Goals from Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino saw Liverpool maintain their 8 point lead at the top of the Premier League table with a 2-1 win away to Crystal Palace.
In a performance of professionalism rather than poetry, Firmin0 — after Mané had given the lead and Christian Benteke equalised — gave the table toppers yet another late win with a goal scored with just 8 minutes remaining.
With Mohamed Salah on the bench and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain starting in his place, the European Champions — as is typical in the first game back after an international break — started sluggishly, with both of their full backs, so often the source of creativity, looking laboured.
A misfired Alexander Arnold clearance ended up becoming a through ball for Palace. Townsend, collecting the shank, found Kouyate and his cross was narrowly stabbed wide by Jordan Ayew.
Liverpool came close themselves moments later. A trademark clipped Fabinho pass found the arching run of Sadio Mané inside the box. The Senegalese wingers touch was slightly too heavy, however, and Guaita — quick off his line — smothered the opportunity.
The Reds were struggling to make any attacking inroads, with the midfield shying from offering an option between the lines and all attacking impetus delegated to the full backs.
Palace thought they had taken the lead on the cusp of half time. Softly, Wilfried Zaha went down from a challenge Alexander Arnold should have never made. From the resultant free kick, James Tomkins nodded in. From the VAR review, however, Ayew clearly pushed Dejan Lovren in the box and the goal was correctly ruled out.
The half time whistle blew at 0-0, with the hosts the much happier of the teams.
Liverpool started the second half better and their midfield began to assert themselves.
Jordan Henderson’s through ball released Mané through the heart of the Palace defence, but rapid former Southampton man dragged his shot wide of the right hand post.
Mané made the most of his next opportunity, however, just a few moments later.
Robertson’s clipped cross, aimed at Firmino, fell nicely in the box and the Senegal winger brilliantly improvised to stab past Guaita to give the visitors the lead.
Roy Hodgson’s home team, with Zaha a particular outball, pressed for an equaliser but couldn’t manufacture any good chances with Van Dijk and Lovren solid.
There was far more incision to Liverpool’s play as the match wore on and Firmino ought to have made it 2-0 on the hour. A neat move involving Robertson prized open the Palace defence and the Brazilian found himself clean through. Bearing down on goal, the number 9 opted for a toe poked finish and Guaita pushed it wide.
1-0 is a scoreline fraught with danger and the Eagles were always in the game with the score so tight. Jeffrey Schlupp forced a save from Alisson with a shot from distance and, another sub, Christian Benteke, came close with an acrobatic volley that went side of the right hand post.
Encouraged by their near misses, the hosts snatched an equaliser with 8 minutes remaining.
Benteke’s run from the left saw the Belgian square across goal and the panic in the Liverpool box was taken advantage of by Zaha who finished low into the bottom left corner. On balance, it was a deserved leveller for the home team but there would be a sting in the tail.
As is customary this season, Liverpool scored late. An Alexander Arnold corner caused a milieu in the Palace box and, after several attempted clearances, the ball broke to Firmino who poked home from 6 yards.
There was late pressure to contend with as the home team threw caution to the wind. Andros Townsend’s cross from a second phase off a corner found Zaha. Unmarked and with time in the box, the Ivorian blazed an excellent opportunity over the bar.
Committing men forward, Palace were exposed on the break and Georginio Wijnaldum should have scored when Mané slipped him in but his shot was tame.
It was the last chance of the game as Liverpool held on the the win in a game where the result was better than the performance.
Liverpool team: Alisson; Alexander Arnold, Lovren, van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Mané, Firmino, Oxlade Chamberlain.
Substitutions: Milner for Henderson, Gomez for Firmino, Origi for Oxlade Chamberlain.
Subs not used: Adrian, Keita, Lallana, Salah.