Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane deliver for Liverpool again to down plucky Crystal Palace

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Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane deliver for Liverpool again to down plucky Crystal Palace
Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane deliver for Liverpool again to down plucky Crystal Palace

You can make a persuasive argument for many of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool signings being his most important.

Most roads lead to Virgil van Dijk, the defensive pillar around which Premier League and European success was built. Others will argue it was goalkeeper Alisson who elevated a team of nearly men into winners. The Brazilian keeper offered a reminder of his world class status to keep a clean sheet against Crystal Palace on Saturday.

How can you look beyond Mohamed Salah? His consistency has transformed Liverpool into one of the most feared teams on the planet. He was at it again against Palace, following up his 100th Premier League goal last weekend with his 99th in the competition in a Liverpool shirt.

Each choice has equal merit. But there will be those on Merseyside who will always see Sadio Mane as the man who led the first meaningful cavalry charge under Klopp, laying fertile ground for those later, high class recruits. Mane's arrival in 2016 gave a hint of the world-class entertainment to come, especially symbolic as it ended a prolonged period where Liverpool spent record fees on duds. With respect to Palace’s honest but limited striker Christian Benteke, it felt poignant that he was here to see the man who replaced him at Anfield strike his 100th Liverpool goal.

Mane became only the 18th player in the Merseyside club’s decorated history to hit that century. Already on the same plinth as the Kop greats, the record served to underline his immense contribution to the Merseyside renaissance.

Sadio Mane gave Liverpool the lead against Crystal Palace - Getty Images
Sadio Mane gave Liverpool the lead against Crystal Palace - Getty Images

“People forget that around these 100 goals he worked incredibly hard, defended high the way, pressed high, counter pressed,” said Klopp. “One hundred goals is just one of his numbers but it is a massive achievement in the glorious history of this club”

Short term, Mane’s 44th minute opening goal was essential for helping make a competitive win look more comfortable than it ever was.

Palace fans have more reason than most to be sick of Mane, as he seems to have developed a particular fondness for scoring against them. This was the ninth consecutive fixture in which he has done so. Only Robin van Persie has done that against the same Premier League team, in his case Stoke City.

One might ask what Palace did to be worthy of such a grudge? Did Mane become embroiled with a childhood fight with an eagle? Has he spent too many mornings listening to Simon Jordan on the radio? Did a personal vendetta develop after seeing multiple repeats of the 1990 FA Cup semi-final?

Mohamed Salah scored another Anfield goal for Liverpool - Getty Images
Mohamed Salah scored another Anfield goal for Liverpool - Getty Images

Before and for a long spell after he struck - the first of three which Liverpool scored from a corner - Palace were demonstrating why they are radically different under Patrick Vieira.

Their defenders - especially Marc Guehi and Tyrick Mitchell - excelled, but it was their enterprising approach from back to front which was eye-catching, Liverpool only securing the points late in the second half when Salah and Naby Keita put more distance between the teams than Palace deserved.

“I told the boys it was one of the most hard fought three-nils I have seen,” said Klopp.

On Palace’s most recent Anfield visits, crossing the halfway line seemed to be considered over-ambition. There was persistent attacking intent this time, and they started the more dangerous with Wilfred Zaha and Jordan Ayew seeking to benefit from Liverpool’s multiple defensive changes.

Klopp’s entire back four was different to that which started against AC Milan. Van Dijk’s return was inevitable. Ibrahima Konate’s debut was pre-planned, as was resting Andy Robertson for Kostas Tsimikas.

Trent Alexander-Arnold falling ill on the morning of the game was an inconvenience, although James Milner looked intent to run the game from right back in his absence.

Palace’s attackers sensed vulnerability, and Allison had to push Zaha’s improvised attempt against the post after two minutes.

The turning point could have been on 38 minutes when Benteke felt he was clipped in the penalty area by Tsimikas. Amid the protests Liverpool dashed forward, Henderson crossed for Thiago, and Vicente Guaita’s close range save dropped to Diogo Jota.

Somehow Jota smashed over the bar. Home momentum grew from there, however, and Liverpool took the lead thanks to the weapon of Tsimikas’ left foot crosses. His corner picked out Salah’s header to force Guaita into another excellent stop. From there, Mane showed Jota how to be deadly from two yards.

Palace never lost belief, ensuring Alisson’s name was chanted by the Kop as much as any. Substitute Odsonne Edouard will lament the lack of control which enabled the keeper to shove away the visitors' best chance of an equaliser on 72 minutes.

Kop nerves were eased 12 minutes from time when another Tsimikas corner was flicked on by Van Dijk and Salah emphatically slammed in a volley. Keita did so more spectacularly from 20 yards in the 89th minute, Guaita failing to get the required distance on his cross.

“We played some good football, but the frustration was to concede the three goals from set-pieces. It was a lack of concentration and we paid,” said Vieira.

The last Palace restyling under Frank de Boer lasted only 10 weeks, after which the club had to revert to the tried and trusted pragmatism of Roy Hodgson.

There has already been enough promise under Vieira to suggest there is more substance to the move towards progressive football this time.

The problem for most Anfield visitors is Liverpool have so many matchwinners on a mission to secure new landmarks, and it is almost impossible to keep them all quiet for 90 minutes.

After a century for Liverpool in all competitions, Mane is only two shy of joining Salah in the Premier League 100 club, too.

Liverpool look ominously in the mood to keep racking up the milestones.

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