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James Milner penalty and Sadio Mane late breakaway enough for Liverpool

Jason Burt, match report, at Selhurst Park 

Crystal Palace 0 - 2 Liverpool
20/08/2018 19:00
Referee: Michael Oliver|Venue: Selhurst Park|Attendance: 25,750

This was not the devastating attacking brilliance Liverpool are so ­capable of, but it was the kind of ultra-professional, hard-fought win that may well mean so much at the end of this campaign as they already threaten to mount a Premier League title challenge.

As professional, in fact, as the identity of their first goalscorer, James Milner, with the Liverpool captain converting the precious penalty that was so fiercely ­disputed by Crystal Palace. The devastating attacking was there also as, deep into injury time, Sadio Mane broke away at speed to add a second.

At the centre of the action, once again, was Mohamed Salah, who earned that kick amid intense ­accusations he dived and was also later fouled by 20-year-old full-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who was rightly sent off.

Afterwards Palace manager Roy Hodgson, his face like thunder, was furious. Not at the result, nor at the performance, but at that penalty which was awarded right on half-time, when referee Michael Oliver deemed that former Liverpool defender Mamadou Sakho had fouled Salah. It did appear the striker was caught clumsily by Sakho, even if he did not immediately go down.

Hodgson’s anger was compounded as he then claimed, before Liverpool’s second goal, that his substitute Max Meyer had been wiped out by Virgil van Dijk as he attempted to reach a Wilfried Zaha cross.

Despite the controversy – and Liverpool deserved this win – not many teams will come to Selhurst Park and beat Palace and just maybe, on the day that they sent Loris Karius on loan to Turkish club Besiktas, the visitors would not have earned this result without their impressive new goalkeeper Alisson Becker, who made a string of confident saves.
“You see how composed he is and the presence he has,” Van Dijk later said.

The centre-half could have been talking about himself instead of Alisson, who made one save in particular – turning away a powerful, curling Luka Milivojevic free-kick that Jurgen Klopp thought was in – that was simply outstanding.
 
Both signings have made a ­significant difference, as has midfielder Naby Keita, who has incredible running power and an eye for a pass. There is more steel to add to the silk, with another new signing, Fabinho, still to come.

“Everyone knows that when we are not brilliant, we usually lose. Today we weren’t brilliant but we won,” the Liverpool manager said. That – although Hodgson will argue it was the two penalty incidents – was the key.

It was a telling comment. Klopp demanded more from Salah but the forward did claim two assists and it is that call for improvement which will drive Liverpool on.

Two games in and they have two wins. It also feels significant that they have claimed two clean sheets – the only Premier League team yet to concede – as they confirmed the expectation that they will be an even greater force this season.

It was a contest that smouldered and then fired into life. Before the penalty, chances had been traded as Liverpool worked the ball from side to side to try to pull Palace out of their disciplined, well-drilled shape, while the combination of power in Christian Benteke, and pace and trickery in Zaha, offered a potent outlet.

There was also the sight of Liverpool’s full-backs – Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson – being harassed by their opposite numbers, something Klopp picked up on. The match-up of Wan-Bissaka against Mane, meanwhile, was devastating in its pace alone. ­Wan-Bissaka caught up with Mane after he had burst past him and into the ­penalty area.
Even if they were not at their free-flowing best, there was a wonderful attack by Liverpool initiated by Alisson who, under pressure from Zaha, calmly passed the ball to Keita on the left and he easily tricked Andros Townsend as the winger overcommitted.

Hodgson, sensing the immediate danger, reeled away in frustration and Keita flighted a superb long ball over Sakho’s head and through to Salah, who brought it down but could only lob his shot high over the crossbar.

Townsend responded. He collected possession from Benteke and cut inside on his left foot to arc a shot beyond Alisson’s grasp. The ball cannoned back off the cross-bar and Zaha’s follow-up was blocked by Alexander-Arnold.
There were more half-chances and then came the penalty which Milner, amid the cacophony of boos and cries of “cheat” aimed at Salah, calmly stroked low into the corner of the net. 

The vitriol continued and fired Palace up even more.
But they almost conceded again when Alisson released Robertson, who bent the ball in from the left to find Salah.
At full stretch he lifted it over the onrushing goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey – who did well – but could not turn it into the goal, instead ­cutting it back to Keita, who scuffed his shot wide.

Alisson turned away the Milivojevic free-kick and saved from Benteke and the relentless Zaha but, as Palace pushed, Liverpool countered from a Van Dijk header, collected by Roberto Firmino who cutely threaded the ball to Salah.
As he ran through and reached the edge of the area, Wan-Bissaka felt compelled to challenge, bringing him down and the red card was shown.

Palace were not done. Hennessey tipped over a Salah header but then there was the Meyer incident and more pressure from the 10 men before, from a Palace corner, Salah was set on a run and released Mane, who held off Patrick van Aanholt, rounded Hennessey and slid the ball home from a tight angle.
It was a devastating finish and, even if it did not cap another devastating performance from Liverpool, it was deeply impressive all the same. On this evidence, they will be a powerful, robust force to push champions Manchester City. These points could be so vital to that.

© Telegraph Media Group Limited 2018

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