Liverpool’s title dreams coming into crystal clear focus
Jürgen Klopp’s side reduced to 10 men but hold off dangerous Roy Hodgson team 4-3
Liverpool’s manager Jürgen Klopp celebrates with Liverpool’s English midfielder Jordan Henderson on the pitch after Liverpool’s 4-3 defeat over Crystal Palace at Anfield on Saturday. Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images
Mention the title to Jürgen Klopp and he tends to go into meltdown, but there are days and there are games when a 29-year-old dream sharpens into focus.
Liverpool endured and enjoyed one of those days against Crystal Palace when their manager’s fist-pumping celebrations resurfaced long after he left the Anfield pitch to reinforce the point he is understandably averse to say. The countdown is under way.
Liverpool did not perform like title favourites against Roy Hodgson’s dangerous side, who scored as many goals as 10 previous visiting teams to Anfield combined this season yet departed ruing their lack of points, fortune and goalkeeping options. The nature of Liverpool’s 19th victory in 23 league outings, a truly outstanding return, will not have been lost on Pep Guardiola, however. The single-minded pursuit of three more invaluable points, the breaks and the composure shown at 0-1 and 2-2 were not lost on Klopp either.
“I don’t know how many ways there are to win a football game but we had pretty much a few of them already,” the Liverpool manager said. “I know we are a really good football team but that is not enough. It is really not enough to be a good or a fantastic or even a world-class football team because we are playing in a competition with a couple of world-class football teams and hundreds of fantastic football teams. We have to make sure that we just fight in each game like it’s the last game and the boys did that. I’m completely fine with 4-3.”
Eking out victory
Klopp’s team are in the phase of eking out victory by any means necessary and demonstrated again on Saturday how adept they are at it. Liverpool were reduced to 10 men in the 89th minute when James Milner was dismissed for a second bookable offence on his tormentor-in-chief, Wilfried Zaha. Makeshifts for the makeshift right-back arrived in the unlikely forms of Xherdan Shaqiri and Roberto Firmino, the latter eventually getting the job and an ear-bashing from Klopp for instinctively joining an attack at 3-2.
“We had to react pretty quick and Bobby was a centre-half when he started playing, I remembered that at least, but of course it’s difficult,” his manager explained.
I told Camacho immediately after the game that he’d already made the most important challenge of his life
“We had to defend Zaha with two or three players anyway, and Bobby is a very smart player. In the moment when he was involved in the counterattack I thought, ‘my God,’ but that’s what happens with a lack of oxygen, you do things you wouldn’t normally do, but that’s his desire and I loved that.”
Rafa Camacho, an 18-year-old winger by trade, finished the game as Liverpool’s right-back. The teenager rewarded Klopp’s decision to reject a loan offer from Sporting Lisbon for his services this month with a perfectly executed tackle on Zaha inside the area in the final second. Asked for his thoughts on Camacho’s contribution, Klopp punched the air in celebration, having done likewise in front of the Kop following the final whistle. “I told him immediately after the game that he’d already made the most important challenge of his life,” the manager said.
Fortune favoured Liverpool with their first two goals, deflections aiding Mohamed Salah’s improvised equaliser and Firmino’s finish; a dreadful mistake by Julián Speroni, the stand-in keeper, gave Liverpool the third, and Palace claims for handball by Andy Robertson in the build-up to Sadio Mané’s fourth were ignored by the referee, Jon Moss.
Klopp will take advantage of an 11-day break before Liverpool’s next game by taking his squad to a warm-weather training camp in Dubai. His options at right-back are unlikely to improve against Leicester, with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez injured, Milner suspended and Fabinho damaging his hamstring against Palace. Klopp is not expected to seek reinforcements for what he hopes will be a one-game problem.
The Liverpool manager admitted: “I can imagine what people think about this situation but you have to make decisions in moments when decisions are on the table. That’s why Clyney [Nathaniel Clyne] is not here any more. In that moment we had plenty of options and now we don’t have them. Trent got an injury and it’s serious but not that serious. He will be back early but I don’t know if early enough for the next game. Maybe the game after.
“Tell me a player who can play right-back and other positions as well better than our boys like Rafa can do. By the way, after training Ki-Jana [Hoever] has a little injury as well, and he’s probably back for the Leicester game, but these things happen. Crystal Palace, of course, had three goalkeepers and all is fine and then the next moment you stand there with one. We have to use the resources we have already and that is what we try.”