The Number One Exception
Say you didn’t know anything walking into this game except that Palace had beaten Manchester City 2-0, in an away tie no less, earlier this season. Then you would watch the first half and wonder just how much a freak result that must have been. Palace looked completely overwhelmed by Liverpool in that half, all over the pitch – with one notable exception, to which we will get in a moment. But say you missed that first half, and only tuned in for the second. Then it would all click in. Palace looked extremely dangerous throughout, and could be argued to have simply been unlucky – except for that exception to which, again, we will get in a moment.
Playing at Selhurst Park, the Eagles can pose a serious challenge to any team, and they almost came back today and likely would have, if not for that one notable exception.
The exception is called Alisson Becker, and I have to start with him. Not only was the Liverpool number one the obvious man-of-the-match, what he did today to frustrate the opposition was downright epic. See, even in the first half, Palace managed to get themselves into the sorts of situations that usually end up only one way, with the ball in the back of the net. Yet somehow, every single time, the Brazilian’s impossible reflexes had him save one shot after another. There was one where, I think it was Mateta, broke clear out on the right, went past Alisson, and shot clear at goal. The ball never got there, instead bouncing a couple of times across the goal and out. It initially seemed like an incredibly poor effort, but Kevin Friend awarded a corner. Now, you would have assumed it was Matip who touched the ball as it went out, but as I watched the replays carefully I realized, no, it was Alisson again. Looking carefully, one sees that Mateta was actually on target, but the Liverpool number one somehow still managed to get his body down quickly enough to touch the ball and take the sting out of the shot. It was a slight touch, for sure, but Alisson had no business getting to it at all, yet somehow he did.
An impressive reflex save, but what was even more impressive was that it was one of four or five of them in this game – including a rather awkward one coming from Robbo.
The Reds at least made sure to put three past Guaita, so the end result was as hoped for. Trent and Robbo provided assists as per normal, but with the missing Mane and Salah away at Afcon, the scoreline featured Van Dijk (what a great header), Ox (a fantastic finish, worthy of Salah), and Fabinho (who took the VAR penalty very well in Salah’s absence). Jota won a penalty for that last goal in a critical moment; if anything, that rather soft penalty illustrated his presence of mind, as it completely took the wind out of the hosts’ sails.
I know they don’t do this anymore, but I daresay Jota should get an assist for winning it.
The most important aspect of this win is, of course, narrowing down of the gap to City. With one more game in hand, Liverpool can bring it down to six points, with a game to still play at the Etihad in April. If the Reds can win there – and that’s a big if, of course – then the title race is very much still on.
Hang on to your hats.