By Ian Winrow
Liverpool made it two wins from two, but this was far from a comfortable victory for Jurgen Klopps’s side.
A first-half penalty from James Milner was followed by an added-time second from Sadio Mane against a Crystal Palace side by then reduced to 10 men, as the Reds’ success was built on determination and resolve rather than their familiar attacking qualities.
The 44th-minute penalty decision gave Klopp’s side the advantage, but it took the 75th-minute dismissal of Aaron Wan-Bissaka for a foul on Mohamed Salah to give Liverpool breathing space with Mane’s breakaway away goal four minutes into added time adding gloss to the result.
Klopp, though, can be satisfied by the way his side stuck to their task and that approach will stand them in good stead as the Premier League time race progresses.
“We can play better football,” he accepted. “It was a really intense first half so it wasn’t easy to make the right decisions. They had their moments. I know we have to play much better but tonight I’m absolutely fine with that.”
This was always going to be a much tougher assignment for Liverpool than their opening weekend stroll past West Ham. Then, Manuel Pellegrini’s side played into the hands of Klopp’s side, offering space behind the back four that Liverpool gleefully exploited, cruising to a 4-0 victory.
Roy Hodgson was never going to make that mistake. The manager had rescued Palace from what appeared to be certain relegation last season by first making them hard to beat and that defensive organisation was apparent during first half when Liverpool were largely frustrated in their efforts to find a way through to Wayne Hennessey’s goal.
It was never going to be possible to bottle up a front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Said Mane all night, but it took until the 23rd minute before the visitors created a clear opening.
Naby Keita collected the ball deep in his own half and floated a superb pass into the path of Salah, who for once had got behind Mamadou Sakho. The Salah of last season would have no doubt have scored but the Egyptian showed signs of ring-rustiness when his attempted lob over the advancing Hennessey drifted over the bar.
As neat as Keita’s contribution to that chance had been, the midfielder was almost immediately of losing possession in a dangerous area deep inside his own half. Andros Townsend, the Palace winger, cut in from the right and curled in an excellent long-range shot that, to Keita’s relief, canned off the crossbar.
The exchange of chances was a sign the game was ready to open with Salah coming more to the fore. Sakho continued to pay close attention to the Liverpool forward and blocked Salah’s 27th-minute shot although Keita should have done better than fire the follow-up too close to Hennessey at the near post.
Palace’s best hope of unpicking the Liverpool backline lay with Wilfried Zaha, the Ivory Coast winger who lost week signed a new five-year contract worth £130,000 per week after a summer in which he has repeatedly been linked with a move away.
Klopp described the move as the equivalent of making a “spectacular signing” and Zaha undoubtedly generated a sense of threat whenever he was on the ball. Liverpool, though, like Palace, had done their defensive homework and they limited the time and space afforded to the winger.
The game appeared destined to reach half-time in stalemate but the balance of the game changed completely in the 44th minute when Sakho again came into close contact with Salah.
This time the France international got too close to his opponent and while Palace insisted the Liverpool man dived, referee Michael Oliver was convinced there was contact and was proved right by television replays.
That presented James Milner with the chance to put Liverpool ahead from the penalty spot and the 32-year-old did so will ease.
The goal meant Palace had to be more expansive after the break although they were almost caught again four minutes after the restart when Andy Robertson drilled in a low cross from the left. Salah was again the target but there were more signs last season’s golden boot winner is not yet at his sharpest when he rounded Hennessey but found himself pushed too wide to score.
A second then would have killed off the home side but instead they responded with Luka Milivojevic forcing a good save from Reds keeper Alisson Becker before Zaha shot straight at the Brazilian.
The game was effectively settled however when Palace were caught pressing close to the halfway line allowing Firmino to play a ball between the centre-backs and set Salah free on goal 40 yards out.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Palace’s 20-year-old right-back, raced back to cover but was unable to get close enough to the Liverpool forward before he brought Salah down on the edge of the penalty area.
A red card was inevitable and, given the position of the free-kick, a second goal seemed likely. Salah, though, saw his free-kick clip the top of the defensive wall and Palace earned a reprieve.
It was not enough, however, and despite creating a couple of late openings they were unable to prevent Klopp’s side from seeing out the win.
CRYSTAL PALACE (4-3-3): Hennessey 8; Wan-Bissaka 5, Tomkins 7, Sakho 6, van Aanholt 6; McArthur 6, Milivojevic 7, Schlupp 7 (Meyer 82,6); Townsend 7 (Ward 79,6), Benteke 6 (Sorloth 68,6), Zaha 7.
Subs: Guaita, Kouyate, Ayew, Kelly.
LIVERPOOL (4-3-3): Alisson 7; Alexander-Arnold 7, Gomez 6, van Dijk 8, Robertson 6; Keita 6 (Lallana 87), Milner 7 (Henderson 66, 6), Wijnaldum 7; Salah 7, Firmino 6 (Sturridge 90), Mane 7.
Subs: Mignolet, Moreno, Shaqiri, Matip.
Referee: M Oliver 8