Liverpool woke up in dreamland but found itself locked inside a house of horrors when it was time for bed Sunday.
Liverpool suffered a 3-1 loss to Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, dashing hopes that the Reds had pressed the reset button on a difficult season and were ready to kick-start a winning run following the international break.
Sunday’s loss extended the Reds’ losing streak to three Premier League games (four in all competitions) and leaves manager Brendan Rodgers searching for answers amid increasing scrutiny and pressure.
Liverpool enjoyed a dream start, as Rickie Lambert scored 89 seconds into the contest. The goal was Lambert’s first for Liverpool, and his teammates mobbed him in celebration. Lambert, a boyhood Liverpool fan, joined his favorite club from Southampton in July but hadn’t scored in the intervening six months.
It looked like Liverpool finally had returned to its fast-starting ways, but this early strike proved to be a false-start. Crystal Palace stuck to its game-plan, ceding possession to Liverpool and looking to strike on the counter-attack. The hosts claimed their reward 15 minutes after Lambert’s goal when winger Yannick Bolasie burst through Liverpool’s midfield and shot off the post. Dwight Gayle arrived at the rebound first and beat goalkeeper Simon Mignolet with his follow-up effort.
Gayle’s goal ended Liverpool’s revival, leaving the Reds to proceed through the game in a similar vein as they have done for the better part of the last three months — namely at a level that Rodgers admits simply isn’t good enough.
Liverpool controlled the ball and territory for much of the game but did little with either advantage. The Reds dominated the ball but did little with it. Lambert’s goal was the result of their one shot on target.
Meanwhile, the vocal and energetic crowd willed Crystal Palace to constant improvement over the course of 90 minutes. The Eagles looked increasingly dangerous with each counter-attack and less likely to concede with each successive Liverpool foray they repelled.
Crystal Palace was on the rise when Joe Ledley side-footed Bolasie’s cross past Mignolet in the 78th minute. Mile Jedinak confirmed the result with a superb free kick three minutes later.
Liverpool’s improbable title charge of 2013-14 ended in May with a draw at Selhurst Park. Sunday’s defeat is an apt marker for how far the Reds have dropped in the intervening months. For the third-straight game, Liverpool was second-best technically, tactically, physically and, most disturbing, mentally.
Liverpool now is off to its slowest start since 1992-93, having earned 14 points from their first 12 games. Its goal-scoring and goal-preventing struggles continue, and the players clearly are suffering from a confidence crisis.
Rodgers assumed responsibility for Sunday’s loss and the ongoing barren run. It also is up to him to find solutions to his team’s problems, as the calendar continues to turn at an unforgiving pace.
Photo by Matt Dunham/The Associated Press