Benteke brace sees Crystal Palace come from behind at Anfield
Sam Allardyce on verge of another escape as Liverpool’s top four hopes take big blow
Christian Benteke’s brace saw Crystal Palace come from behind to sink Liverpool at Anfield. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA
The Kop gave Christian Benteke a round of applause when he exited the fray in the 88th minute at Anfield. Sporting in the extreme. The Crystal Palace forward left his former club bruised and battered on his return to Liverpool, scoring twice in a merited win for Sam Allardyce’s side, and may have had the same impact on Jürgen Klopp’s Champions League aspirations.
“You must be sick of us,” the Palace fans chanted after Benteke’s double took the Eagles closer to Premier League safety and left Liverpool at risk of being caught by Manchester United in the race for a top four finish. Palace’s third consecutive league win at Anfield punished a mediocre Liverpool display – one on which a growing injury list took a visible toll – and could have damaging repercussions for Klopp’s remaining target. Dejan Lovren was also forced off after taking an accidental blow to the face from Benteke’s elbow.
It had fallen to Philippe Coutinho to ignite a slow-burning contest with a touch of brilliance, sweeping a free-kick from at least 25 yards over the Palace wall and just inside Wayne Hennessey’s right hand post, although the goalkeeper’s positioning invited trouble in the presence of the gifted Brazilian. It was a foul on Coutinho by Luka Milivojevic that presented Liverpool with the free-kick in a central position. Hennessey stationed himself so far left that he had too much ground to cover when Liverpool’s No10 arched the ball towards the opposite corner. An exquisite strike regardless.
Liverpool had required something special to break a strong Palace side, one that triumphed at Chelsea earlier in the month, and lift their own uncertain start. It was therefore infuriating for Klopp when the home side conceded a cheap but well-worked equaliser just as they appeared to be taking the game under control.
Coutinho was central to Liverpool’s brightest moments. His perfect return ball to James Milner sent the left-back through on the Palace goal and it took an excellent challenge by Jason Puncheon on the edge of the penalty area to halt him. Emre Can then squandered a clear opportunity to double Liverpool’s lead when Milner released Georginio Wijnaldum to the byline and he cut the ball back from the left for his fellow midfielder. Can arrived on cue but his mis-hit shot veered towards the corner flag.
Allardyce’s team had offered little in the final third aside from a mazy run and low shot from Benteke that sailed wide of Simon Mignolet’s left post. Their performance and threat improved considerably once Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend reverted to their natural wings, having started on the right and left respectively, and in Benteke they had a forward with the awareness and motive to capitalise on the nerves that crept into the Liverpool display.
The Belgium international, booked for diving under slight contact from Dejan Lovren inside the area, brought Palace level when the home defence was caught out by a simple clearance down the right flank from Joel Ward. Yohan Cabaye reacted quicker than Lovren to the defender’s ball and steered an inviting first time cross along the face of Mignolet’s goal. The unmarked Benteke found the roof of the net with a controlled finish.
Benteke grabbed his second when Liverpool’s weakness at defending set pieces, corrected to good effect at West Bromwich Albion a week ago, reared its ugly head once more. Townsend’s second-half corner evaded both Roberto Firmino and Puncheon at the near post, sailed behind Joël Matip and in front of the Palace centre-forward, who converted with a diving header.
Anxiety was palpable around Anfield before Benteke struck, with Palace displaying greater composure in possession and Liverpool toiling in attack. James Tomkins blocked a goal-bound shot from Coutinho after the Brazilian had stayed on his feet after a clumsy challenge from Martin Kelly inside the penalty area. Lucas Leiva sliced over and Klopp did all he could to bolster Liverpool’s forward options, but to no avail.