Liverpool pulled off another escape to come from behind and earn a 2-1 win away to Crystal Palace on Saturday afternoon.
Allan Gunn, the individual in charge of the 1990 FA Cup final which Palace lost on a replay to Manchester United, argued that referees “are stage managers, not performers”. The officiating team on Saturday did not subscribe to the same school of thought, stealing the spotlight in a contest riddled with controversial calls.
There were no quibbles over Harvey Elliott’s 91st-minute winner but the decisions that preceded the crisp strike will be debated by both sides. Liverpool, despite a lacklustre display for long spells, at least have the comfort of topping the table.
How the game unfolded
Crystal Palace finished their last home game on Wednesday night to a chorus of boos – prompting Roy Hodgson to label the club’s fans “spoiled” – and the same roar of disapproval was dusted off in the first half Saturday’s match.
While the midweek moans were aimed at the underwhelming home players, Selhurst Park turned its ire onto the officials three days later. A VAR review convinced referee Andy Madley to overturn a Palace penalty half an hour into the contest. Upon inspection, Will Hughes was deemed to have committed a similar foul to Virgil van Dijk, flooring Wataru Endo before Odsonne Edouard thought he had won the hosts a spot kick.
Moments before VAR John Brooks had rescued the visitors, Liverpool owed goalkeeper Alisson a debt of gratitude. At the sharp end of a breakaway sparked by a legal turnover, the returning Brazilian somehow smothered Jefferson Lerma from point-blank range, with Trent Alexander-Arnold mopping up the loose ball scuttling dangerously close to the goal line.
Liverpool were just as sluggish in the second half. Within ten minutes of the restart, Hughes fired a low ball towards the near post which Jean-Philippe Mateta met before Jarell Quansah. Liverpool’s understudy centre-back kicked through Mateta’s heel but no foul was whistled. Brooks spent the best part of two minutes pouring over the replays in Stockley Park while the match continued before directing Madley to the screen – much to the pleasant surprise of the Selhurst Park crowd.
Mateta dusted himself off to convert the 57th-minute spot-kick, giving Palace a lead that reflected the balance of chances.
Palace’s compact shape denied Liverpool a single shot on target until Jordan Ayew’s controversial dismissal in the 74th minute. Ayew’s innocuous chop on Harvey Elliott was punished with a second yellow card. Just 94 seconds later, Liverpool were level.
Amid a mad scramble in Palace’s box, the ball dropped for Mohamed Salah who swatted in an equaliser with his 200th goal for the club.
Palace’s third-choice keeper came off the bench in the dying embers with the game still level but scarcely be blamed for Elliott’s thumping winner, arrowed from the edge of the box in stoppage time.
Liverpool, who scored with their only shots on target of the entire contest, owed their unmistakable number for the victory, as Alisson clawed away Joachim Andersen’s goal-bound header in the 100th minute.
GK: Sam Johnstone – 6/10 – It was Johnstone’s booming clearance that sparked the move which ended in Palace’s penalty, catching Liverpool out of shape.
RB: Joel Ward – 6/10 – Palace‘s captain stayed tucked in rarely deserting his defensive brief.
CB: Joachim Andersen – 6/10 – Came out on top in his physical duels with Liverpool’s front line until he was eventually overloaded.
CB: Marc Guehi – 6/10 – Plugged most of the gaps that opened up at the back for Palace while they had the full compliment.
LB: Nathaniel Clyne – 6/10 – Playing on his unnatural flank, Clyne’s right-footedness helped him up against Salah’s attempts to cut infield.
CM: Will Hughes – 7/10 – A little too overeager in his attempts to win back the ball at times but that industry was crucial to Palace’s transitional threat.
CM: Chris Richards – 6/10 – Sat at the base of midfield, un-fussily shuttling in front of his side’s compact backline.
CM: Jefferson Lerma – 4/10 – The suffocating frame of Liverpool’s black-clad keeper may haunt Lerma’s dreams tonight – if he can get to sleep after his first-half squandering.
RW: Jordan Ayew – 4/10 – Cheered off the pitch by the home crowd, Ayew’s pair of yellow cards were soft to say the least.
ST: Odsonne Edouard – 5/10 – An unfortunate first half saw his penalty overturned and ended in injury.
LW: Jeffrey Schlupp – 5/10 – Shared the testing task of shadowing Alexander-Arnold with Lerma.
SUB: Jean-Philippe Mateta (46′ for Edouard) – 7/10 – In the right place at the right time to win Palace’s penalty.
SUB: Michael Olise (68′ for Lerma) – 5/10
SUB: Naouirou Ahamada (84′ for Schlupp) – N/A
SUB: Remi Matthews (87′ for Johnstone) – 5/10 – Beaten by a great effort.
SUB: David Ozoh (90′ for Hughes) – N/A
Subs not used: James Tomkins, Matheus Franca, Jairo Riedewald, Malcolm Ebiowei
Roy Hodgson – 6/10 – Desperately unlucky to see his well-organised side undone at the death.
GK: Alisson – 8/10 – On his unexpectedly early return from injury, Alisson reminded Liverpool exactly how much they miss him.
RB: Trent Alexander-Arnold – 6/10 – Utterly unfazed by the biblical bluster swirling around Selhurst Park.
CB: Jarell Quansah – 4/10 – A half-second misjudgement sullied what had been a composed outing. Dragged off seconds after his penalty concession.
CB: Virgil van Dijk – 7/10 – The one tackle that Van Dijk missed was scrubbed off by VAR fortuitously.
LB: Kostas Tsimikas – 5/10 – Lost out more often than not in the flurry of 50-50 duels which Ayew creates.
CM: Dominik Szoboszlai – 4/10 – Struggled to exert his usual layer of influence over proceedings.
CM: Wataru Endo – 3/10 – Struggled to stem Palace’s surges forward in possession and left the attempts to bypass their hosts’ mid-block to his teammates. Could have few complaints about his half-time removal.
CM: Ryan Gravenberch – 3/10 – Desperate to drive forward but repeatedly cantered into a mass of red and blue.
RW: Mohamed Salah – 6/10 – Spent most of the match in the unfamiliar position of the contest’s fringes until converting Liverpool’s first shot on target as late as the 76th minute.
ST: Darwin Nunez – 3/10 – Sloppily mistimed his runs into the minimal space that Palace afforded behind their backline.
LW: Luis Diaz – 4/10 – Funnelled infield into a throng of Palace players whenever he picked up the ball.
SUB: Joe Gomez (46′ for Endo) – 5/10 – Freed up Alexander-Arnold to stay in midfield.
SUB: Cody Gakpo (57′ for Gravenberch) – 7/10 – Brought a sense of controlled drive to Liverpool’s lacklustre midfield.
SUB: Ibrahima Konate (57′ for Quansah) – 5/10
SUB: Harvey Elliott (74′ for Szoboszlai) – 7/10 – Broke Palace hearts with a crisp finish from the edge of the box.
SUB: Curtis Jones (74′ for Nunez) – 6/10
Subs not used: Caoimhin Kelleher (GK), Conor Bradley, James McConnell, Ben Doak
Jurgen Klopp – 7/10 – Recognised the sluggishness of his side. Klopp’s substitutions injected the energy that hauled Liverpool to a scrappy three points.