Liverpool Continue to Show Ruthless Mentality in Win at Crystal Palace

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Liverpool Continue to Show Ruthless Mentality in Win at Crystal Palace
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

SELHURST PARK, London — Crystal Palace's cavernous home ground is one of the most formidable prospects for a travelling side in the Premier League, and despite Alan Pardew's side's poor form in 2016, this was no different on Sunday afternoon—however, rising to a 2-1 victory, Liverpool were able to overcome this.

With goals from Roberto Firmino and Christian Benteke cancelling out Joe Ledley's low, powerful strike in a frenetic second half in south-east London, the Reds piled misery on an Eagles side who are yet to win a league game this year.

Much of the focus during post-match gambits involving players, managers and pundits honed in on referee Andre Marriner's decision to award Liverpool a penalty in the last minute, with contact between Palace centre-back Damien Delaney and the onrushing Benteke appearing minimal at first glance.

But with Benteke converting the most composed of penalty kicks to give Liverpool the victory, the most important aspect of this contest was the endurance of a new-found steeliness in Klopp's side.

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For much of the afternoon, however, this was not the case, with Pardew's pacy, physical Palace matching up to their opposition, stymieing the momentum Liverpool brought from Wednesday night's 3-0 win at home to Manchester City.

With the Reds lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation—with Firmino, Adam Lallana and James Milner in support of lone striker Divock Origi—Pardew's setup was very similar.

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A solid, two-man midfield unit of Ledley and Mile Jedinak provided the base for the technical majesty of Yohan Cabaye to preside over a fleet-footed attacking pair of Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha, swarming around their centre-forward pivot, Emmanuel Adebayor.

Adebayor and Bolasie were at the heart of Palace's bright start, with the former sending a header crashing against the crossbar and the latter denied only by the reflexes of an impressive Simon Mignolet, while Cabaye went close to breaking the deadlock in the first half with a whipped effort from outside the area.

Zaha contested one of the afternoon's most intense individual battles lining up against the fiery Alberto Moreno, with the Palace winger outwitting his opponent for long spells, completing four successful dribbles—only Emre Can completed more, with five.

With Ledley putting his side 1-0 up three minutes after the interval and Milner sent off for a second bookable offence 15 minutes later, Palace looked set to cruise to their first league win of 2016.

But as has often been the case for Pardew's side this season, their quality was undermined by their mental fragility. 

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Remarkably, Milner's dismissal prompted an immediate improvement from the Reds, benefiting from their status as underdogs, with a number of Klopp's stars rising to the occasion.

While the centre-back pairing of Mamadou Sakho and Dejan Lovren started the game reasonably, this dogged atmosphere saw the duo grow in stature, with Adebayor's second-half shrinking a testament to their quality stepping out of defence to win headers and clatter into challenges.

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Sakho and Lovren won eight aerial duels and made 17 clearances between them on Sunday, highlighting their no-nonsense approach at the back.

To Sakho's left, Moreno's response to Milner's absence was admirable, with the left-back finding himself on the front foot in his battle with Zaha, nipping in to win the ball early and kick-start attacking moves with driving runs.

Moreno came close to giving Liverpool their second goal on 86 minutes, cutting inside to send a powerful strike towards goal, with only the woodwork sparing goalkeeper Alex McCarthy's blushes.

McCarthy's misery was compounded 14 minutes earlier, however, with the former Queens Park Rangers man—under pressure from Origi—slicing a clearance into the path of Firmino, with the Brazilian slotting home to give the Reds their equaliser.

Firmino, Origi and Can stood head and shoulders above their colleagues for much of the afternoon, giving Liverpool a welcome outlet on the break, but this fleeting quality needed the boost that, bizarrely, Milner's dismissal provided.

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Klopp's intervention from the touchline must be credited too, with the German's decision to withdraw Jon Flanagan and bring on Philippe Coutinho in his place highlighting a winning audacity.

But with Flanagan off the field and stand-in right-back Milner sent off minutes later, Klopp was unable to see the game play out the way he intended—instead, as he revealed in his post-match press conference, Liverpool were required to draw from their reserves of mental strength.

"Things like this happen. It's not a problem for the offence, but it makes sense to have 11 for defending—so I went 3-4-2," he explained.

"It's more about passion than formation...We concede the goal, then we get the red card, then you have nothing to lose anymore. Nobody wins here five, six, 7-0. We had to be greedy—that's what we did."

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This notion of greed resonated with Klopp's words before Liverpool's League Cup final defeat to City at the end of February, with the manager telling the Liverpool Echo's James Pearce that "I am long enough in the business to know I am greedy for success."

It also showed hallmarks of his reaction after Wednesday night's win over Manuel Pellegrini's side, telling the Press Association (h/t the Guardian), in order for his side to secure an unlikely top-four placing, they must "stay angry."

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As those in Klopp's squad who remain from 2013/14's ill-fated title challenge will attest, the underdog—perhaps bar this season, with neutrals rallying around Leicester City—rarely wins out over the course of a season.

Instead, these unseemly qualities—avarice, aggression and arrogance—are what makes a champion.

Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal have all surged towards the title with this single-minded ruthlessness, while on the continent, the likes of Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid are far from the most endearing of outfits.

The compellingly positive Claudio Ranieri may provide the perfect antidote as 2015/16 reaches its conclusion, but for Klopp to mould his side into perennial challengers, this unrelenting bite must be encouraged.

Coming back from a goal behind, with 10 men, for the first time in their history in the Premier League, to win away at Palace in the league for the first time since 1999, Liverpool showed just that.

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While Pardew and Delaney continue to protest their innocence in Sunday's fateful, last-minute penalty call, Klopp showed a steely resolve in his post-match briefing.

"If you run and you get this touch—you fall down!" he said, dismissing suggestions that Benteke buckled too easily under Delaney's lunging challenge, but what the German will no doubt be most impressed with was how the Belgian picked himself back up to send a calm spot-kick beyond McCarthy to give his side the victory.

It is this determination that has pervaded Klopp's first season on Merseyside, and with the 48-year-old continuing to instil this backs-to-the-wall mentality, Liverpool's fortunes look set to rise.

Statistics via WhoScored.comall quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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