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Crystal Palace ruin Liverpool’s title hopes



Jurgen Klopp’s last dance suffered a major misstep against Crystal Palace as Eberechi Eze’s winner put a potentially fatal dent in Liverpool’s title hopes.

It was Liverpool’s first home league defeat in 533 days, their second in the last 59 Premier League games at Anfield and could not possibly have come at a worse time for Klopp as he enters the final stages of his reign.

Alisson Becker and Trent Alexander-Arnold returned from their respective two-month injury absences but Liverpool’s late-season problems again reared their ugly head.

Despite being unbeaten in 28 league games at Anfield before the Palace visit, there had been warning signs of a drop in form in recent weeks.

And the visitors exploited them fully in a first half in which they led by one but would not have been flattered by a three-goal advantage.

It took a breathtaking goalline clearance from Andy Robertson, sprinting back to hook clear Jean-Philippe Mateta’s finish after he was put clean through by Eze on 17 minutes.

Virgil van Dijk had simply fallen over to allow that chance, a symptom of poor defending which has become endemic at Liverpool in recent weeks.

That was certainly the case when Palace took the lead on 14 minutes, attacking as they did so often down Liverpool’s right flank and taking on young defender Conor Bradley.

Tyrick Mitchell reached the by-line and pulled the ball back for the unmarked Eze to bury a simple finish from just outside the six-yard box.

There were half-chances, just before the break, from Michael Olise’s long shot and Mateta’s near-post header but, although Liverpool enjoyed the bulk of possession, they were always susceptible on the counter.

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And when they did threaten the Palace goal, Klopp’s men found keeper Dean Henderson in inspired form.

A Robertson corner sparked a scramble just before the half-hour but, with Henderson beaten for once, Wataru Endo struck the loose ball against the Palace bar.

Henderson was called into action, soon after, keeping out a spectacular flying effort from Luis Diaz at his far post then saving a rare shot on goal from a subdued Mo Salah.

Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold dejected after the defeat at Anfield. Pic: Peter Byrne, PA Wire.
Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold dejected after the defeat at Anfield. Pic: Peter Byrne, PA Wire.
Anfield was becoming increasingly rattled, especially with this game coming so soon after Thursday’s embarrassing 3-0 home loss to Atalanta in the Europa League.

That will, surely, end Liverpool’s interest in that competition this season and meant the Palace game was the first of just three remaining at Anfield before Klopp quits the club in the summer.

Dominik Szobszlai was thrown on by Klopp, in an attempt to get a grip on proceedings, and Henderson continued a productive afternoon with a brilliant reflex save to deny Darwin Nunez from six yards.

As the half progressed, Palace visibly fatigued and an anxious home crowd could smell blood. They might have seen some, but Curtis Jones couldn’t reach Cody Gakpo’s brilliant low cross and Joachim Andersen cleared well, by volleying over his own bar from Szoboszlai’s lethal-looking cross.

And on 72 minutes, it appeared certain that substitute Diogo Jota was about to equalise, as he connected with Szobszlai’s square ball, with the keeper out of position, but his goalbound effort was blocked by former Liverpool defender Nathaniel Clyne.

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Palace still threatened, and Alisson was required to block a close-range effort from Mateta on 74 minutes, conceding a corner from which Liverpool, really, should have been level.

The Reds broke upfield speedily, with Gakpo freeing Jones beyond the trailing Palace defence but, with only Henderson to beat, he screwed his shot well wide.

They were two extraordinary misses that summed up an afternoon high on drama and tension but low on quality with Salah seeing his side’s last decent chance of the day blocked by Mitchell in added time.

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