Crystal Palace and Liverpool denied Steven Gerrard of a Hollywood-style send-off from Anfield.
Liverpool lost to Crystal Palace 3-1 in the Premier League on Saturday. Not even the immense occasion that was the last home game of Gerrard’s Liverpool career could help the Reds arrest their late-season slide.
Gerrard will leave the only club he has ever represented in a few weeks’ time, and the remaining players, coaches and fans must pull themselves out of the doldrums without their inspirational captain.
Liverpool dominated possession and territory in the first half hour but struggled to break down Crystal Palace in the final third of the field. Nevertheless, Adam Lallana gave Liverpool a lead in the 26th minute when he pounced on former Red Martin Kelly’s wayward pass, held off Scott Dann and scored an excellent solo goal. The Reds weren’t flying against the Eagles, but they still set the stage for a winning Anfield parting gift for Gerrard.
However, Crystal Palace began to improve immediately after Lallana scored, and Liverpool’s performance started to simultaneously erode. The visitors pressed harder and counter-attacked quicker, while nervousness and indecision overtook the hosts. Jason Puncheon’s superb 43rd-minute free kick tied the game for Crystal Palace and brought the cold reality of Premier League soccer to light on a day that should have belonged to the soccer world’s romantics and dreamers.
Liverpool fans were expecting the Reds to respond furiously in the second half. Midfielders Jordon Ibe and Jordan Henderson had Liverpool’s best scoring chances early in the period, but their efforts were off target. The Reds’ attacking futility brought further attention to Liverpool’s ongoing goal-scoring woes.
The Reds were too predictable with the ball, and their passing too slow. Crystal Palace effectively blockaded the middle of the field, forcing Liverpool to launch attacks from wide areas instead of in the middle, where creators Lallana, Henderson, Gerrard and Philippe Coutinho do their best work in unlocking opposing defenses.
Liverpool famously has struggled to contain Crystal Palace and its speedy wingers over the last year, and the trend continued, as Puncheon, Yannick Bolasie and substitute Wilfried Zaha wreaked havoc on the Reds’ back line. The latter two combined to score the game-winning goal in the 60th minute, with Zaha tapping home Bolasie’s cross with his first touch of the game.
Lucas Leiva’s introduction didn’t secure Liverpool’s struggling defense, and the physicality and exuberance of fellow substitutes Rickie Lambert and Jordan Sinclair didn’t stop the Eagles from soaring at Anfield. Manager Brendan Rodgers tried in vain to overturn the deficit, but the available options aren’t fitting solutions to his team’s deep problems.
Zaha won a penalty kick in second-half stoppage time, and Glenn Murray sealed the result when he scored the rebound after the now-dependable Simon Mignolet had saved his penalty kick.
Replays showed both goals shouldn’t have come when they did. Zaha was a step offside when he scored, and Lucas fouled him outside of Liverpool’s penalty area later on. Crystal Palace might have scored anyway given its and Liverpool’s respective performances.
Liverpool played well enough for a result against Crystal Palace in an alternate world in which Gerrard scores a go-ahead goal, departs to a thunderous ovation and watches his teammates manage the end of the game. But this is the real world. Gerrard played all 90 minutes, trying in vain to put smiles on the faces of fans, who have given him so much over the last 17-plus years.
Liverpool should have clinched fifth place in the standings by now, but its position is under threat heading into the last game of the season and Gerrard’s Premier League career. Liverpool now can finish as low as seventh in season, which has gone from bad to better and back again.
Thumbnail photo via Liverpoolfc.com