Keita lit up the contest with a sensational turn to get away from Andros Townsend as he turned a tricky defensive situation into a thrilling counter. His lofted pass was inch perfect for Salah but with the keeper stranded his lob sailed over.
The Reds' new No 8 was the most relieved man inside Selhurst Park soon after as Townsend rattled the bar after he had squandered possession cheaply.
Keita was also denied by a sprawling save from Hennessey before Palace belatedly came to life.
Liverpool repelled their advances with the double act of Van Dijk and Gomez, who made a crucial challenge on Zaha, near faultless.
This turned into the battle Klopp had predicted and Milner helped ensure they weren't bullied.
The bleating Zaha didn't take kindly to a robust challenge from the combative Reds vice-captain. Patrick van Aanholt soon took retribution and was booked for leaving Milner in a heap.
Milner dusted himself off and kept his nerve to open the scoring from the penalty spot just before the break. The opportunity was given to him by an old pal after Sakho brought down Salah.
Palace players and fans alike were raging but the chants of 'cheat' from the stands aimed at Salah were nonsensical.
Five minutes into the second half Liverpool should have doubled their account. It was a sweeping breakaway with Palace left exposed as Robertson latched on to Mane's clever chipped pass down the left.
The Scotsman whipped a fine cross into the path of Salah, who dinked it past the on-rushing Hennessey but the ball bobbled away from goal. With the angle so tight, Salah ended up squaring for Keita, who failed to hit the target.
Fired up by a burning sense of injustice, Palace raised the tempo and briefly threatened to restore parity.
Zaha led the charge. After one mazy run had been halted by Trent Alexander-Arnold, Luka Milivojevic's curling free-kick forced a flying save from Alisson.
The Brazilian keeper showed his worth again soon after as he kept out Benteke's header but the flag was up.
Liverpool rallied and regained control. Salah's sweetly struck volley was turned behind by Jeffrey Schlupp before Klopp sought fresh legs with the introduction of captain Jordan Henderson for Milner.
With 15 minutes to go the Reds were gifted a numerical advantage. Wan-Bissaka brought down Salah who had been put through by Firmino. It was a nailed on red card.
Keita and Mane went close before Salah's header was tipped over the bar.
There were nervy moments in stoppage time but Van Dijk stood tall. It was from his clearing header that the points were secured.
Salah released Mane who accelerated from halfway, shrugged off the attentions of Van Aanholt, stumbled past Hennessey and kept both his feet and his cool to slot home.
No tears on a Monday night at Selhurst Park this time. This triumph is a significant signpost about where this team are heading.
Crystal Palace: Hennessey, Wan-Bissaka, Tomkins, Sakho, Van Aanholt, Townsend (Ward 79), McArthur, Milivojevic, Schlupp (Meyer 83), Zaha, Benteke (Sorloth 70).
Not used: Guaita, Kouyate, Ayew, Kelly.
Liverpool: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson, Milner (Henderson 67), Wijnaldum, Keita (Lallana 87), Mane, Salah, Firmino (Sturridge 90+4).
Not used: Mignolet, Moreno, Shaqiri, Matip
Referee: Michael Oliver
Goals: Milner 45, Mane 90+3
Bookings: Van Aanholt, Alexander-Arnold
Red cards: Wan-Bissaka
Man of the match: Virgil van Dijk. A defensive rock. Immense.
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