Liverpool suffer huge blow to title hopes after Eberechi Eze gives Palace win

<span><a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Eberechi Eze;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Eberechi Eze</a> scores the only goal of the game to give <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Crystal Palace;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Crystal Palace</a> a 1-0 win over <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Liverpool;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Liverpool</a> at Anfield.</span><span>Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images</span>

The reaction to the final whistle painted the picture of a hugely damaging week for Liverpool. Jürgen Klopp congratulated Oliver Glasner on a Crystal Palace victory that reverberates at both ends of the table before puffing out his cheeks and shaking his head in despair. Andy Robertson sank to his haunches and into a trance. Disconsolate home fans filed out in silence. In a title race with the tightest margins, Liverpool have blinked first.

Related: Weary Liverpool’s title push close to petering out as familiar errors return | Jonathan Wilson

Soundly beaten in the first leg of the Europa League quarter-finals by Atalanta on Thursday, Liverpool faltered again at Anfield as Eberechi Eze’s early goal rewarded Palace’s first-half superiority and ultimately lifted their prospects of Premier League safety. The club responsible for Klopp’s first Premier League defeat may have holed his chances of winning the league in the process. Liverpool have lost two successive home games for the first time since March 2021, the behind-closed-doors Covid season, and for the first time in front of supporters since January 2017. Sloppy throughout the first half, wasteful throughout the second, a team that was fighting on four fronts a month ago have only themselves to blame.

“Congratulations to the team for the first-half performance when we played football with confidence and created chances,” said the delighted Palace manager. “And for the passion and spirit we showed in the second half when we defended against a lot of pressure.” The visitors’ two faces exposed and frustrated Liverpool in equal measure.

Anfield paid a moving tribute before kick-off to the 97 Liverpool supporters unlawfully killed at Hillsborough. After a stirring rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone on the eve of the 35th anniversary of the disaster there was a minute’s silence in memory of the victims and a “97” mosaic appeared on the Kop.

Klopp had promised a reaction to the shock Europa League defeat. Instead, Liverpool served up more of the same in a poor first-half display. They were again lethargic, careless in possession and lacking concentration in defence. The malaise even afflicted Alisson, and he was making his first start since injuring a hamstring against Arsenal in February. Palace prospered from the lapses and were full value for an interval lead that could and should have been greater.

The visitors, their performance elevated by the supremely gifted duo of Michael Olise and Eze, cut through Liverpool and had particular joy down their left against Conor Bradley, who departed in the second half with suspected ankle ligament damage, and Ibrahima Konaté. Klopp’s side were carved open by a flowing Palace passing move involving Adam Wharton, Olise and Tyrick Mitchell. The defender pulled the ball back from the byline, through the legs of Wataru Endo, for Eze to slot a precise finish beyond Liverpool’s first choice keeper. Konaté and Virgil van Dijk were both slow to react to the danger, leaving Eze completely unmarked in front of goal.

It was the fourth time in the past five Premier League home games that Liverpool had conceded first. They have won a remarkable 27 points from losing positions this season but there was no coming back from familiar territory this time.

Palace should have had a ­second before Liverpool cleared their heads. A slip by Van Dijk allowed Jean-Philippe Mateta to collect Eze’s pass and race through on goal. The striker lofted his shot over Alisson but it lacked power and Robertson was able to hook clear brilliantly on the line.

Robertson was the one Liverpool player to hit the level required in the first half. Endo scooped a corner from the left-back against the Palace crossbar. The Scotland captain also delivered a superb cross for Luis Díaz, whose acrobatic volley was tipped over by Dean Henderson.

For the second time in four days a ponderous Liverpool display prompted Klopp to change his side during the interval. Dominik Szoboszlai replaced the tired Endo and helped inject the energy and accuracy that had been sorely lacking previously. Liverpool improved immeasurably as a result, but woeful finishing only heightened Anfield’s torment.

Darwin Núñez had a great opportunity when Van Dijk’s header at a Robertson corner landed in front of him. The Uruguay international connected powerfully but, from point-blank range, his shot struck Henderson and deflected over. Alisson produced a similar save from Mateta when the outstanding Joachim Andersen headed an Eze free-kick back across goal. The striker, barely two yards out, turned his effort against the Brazilian and over with the goal gaping.

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Liverpool were also guilty of scarcely believable misses, and several of them. Diogo Jota looked certain to score when Szoboszlai drew Henderson before squaring for the unusually clinical forward. Jota thought so too, only for his first time shot to strike the former Liverpool defender Nathaniel Clyne and rebound wide.

Curtis Jones was culpable of the most glaring miss when played through on goal by the impactful Cody Gakpo. The midfielder took the ball in his stride, looked up to see Henderson advancing and poked badly wide. The impressive Mitchell blocked a Mohamed Salah close-range effort in the first of seven minutes of stoppage time but that was all a team chasing the title had to offer at the end of a chastening week. Dreams of further silverware are receding.