Christian Benteke came back to haunt his former club as Crystal Palace beat Liverpool at Anfield to take a giant stride towards Premier League survival and dent their opponents’ top-four aspirations.
Benteke scored in either half as Sam Allardyce’s Eagles mounted a brilliant fightback after Liverpool took the lead through Philippe Coutinho’s fine free-kick.
Liverpool sold Benteke to Palace last summer for £5m less than they paid for the Belgium striker a year earlier, but it was his burly presence in the final third that proved the difference in an entertaining contest.
His first was a well-taken strike high into the net from Yohan Cabaye’s low cross, his second a poacher’s header from six yards after some lax Liverpool defending at a corner.
Palace – who also earned a brilliant win at leaders Chelsea on 1 April – have won six of their last eight league games to move on to 38 points, seven clear of danger and are all but assured of another season of top-flight football.
They have now triumphed on their last three league visits to Anfield – the first team to achieve that feat since Chelsea in October 2005.
Jurgen Klopp’s Reds stay in third place, but they have played two games more than both Manchester City in fourth place and fifth-placed Manchester United, who are two and three points back respectively.
Laboured Liverpool lack cutting edge
On a day when one of their former players put on a striking masterclass, Liverpool’s shortcomings in front of goal will be acutely felt.
Klopp’s side racked up 72% possession, but just one shot on target in more than 90 minutes of play was scant return on that perceived dominance.
Coutinho’s brilliant 30-yard strike aside, Wayne Hennessey in the Palace goal had few scares, with the players in front of him performing superbly, particularly when they were called on to crowd out Coutinho when the Brazilian threatened to weave a path to goal in the second half.
A woeful mis-hit by Emre Can after good approach work by James Milner and Roberto Firmino summed up Liverpool’s performance in the final third, and their manager conceded they had been guilty of failing to make the most of their possession.
“We dominated the game,” Klopp said. “You have to be ready for the one moment. In the second half we had a really good period when everything was OK apart from the goal.
“We did a lot of good things but we could not finalise it. That’s the most important thing in football.”
Eagles soaring to safety
To say Anfield has become a happy hunting ground for Palace in recent years would be something of an understatement.
Palace were famously thumped 9-0 in the league there in 1989, but those days are now long gone, with the club from south-east London enjoying a sequence of three straight wins at the famous old ground.
They spoiled Steven Gerrard’s Liverpool farewell with their first win in 2015, while the following season they inflicted a first defeat for Klopp in his seventh game at the helm.
This latest win was perhaps in part down to the confidence gleaned from those performances, as well as a superb run of form during April that also brought a one-sided win over Arsenal at Selhurst Park.
Palace had just seven shots on goal and three on target – but that was all they needed.
What chances they created were far more clear-cut than those of their opponents, and in Benteke they had the perfect target man to finish off the job.
Crystal Palace’s Christian Benteke was declared Man of the match