Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp says it is too early to think about his side catching Premier League leaders Manchester City despite cutting the gap by mixing early class with late resilience to hold off Crystal Palace.
A day after City dropped points for the first time since October, Klopp’s side were sharp and ruthless early on to take the game away from Palace at Selhurst Park.
However Liverpool laboured in the second half and Klopp said his side showed how “insanely good we can be and how bad as well”, as a controversial late penalty was needed to make the win safe.
The German’s side are nine points behind City but have a game in hand on Pep Guardiola’s team and face them in the league at Etihad Stadium in April.
Klopp said it was a “massive” three points but when asked if his side sent a title statement to City, he told BBC Sport: “No. The distance is too far to talk about it but we don’t have to. We just need to win football matches. We will see what happens in the final few months.”
‘We lost control’ – Klopp
The intensity of Liverpool’s press and crisp use of the ball overwhelmed Palace early on and Virgil van Dijk rose to deliver a bullet header for their opener before Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain finished a sweeping team move for their second.
Palace, though, eventually offered moments of threat, with Liverpool keeper Alisson forced to save well from Michael Olise and Jean-Philippe Mateta before Conor Gallagher glanced a header wide from at the start of the second half.
They finally broke through when the ever-willing Mateta raced onto Jeffrey Schlupp’s superb through ball and unselfishly squared for Odsonne Edouard to tap into an empty net.
“For 35 minutes we were outstanding,” Klopp added.
“We looked really sharp and ready to play in small spaces then two or three sloppy passes and the stadium is back, Palace is back and we did not start well in the second half.
“We had our moments but we did not control it any more. If you lose a little bit of focus it showed how tired we could be as Palace played a really good game. We opened the door for them and they ran through.”
Fabinho’s 89th-minute penalty settled any Liverpool nerves and arrived after referee Kevin Friend was told by the VAR to check the pitch side monitor in order to reconsider his initial decision not to award a foul when Diogo Jota was brought down Vicente Guaita.
Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker said the decision was not a penalty “in a million years” but it helped secure victory for Klopp’s side, who have taken maximum league points from the fixtures missed by Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane while they play in the Africa Cup of Nations.
Liverpool dig in as Palace rally
Much was made of how Klopp’s side would handle the loss of Mane, Salah and Naby Keita, who will be available again for the visit of Leicester on 10 February. In their absence the Reds have marginally improved their hopes of challenging for the title.
Fans of a red persuasion will hope this tight victory coupled with the end of City’s 12-game winning run leads to a momentum shift for the sides.
While Klopp may downplay hopes of landing the title, the way his players set about their early business pointed to a belief that a fight back remains a possibility.
They swarmed Palace to win the ball back seven times in the final third in the opening 30 minutes and had played over double the number of passes compared to their hosts in the same period.
Midfielder Curtis Jones again showed poise throughout as he used the ball smartly in the final third – where he was more accurate than any Reds’ player – and Andrew Robertson provided sublime crosses for both Van Dijk and Oxlade-Chamberlain to find the net.
But for all their early brilliance Liverpool found themselves on the end of a marked momentum shift towards half time.
Their 11 first-half shots fell to as few as four after the break as Palace began to find a footing and Alisson’s saves kept the home side out until Edouard struck to reward them for their industry.
Olise, signed from Reading in the summer, looks poised to prove a key force for Patrick Vieira.
The 20-year-old created two chances and looked lively in advanced areas throughout, notably when he almost levelled with a deft lob late on.
Vieira and Palace were aggrieved at key moments in the defeat. There was a suggestion Roberto Firmino was offside in the build-up to Oxlade-Chamberlain’s goal and the penalty award for Jota was controversial.
Vieira’s side have just one win from their last six outings and enter the winter break on 24 points from 22 games – five fewer than they had under Roy Hodgson after as many fixtures last season.
They will hope to add results to promising performances like this one, while Liverpool know they must keep churning out wins like this if they are to stand any chance of reeling in league leaders City.