Liverpool ensured they remain top of the Premier League on Christmas Day for the third year running with their most ruthless performance of the season as they beat Crystal Palace 7-0 at Selhurst Park — their biggest-ever away win in the top flight.
In so many ways, being top of the holiday table this year is an even bigger feat than the previous two seasons. Jurgen Klopp’s side have kept their heads in a season in which so much has been thrown at them. Their outstanding win at Selhurst Park against an ever-improving Crystal Palace side was tied up by half-time thanks to three wonderfully worked goals, and in the second half they were just magnificent. The goals were fit for a season-long highlights reel.
Mohamed Salah watched on from the stands as his teammates tore into Palace. He too has added to off-field distractions this week, but finished with two goals an assist. Klopp has also had Jose Mourinho chipping away, the attention of more individual awards heading to Anfield, and then there was the backdrop of Liverpool’s poor away record — just one win in seven prior to Saturday’s match. But how distant those distractions are now.
Each of Liverpool’s seven goals were supremely crafted in their own right, and each a reminder to the rest of the league of why the champions are setting the pace again. But don’t expect Klopp to get carried away. “The season is not finished, unfortunately,” he said postmatch, before adding: “I don’t feel satisfaction, I’m happy in the moment. I’m not yet over the moon.”
Watching Liverpool on this chilly, December afternoon was a rare reminder of footballing normality in this hectic, tough year. They were utterly ruthless and played beautifully, just like they did last season as they stormed to the league title. The game was over by half-time on a day when everything went right for the champions.
Takumi Minamino scored his first Premier League goal after a couple of minutes, while Sadio Mane‘s sweet turn and half-volley brought up their second, ending a nine-game drought for the Senegal international. Roberto Firmino started and finished a beautiful, sweeping counterattack for their third before the break. Jordan Henderson scored their fourth, curling home from the edge of the box while Salah teed up Firmino for a neat fifth. Salah’s instinctive goal off a Joel Matip header brought up the sixth and then he scored a beautiful second and Liverpool’s seventh. Liverpool were on another level to Palace.
“Everything was good — top football, top finishing, keeping the ball in the right way — using the positioning, filling each plan with life,” Klopp said. “The boys did really well. Today they all wore their finishing boots.”
This performance was a masterclass in focus. Just 62 hours separated this match from Wednesday’s 2-1 win over top-of-the-table rivals Tottenham Hotspur. Again that was a case of blinking last, with Firmino’s 90th-minute header securing the points. After that game, Mourinho did his utmost to rile Klopp with his postmatch comments, but the Liverpool manager did not bite. Then came the headlines before Saturday’s game from Salah, talking of his disappointment of not captaining Liverpool against FC Midtjylland and giving a wonderfully ambiguous answer over his long-term future at the club.
“I have nothing to say on that,” Klopp said. “All fine.” Salah was, officially, part of Klopp’s squad rotation but still got 35 minutes off the bench with the game already secure and answered any queries over his level of focus with his assist and brace of goals. “It’s the first time for a while we had the opportunity to do something like this,” Klopp said of Salah. “We needed fresh legs today. Mo played the last four games, just seven minutes [off] from the last four games, it’s a massively intense period.”
And then there are the absentees, and the youngsters on the bench. Lesser teams could have had their plans thrown into disarray by the various injury blows this season. Liverpool’s central defence has been a constant headache for Klopp this term with Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez out long-term, but Joel Matip and Fabinho kept Palace’s live-wire attackers at bay — despite a couple of tense first-half moments where Palace failed to capitalise on opportunities — and he would have been impressed by Naby Keita and Minamino’s performances. This was Keita’s sixth league start of the campaign and he was chief presser, constantly hounding Palace’s defence into looking backwards rather than forwards, much to the ire of Palace’s assistant manager Ray Lewington, who is their pitchside orator, with his barked orders diminishing as the goals increased. Minamino was superb on the left side of Liverpool’s attacking trio. Again he spent time off the ball pressing, but was integral in their link-up play, bringing in the likes of Mane and Firmino.
Firmino went on a month-long run without scoring earlier in the season but put on a masterclass against Palace, finishing with a brace alongside an assist. He must be a nightmare to play against — so hard to pick up as he drops deep, hovers, and then pounces to create an opportunity to score. Palace’s defenders just couldn’t get near him.
But without fans in the stadium as London effectively goes back into lockdown, you get a real sense of just how important Henderson’s on-field communication is. He’s Klopp incarnate on the field. He is constantly talking, ordering, advising, cajoling, motivating and praising. It started from the first moments where he was telling Keita when to get tight, or drop off. Then it was the two full-backs — telling Trent Alexander-Arnold to focus, chase, or go, and then same on the flank with Andrew Robertson. Klopp uses him as a conduit for his messages and it creates this organic system where everything just seems to flow. But he is his own harshest critic. Even after this 7-0 trouncing, he said elements of the performance were “sloppy.” If he were a surfer, he’d be perennially chasing that perfect wave.
There was also the added bonus of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain getting the last 15 minutes in what was his first appearance since his knee injury in July, and he’ll be a great option for Klopp in this busy period. “If you want to reach whatever in this league, you have to be consistent,” Klopp said. “And to be consistent you need options.”
Klopp has seemed tetchy at times this season, frustrated at the team’s poor injury luck and quietly seething at the bureaucracy in this part of the world. But in those corridors at Anfield or their training ground at Kirkby, he has ensured their focus remains resolute. And on this December afternoon, everything clicked and Palace were the unlucky recipients, including poor Gary Cahill on his birthday. Those early-season clouds, where we doubted whether Liverpool would be ready to defend their crown, seem an age ago. Klopp has kept his team on the right track, and that’s down to Liverpool blocking out the noise.