Jurgen Klopp knows his audience.
At the end of a frenetic afternoon after an embrace for each one of his valiant players, there was the manager, almost alone in front of the Kop punching the air repeatedly to the roars of an adoring crowd. If Klopp has exhibited quiet, pragmatic cool in front of the cameras when quizzed on Liverpool’s title prospects, he saves his alter ego and demonic expression of delight for the supporters.
Just when it seemed the Reds had mastered the art of controlling football matches with a vice-like grip they reacquainted themselves with living on the edge, putting themselves and the Anfield populace through the mill. If Liverpool are to ultimately prevail in this nerve-shredding quest, for all their new-found solidity they will take heart from emerging with three points when the chaos of last season returned.
Roy Hodgson will be kicking himself. At the scene of his darkest hours, with the sarcasm of the Kop’s famous “Hodgson for England” chants no doubt still ringing in his ears, his Crystal Palace team promised him a dose of redemption before succumbing to a Liverpool side which prevailed through a combination of iron will and good old fashioned luck. In a display of machismo, Hodgson had stood throughout, dwarfed by the figure of Klopp just yards away, until the final moments when his animated persona gave way to a crestfallen slump.
Huge cheer at Old Trafford as Liverpool 0 Crystal Palace 1 is read out at half-time
— Simon Peach (@SimonPeach) January 19, 2019
Nothing we saw in the opening half-hour hinted at the drama to come. Palace certainly looked the part in a classic white away strip decorated with a red and blue diagonal sash but their attractive attire was out of kilter with their approach; a regimented back four behind a disciplined line of five in midfield and a lone striker in Jordan Ayew. Their goal after half an hour of Liverpool probing came as a bolt from the blue; the warp speed of Wilfried Zaha skinning James Milner and from his cross, Andros Townsend’s emphatic slot home the rudest of awakenings for the crowd.
At half-time, with Liverpool still trailing, the excruciating tension was etched on every single face.
This football lark can be serious business at times, conversation between friends veering from the ongoing woes of Naby Keita to the merits of Jordan Henderson to why the patrons of the Main Stand have to howl with derision at every misplaced pass. Pessimism comes from longing and even the enduringly optimistic are riddled with nagging doubt.
But the Gods are smiling on Liverpool. When Jordan Pickford handed the Reds a derby victory back in November his epic fumble acted as a kind of exorcism and since then the bounce of the ball at the Kop end is reassuringly sympathetic. So it proved again here; another Virgil Van Dijk pot shot ballooning into the air off a defender and into the path of Mohammed Salah for the Egyptian to steer in with an improvised flick of the right boot.
Suddenly the Reds are rampant as the crowd bay for Palace blood. Roberto Firmino’s half-hit shot clips a trailing heel and swerves in a vicious arc inside the corner of the net to send the Kop into a frenzied dance of delight. Old men are singing like larks, making light of shins lacerated by plastic seats which serve no purpose other than to guide you back into your allotted place.
The famous old terrace, robbed of its former swaying glory, is doing its utmost to recreate the din of yesteryear and provide the backdrop to a Liverpool title for a new generation.
Then Palace equalise; for once Liverpool unable to deal with a corner and an unchallenged header from James Tomkins planted firmly into the net at the Anfield Road End. The spectre of dropped points again haunts the gathered throng but only for ten anxious minutes until another goalkeeping travesty provides hilarity and relief in equal measure. Julian Speroni, pushing 40 and playing for the first time in over a year, parries Milner’s cross on the stretch back towards his own net and is only spared the ignominy of an own goal by Salah’s touch over the line.
The final few minutes are a blur of activity; first Milner exiting proceedings after a second yellow card and Palace infused with hope anew. The sight of Firmino mucking in at right back only serves to ramp up the tension in added time; it’s all hands to the pumps until Sadio Mane scores on the break to relieve the strain.
Somehow, Liverpool contrive to concede again with what seems like the last kick but still there’s no end to the torture as the referee appears to have lost his watch. It’s breathless, unforgiving agony for all and sundry until that final shriek of the whistle brings peace. Klopp’s riotous celebration in front of the Kop tells its story; his wild eyes are set firmly on the prize and he needs every one of us crazed with the same desire.
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