Sam Allardyce claimed Liverpool could not cope with a Crystal Palace game plan that “exposed their weaknesses time and time again” as Christian Benteke returned to haunt his former club at Anfield.
Benteke, who left Liverpool for Palace in a £32m deal last summer, scored twice to inflict a first defeat in eight matches on Jürgen Klopp’s side and damage their pursuit of Champions League qualification. It was Palace’s third consecutive league win at Liverpool, Allardyce’s first in 14 league visits as manager and stemmed, he claimed, from a deliberate ploy to target the hosts’ problems in defence.
“From start to finish we were tactically exceptional,” said the Palace manager, who has overseen wins over Chelsea, Arsenal and now Liverpool in the last 22 days to alleviate the club’s relegation fears. “Why this league is so exciting is that when you set out a game plan it can turn over the opposition even when it is not expected by most people. It is why this league is so popular around the world. We did that today.
“We did that by not getting involved in things that wouldn’t allow us to counterattack against the opposition or expose the opposition’s weaknesses. With our limited possession we exposed Liverpool’s weaknesses time and time again and ultimately that has brought us from 1-0 down to win it. I give the players a huge amount of credit for the way they defended and how they exposed the weaknesses of Liverpool defensively which, in the end, they couldn’t cope with.”
Philippe Coutinho put Liverpool ahead with a brilliant free-kick before Benteke levelled from Yohan Cabaye’s cross and capitalised on yet another set-piece lapse from Klopp’s team to head home an Andros Townsend corner. The Palace manager said both visiting goals had been prepared on the training ground.
Allardyce explained: “Liverpool at home play a superb attacking style which means both full-backs will go right up the pitch. It is very similar to Arsenal which means Matip and Lovren are very exposed and, because they are very exposed in that position, if you get the right runners in behind, then they are two big men that don’t like turning and going back to goal. That is exactly where Yohan Cabaye came in today. The ball over Lovren’s head to Cabaye left those two centre-backs dead and then you ask your players to deliver the quality you need in the Premier League and Cabaye’s ball to Benteke was outstanding. “On the corners everyone knows Liverpool are pretty weak. They conceded six off corners which we told the lads about. It’s now seven off that corner that has got us the winner.”
Klopp accepted Liverpool were culpable for both Benteke goals despite prior knowledge of the Belgium international’s qualities. “Benteke is an outstanding striker, absolutely no doubt about it,” he said. “But if you leave him alone like we did for the first goal I’m not sure he needed all those skills.”
Victory took Palace to 38 points with five matches remaining and seven points clear of the relegation zone. But Allardyce cautioned: “Thirty-eight has been safe for a long time but we are not mathematically safe yet. Five games to go, pick as many points up as we can and then, when we are mathematically safe, we will have a little celebration.”