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January would have broken lesser teams, but Liverpool have bossed it

Man City dropping two points at Southampton offered Liverpool the chance to give themselves something tangible to chase at Selhurst Park. They did exactly that.

A faint dream to believe in; a springboard from which to potentially launch themselves. If anyone can do it, Jurgen Klopp’s men can.

This was a very peculiar game of football.

Both teams enjoyed spells where they threatened to blow the other away, while both teams also spent time within a state of defensive panic.

Liverpool made an imperious start yet were on the ropes either side of the interval, and it took a much-disputed penalty to settle a game where Alisson was never likely to concede a second goal, despite Crystal Palace throwing the kitchen sink at him.

It was a set of events that made the resultant inquest over the rights and/or wrongs of the penalty largely academic.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 23, 2022: Liverpool's Fabio Henrique Tavares 'Fabinho' (C) celebrates with team-mates captain Jordan Henderson (L) and Takumi Minamino (R) after scoring the third goal during the FA Premier League match between Crystal Palace FC and Liverpool FC at Selhurst Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Alisson’s defiance, and Crystal Palace’s diminishing threat in the final third during the latter stages, was winning us this game, regardless of Fabinho being handed the ball from 12 yards or not.

That said, to be fair, I’m most certainly losing my shit if that spot-kick is given at our end.

Still, the gift of that penalty was gleefully accepted, and dispatched, by Fabinho, a man who is proving to be quite the expert when put on the spot.

All the beauty was in the diagonal ball played by Trent Alexander-Arnold, however, to send Diogo Jota away on goal. Trent doesn’t have a right foot – when he takes his boot off after the game, he unveils a shiny nine-iron where a foot should be.

Liverpool made a wonderful start to the game, and for 35 minutes they were untouchable, as Palace were not even afforded shadows to chase.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 23, 2022: Liverpool's Curtis Jones during the FA Premier League match between Crystal Palace FC and Liverpool FC at Selhurst Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It is telling just how more intelligent Liverpool’s midfield is when either Curtis Jones or Thiago are in the team.

The angles we find, the imagery we see. It is infinitely more varied when either Jones or Thiago is on the pitch, and it leads to the utter bewilderment of opposing teams, as both players are big fans of producing the unexpected ball as much as they are capable of delivering the unanswerable textbook pass too.

At times, during that opening 35 minutes, Palace were totally disorientated.

They didn’t know where the ball was going to be coming from next, or which player in an ecru shirt was going to flash past them and in which direction.

The hosts were having their formation stretched into all sorts of esoteric shapes, to the point that they were almost as pliable as plasticine. For much of this period of the game, Joel Matip was deployed as a free-roaming, playmaking central defender.

Within this, as Liverpool built up a 2-0 lead that could have been three, had Fabinho kept the ball down when well-placed to score, it was a game that should never have been allowed to develop into the contest it went on to become.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 23, 2022: Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk scores the first goal during the FA Premier League match between Crystal Palace FC and Liverpool FC at Selhurst Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Virgil van Dijk with a thundering header, via a set-piece, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at the back post after a beautifully floated ball from Andy Robertson, it was all too easy.

And within that, if anything was to cause us problems it was going to be our own ambivalence toward how much attention to detail that we needed to apply to the remaining 55 minutes.

Liverpool got sloppy for a stretch of the game, each side of the interval.

Invitingly, misplaced passes from Matip and Bobby Firmino were seized upon by Palace and they altered the tempo of their approach to the game the more of the ball they managed to procure.

It enlivened the residents of Selhurst Park and, riding a succession of perceived injustices, along with the atmosphere, Patrick Vieira’s men manufactured their way back into the reckoning.

Crucial saves were made by the majestic Alisson, and a pantomime ensued as Kevin Friend became the focus of local ire, with the top hat being his VAR deliberations that led to the awarding of the issue-settling penalty.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 23, 2022: Liverpool's goalkeeper Alisson Becker celebrates after the FA Premier League match between Crystal Palace FC and Liverpool FC at Selhurst Park. Liverpool won 3-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Of course, bogeyman theory means that games against Palace will always have that unsettling ambiguity to them, where anything is deemed to be possible and nightmares of traumas past will prod the psyche. Yet, the home side had run out of attacking ideas and spirit after Alisson pawed away that attempted lob by Michael Olise.

The one goal that Palace did grab back was one borne of carelessness, as were the vast majority of the opportunities that fell their way.

Despite grumblings from some that Firmino should have been adjudged offside during the buildup to our second goal, Osdonne Edouard benefitted from being in an offside position during the buildup to his strike.

He was ahead of the last line in the first movement, but not the second, which in contemporary grey areas of the offside rule, means he’s onside.

Bill Shankly used to insist that if a player is on the pitch, then how are they not interfering with play? If Sunday’s game had taken place in 1972/73, then it probably ends in a 1-0 win for Liverpool.

Three critically acclaimed points gained.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 23, 2022: Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk celebrates after the FA Premier League match between Crystal Palace FC and Liverpool FC at Selhurst Park. Liverpool won 3-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The gap to City might ultimately prove to be too big, come May, but if we do turn this around then we will look back on this one as being the footballing equivalent of putting a winter coat on for the first time in months and finding a tenner in the pocket.

Into the winter break we go now, with some big figures to return the other side of it.

January would have broken lesser teams, but Liverpool have bossed it. There is still much to play for in the Premier League, but it is up to Klopp’s side to be faultless in the games ahead if they are to stress test Pep Guardiola and his team.

We have a foot in the door.

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