LONDON -- Three points from Liverpool's 4-2 victory over Crystal Palace in the Premier League at Selhurst Park.
1. Liverpool win end-to-end thriller
A 4-2 away victory sounds relatively convincing, but ultimately this was such a topsy-turvy, end-to-end thriller that it was impossible to be assured Liverpool would win until the very final minutes. For much of the second half, Liverpool were 3-2 ahead, but Palace piled on the pressure, and the home side had a very good penalty appeal when Christian Benteke was clattered by Joel Matip. At 3-3, it could have been anyone's game.
Realistically, this match featured so many goals primarily because of disastrous defending at both ends. Crystal Palace couldn't defend corners, which is typically Liverpool's problem. Instead, the Reds encountered issues in open play, with both Matip and Dejan Lovren making unnecessary errors.
The Premier League markets itself as the most entertaining and exciting league, and this felt like a stereotypical English top-flight contest. From the outset the pace was frenetic, with Liverpool pressing high up the pitch and Palace often attempting to bypass the pressure with longer balls to Benteke, who was relatively anonymous against his former side. The technical midfield players weren't particularly involved; Crystal Palace's Yohan Cabaye was harried quickly while Adam Lallana, often Liverpool's key player this season, found Coutinho and Roberto Firmino were dominating and played a back-seat role.
The game's sixth and final goal was the highlight. Jordan Henderson, revelling in his relatively new position at the base of a midfield trio, played a wonderful through-ball to Firmino. The Brazilian is typified by his tendency to move towards play, but here demonstrated a clean set of heels as he sprinted in behind, looked up to find Steve Mandanda advancing and coolly dinked the ball over the goalkeeper to seal Liverpool's win. It was a textbook goal at the end of a scrappy, if unquestionably entertaining, typical Premier League game.
2. Reds good in possession, poor in defence
This match perfectly encapsulated Liverpool's strengths and weaknesses, and was best summarised by the presence of left-back Alberto Moreno. The forced use of the Spaniard, in for the ill James Milner, caused inevitable defensive problems, but also worked excellently when Liverpool had possession -- which was most of the time. Moreno hit the outside of the post with a fine strike, but also looked vulnerable defensively.
Moreno's insistence on bombing forward at every opportunity meant Coutinho had more license to drift inside into the deeper midfield positions -- where he often appears more comfortable -- without the Reds losing width down the left. Indeed, throughout the game Liverpool were particularly impressive with the way they alternated positions without losing their shape, and the first goal was a perfect example.
Coutinho moved inside into a conventional central midfield role, but in response Moreno bombed forward on the outside and central midfielder Emre Can stormed into the box. Sure enough, Coutinho looked up and chipped a clever pass to the left for Moreno, who calmly played a volleyed side-footed ball back to Can to convert into the far corner impressively.
That was a microcosm of Liverpool's attack. On the other flank, Sadio Mane sprinted from the right flank into centre-forward positions, but his right-sided zone was always covered by Nathaniel Clyne, moving forward from full-back, or Lallana making runs to the outside from an advanced midfield role. Palace, who defended in a 4-5-1 system, found themselves pulled out of position.
But Liverpool cannot win the Premier League defending like this. Their first concession was comedic, with centre-back Matip playing a sideways pass to partner Dejan Lovren, who spooned the ball up invitingly for James McArthur to head easily over the advancing goalkeeper Loris Karius. It was a goal out of nothing.
Bizarrely, Palace's second goal was also a McArthur header, this time from a more conventional assist -- Wilfried Zaha crossing, having found space on the outside of Moreno, who was considerably less comfortable inside his own box. Liverpool's centre-backs, meanwhile, seemed too concerned with the more obvious goal-scoring threat of Benteke to notice McArthur. Liverpool's style provides tremendous entertainment, but potential title-winners should offer more control than this.
3. Palace concede cheap goals at set pieces
It seems particularly miserable to witness a game featuring so many goals and concentrate solely upon poor defending, but two of Liverpool's goals were the simplest imaginable, with both centre-backs, Lovren and Matip, atoning for their poor defending with thumping headers. Lovren nodded in a left-wing corner and Matip converted another from the right.
The second goal in particular was extraordinary; Palace were deploying a man-marking system, but their players seemed entirely confused about who was supposed to be tracking Matip. The correct answer was Tomkins, who had been caught on the wrong side of an opponent and ended up five yards away from Matip as he headed home.
Man-marking versus zonal defence is one of football's most tired debates, but it's notable that when the former fails, the system itself is never questioned. Part of the reason so many managers favour man-marking is that it's easy to point the finger at a player and absolve yourself of responsibility. If a zonal system is beaten, it's inevitably that the manager receives criticism, as Rafael Benitez discovered during his time at Liverpool, when the club actually had a perfectly good defensive record and weren't particularly vulnerable at set pieces. It simply looked bad when there was the odd concession, and Benitez got the blame.
Whatever the system, Palace need to sort out their defending at corners. This isn't a particularly short side, and they boast the obvious aerial power of Benteke -- one of the Premier League's best headers. In an era where sides are playing centre-forwards like Firmino, Alexis Sanchez and Sergio Aguero, that aerial quality shouldn't be underestimated.
Underdogs like Palace should be looking to maximise their attacking set-piece opportunities against a technical side like Liverpool, not losing games because of their inability to defend them.