Premier League

Mo Salah earns Liverpool victory as Sadio Mané courts controversy

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Mo Salah earns Liverpool victory as Sadio Mané courts controversy” was written by Sachin Nakrani at Selhurst Park, for The Observer on Saturday 31st March 2018 13.43 UTC

It was a frantic and contentious contest and ultimately one of huge satisfaction for Liverpool as they recovered from going 1-0 down to secure a victory that shores up their place in the Premier League top four and provides ideal preparation ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League contest with Manchester City.

To nobody’s great surprise, it was Mohamed Salah who struck Liverpool’s later winner, a calm and precise finish from Andy Robertson’s cross on 84 minutes that took the Egyptian’s tally to 39 goals in what continues to be a remarkable debut season. In the broader sense for the visitors, this triumph displayed their capacity to carve out a win even when they are not playing well, which was the case here, and will only deepen Crystal Palace’s sense of regret after they had taken the lead through Luka Milivojevic’s 13 minute penalty.

The hosts had further chances to score and will also reflect on the moment in the second half when Sadio Mané should have been sent-off for two bookable offences. It was the Senegal striker who had equalised for Jürgen Klopp’s side shortly after half-time and for the German’s counterpart, Roy Hodgson, an afternoon against the club he briefly managed will not be one he looks back on with any fondness. His side remain in relegation trouble with six games to go.

Injuries forced Hodgson and Klopp to both makes two changes to their respective line-ups, yet ultimately there was overriding relief for the former given Wilfried Zaha was deemed fit enough to start having struggled with a knee complaint in the build-up to this contest.

Back in his familiar wide-left role, the 25-year-old terrorised Liverpool’s defence, and Trent Alexander-Arnold in particular. Zaha got the better of the right-back – who was playing due to the injury Joe Gomez collected in England’s 1-0 win against the Netherlands – as early as the eight minute and would have scored were it not for an excellent block by Loris Karius.

The Liverpool goalkeeper undid his good work soon after, however, when he charged forward and wiped out Zaha as he ran onto Christian Benteke’s flick on. The referee, Neil Swarbrick, pointed to the spot and Milivojevic did the rest, drilling a low shot into the corner of the net for his ninth goal of the season.

Just prior to that, Mané almost scored for Liverpool with a close-range header and the Senegal forward thought he had contributed to the visitors getting back into this game on 23 minutes when he went down under a challenge inside the area from James McArthur. Swarbrick paused and appeared set to award another penalty only to instead book Mané for simulation. That initially seemed the wrong call before replays showed the player had fallen to the turf under minimum contact.

Liverpool continued to dominate possession and territory but their approach play was disjointed and sloppy, no more so than in midfield. Salah did test Wayne Hennessey twice in close succession before Mané forced the goalkeeper into an impressive dive before half-time. Overall, however, one of the most thrilling teams in Europe looked a shadow of their usual selves.

Sadio Mané celebrates equalising for Liverpool
Sadio Mané celebrates equalising for Liverpool. Already on a booking for diving, he could later have been sent off for handling the ball. Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

Yet four minutes after the interval, Liverpool were level. Patient build-up play eventually resulted in James Milner sweeping a left-sided cross into the area from which Mané scored with a side-footed finish. It was the forward’s 15th goal of the season and not the last time he would play a prominent role in proceedings.

Less than 20 minutes later came the moment the 25-year-old was lucky not to see red after falling to the ground under minimal contact from Andros Townsend just outside Liverpool’s area. As he hit the deck, Mané grabbed the ball in expectation of being given a free-kick; instead, Swarbrick awarded Palace the set-piece for handball. His next move should have been to show Mané a second yellow card, something the home spectators and players were demanding. But it did not come and neither did Palace score from the free-kick after Karius kept out Patrick van Aanholt’s curling effort with an excellent reaction stop.

Prior to that Benteke had failed to score against his former side with two hugely presentable chances and while a source of huge frustration for the majority of attendance here, it did sum up Palace’s encouraging response to conceding. They were positive, aggressive and on the front foot.

In contrast, Liverpool look rattled, forcing Klopp into a double substitution. Mané was taken off and replaced by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, with Adam Lallana coming on for Georginio Wijnaldum. Lallana lasted for only six minutes, however, after hurting himself in a collision with Milivojevic, forcing Klopp into a third change on 70 minutes. Dejan Lovren came on and the visitors shifted to a 3-5-2 formation. Soon after they were ahead.

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