After Wilfried Zaha looked to have grabbed Palace a point (82), Firmino coolly swept home following bedlam in the penalty area to keep Liverpool eight points clear of Leicester, 11 clear of Chelsea and 12 ahead of Manchester City.
Controversy arrived at the end of a listless first half when James Tomkins’ far-post header was ruled out by VAR for a Jordan Ayew shove on Dejan Lovren, and Liverpool capitalised on their fortune as Sadio Mane squeezed home for the opener (49). Palace levelled late on as Zaha found the far corner from 15 yards (82), before Firmino’s late winner had reverberations around the country.
Liverpool are now 30 unbeaten in the Premier League, and stretch 12 points clear of champions Manchester City and 11 clear of Chelsea, who play each other at the Etihad later on Saturday Night Football (Kick-off 5.30pm).
How character trumped quality for Liverpool again
With Mo Salah only making the bench following injury, Liverpool failed to register a shot on target in the first half for only the second time this season. Palace’s best chance fell to Ayew, jabbing wide from seven yards from a right-wing cross, but the biggest drama came courtesy of VAR, again.
After Luka Milivojevic’s corner was nodded on at the near post by Gini Wijnaldum, Tomkins turned home at the far post to seemingly give Palace the lead. However, VAR Chris Kavanagh spotted a slight shove by Ayew on Lovren, awarding Liverpool a free-kick.
Liverpool improved after the break as Jordan Henderson played Mane through, only to place his effort a yard wide at the near post, but the Senegalese striker made up for it moments later.
Collecting Andy Robertson’s floated centre, Mane saw his poked, left-footed effort deflect off Gary Cahill, off goalkeeper Vicente Guaita’s hands, and off both posts.
Ayew again could not get his feet right to slot home Zaha’s cross at the other end, while former Liverpool striker Christian Benteke struck just wide with a stunning scissor-kick.
Palace got a deserved leveller on 82 minutes when Zaha was found by Townsend, opening his body up, selling Robertson and slotting into the bottom left corner to seemingly dent Liverpool’s title charge.
But Liverpool showed their mental strength, yet again, going up the other end three minutes later and grabbing a winner after a melee in the area from a corner. Firmino was the coolest man in south London as the ball fell to him six yards out after Palace had struggled to clear a Trent Alexander-Arnold delivery.
Zaha missed a fine chance at the other end, blazing over unmarked after a fine first touch, but Liverpool held on to come away from Selhurst Park unscathed.
They were nowhere near their best, but quality alone will not win you a league title, as Jurgen Klopp’s side once again proved their character in picking themselves up.
What the managers said…
Roy Hodgson, Crystal Palace: “It’s the usual close but no cigars. It was our best performance of the season. I thought we really did play well. It’s a bitter blow after getting what we thought was a deserved equaliser to have to concede that second goal from the unfortunate corner kick and take away that point that we thought we were more than worth. I do honestly believe that was a very good team performance and on another day would have got us that point. I don’t think this was a mistake from VAR today – there was a foul at the near post.”
Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool: “The challenge I’ve said to pretty much everybody and their dog is that [the players] come from so many different national teams back. Today, I have no problem that we were not brilliant because in a game like this you just have to make sure you’re ready to fight for the result and we were that from the first minute. Could we have played better? Yes, but we had players on the pitch that were on Thursday morning still on a plane back from Abu Dhabi, where Brazil played. That’s not too cool. For that, getting a result at Crystal Palace, you never take for granted. So, it feels good.”
- Liverpool are only the fourth side in English top-flight history to have as many as 37 points from their opening 13 league games to a season (assuming three points for a win), after Tottenham in 1960/61, Liverpool themselves in 1990/91 and Manchester City in 2017/18.
- Liverpool are unbeaten in 30 Premier League matches (W25 D5); only Arsenal (49 games in October 2004) and Chelsea (40 in October 2005) have ever had longer runs without defeat in the history of the competition.
- Sadio Mane has scored more Premier League goals against Crystal Palace than any other opponent (8); only Jermain Defoe (9) has more against the Eagles in the competition’s history.
Liverpool now host Napoli in their fifth Champions League group-stage match on Wednesday night, before Brighton visit Anfield on Saturday at 3pm. Palace go to Burnley at 3pm on Saturday in the Premier League.