Not for the first time, a match against Crystal Palace proved to be the stuff of nightmares for Liverpool, as former striker Christian Benteke struck twice to give the Eagles the win.
The game began as anticipated, with Palace sitting deep and Liverpool dominating the ball. There were no clear-cut openings very early on for the home side, but equally no scares at the other end either. Wilfried Zaha was kept quiet and Liverpool restricted counter-attacks effectively in the opening exchanges.
Despite the domination, the biggest chance of the first quarter came when Benteke got past Lucas in midfield, and found himself on the edge of the area. His attempted shot curled wide but served as a warning of his threat.
Soon later, Philippe Coutinho was fouled on the edge of the other penalty area. He stepped up to take the resulting kick, and it flew past Wayne Hennessey and into the back of the net.
Liverpool had not had too many clear chances, but were ahead thanks to the Brazilian’s magic.
Almost immediately after the restart of play, Gini Wijnaldum did well to find a cross when under pressure from several Palace players in the corner, eventually finding Emre Can on the penalty spot, but his shot was closer to the corner flag than the goal. That should have been 2-0.
Just three minutes later, the German was made to pay. Yohan Cabaye got in behind on the right-wing, and crossed for Benteke to equalise with a close-range header. The goal came from nowhere, and suddenly the momentum swung to the visitors.
Crystal Palace were the better side early on in the second half, seeing more of the ball themselves, but it was Coutinho who had the first shot following the interval. Liverpool’s number ten skipped past Jason Puncheon before lashing a shot over the bar – a lack of end product but at least some intent.
Little else happened until the 74th minute of the game, when Liverpool again conceded from a corner. The ball that came in from Andros Townsend was poor, and had little height, but both Roberto Firmino and James Milner missed it, and Benteke was there again to score. It was a desperately poor goal to concede.
Liverpool rallied a little, but with very few options on the bench, failed to turn the tide. Marko Grujic, the young Serbian midfielder, looked rusty when he came on for Nathaniel Clyne; his main contribution was getting booked for a late tackle. In truth, Liverpool should have greater squad depth and not need to rely on a player coming back from injury like that.
Not even the six minutes of added time could make Liverpool muster anything, and the match petered out with the final few minutes a non-event.
The victory surely means Palace are safe, whilst for Liverpool, it puts the Champions League qualification they so crave out of their hands.
A win for Manchester United on Thursday evening against Manchester City would put them level on points with Liverpool with a game in hand, although they still have to play Arsenal and Tottenham, both away from home. A trip to Southampton also beckons for them, which is never an easy game.
Champions League football is by no means gone for the Reds, but they must win at least three of the final four games to make the top four. As ever with Liverpool, it’s always the hard way.
Simon Mignolet, 6 – at fault for neither goal, but no heroics this week as there have been in the previous two
Nathaniel Clyne, 6 – dealt with Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend relatively well, but lacked conviction in the final third and did not give enough quality going forward
Joel Matip, 6 – struggled against Christian Benteke, and made a few poor decisions, but was the better of the two centre-halves; was not expected to even play before the game, so did well just to be on the pitch
Dejan Lovren, 4 – simply could not cope with Benteke, who won everything in the air, and targeted the Croatian from the off; not his best day, but the first time Liverpool have lost when he and Matip have played together
James Milner, 6 – a couple of decent crosses, but like Clyne, not enough quality in attack
Lucas, 5 – played a few terrible passes and generally looked well off the pace; no creativity and did not win the ball back as often as usual either
Emre Can, 7 – apart from missing a big chance to make it 2-0, he did not too much wrong, and was a physical presence in midfield
Gini Wijnaldum, 7 – not far off his usual game, but had limited movement around him; as always, put in a huge shift defensively and had his moments on the ball
Philippe Coutinho, 7 – scored a fantastic free-kick and looked lively, but also took too many touches on occasion and tried to do it all on his own
Divock Origi, 5 – hardly saw the ball throughout; won a few balls in the air but looked slow and laboured, and did not get in behind once
Roberto Firmino, 6 – kept very quiet by the opposition defence, and found very little room to work in; prefers to play centrally
Trent Alexander-Arnold (79th minute sub.), 5 – one good ball into the box, but came on at a time when the game was very flat and almost dead, and it was difficult to influence
Alberto Moreno (82nd minute sub.), 5 – looked like offering some width and pace at times, but never got going and clearly lacking in confidence
Marko Grujic (84th minute sub.), 5 – got a yellow for a foul, won a couple of headers and tried to make an impact, but it was too late in the game for him to have much chance of changing anything
Follow @MattAddison97 on Twitter for updates, photos and more news from VivaFootballCalcio’s Liverpool FC Correspondent.