IF it weren’t for the latest edition of the Mohamed Salah show, Liverpool would have left relegation strugglers Crystal Palace without the full complement of points – and it would perhaps have been a fair reflection of proceedings.
Eventual 2-1 winners, after Sadio Mane’s cancelled out Luka Milivojevic’s penalty opener, Salah’s 84th minute winner was perhaps an undeserved one.
Palace, under former Reds boss Roy Hodgson, pushed the Merseysiders all the way – utilising a weakness exposed by Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho a few weeks ago – to almost steal a point.
In the past, defensive issues have plagued the Anfield side, and a new one has now emerged with young fullback Trent Alexander-Arnold caught out numerous times against Palace in a similar fashion that saw Marcus Rashford torment him at Old Trafford.
Hodgson took his tactical cues from the Special One, utilising the aerial ability of a target man – in Christian Benteke – to flick on to his pacy winger Wilfried Zaha and expose 20-year-old Alexander-Arnold as the Reds’ weak link.
In Klopp’s 4-3-3 system, fullbacks are utilised as important attacking weapons, with the fledgling right back – as well as new hero Andy Robertson – proving their worth with overlapping runs going forward in recent times.
Alexander-Arnold’s wonderfully whipped deliveries into the area, and positioning to stretch the play and allow Salah more freedom to drift central in attack has cemented his position in the starting XI in the absence of usual first string right defender Nathaniel Clyne.
But after being found out by Rashford and Mourinho, it appears Klopp may have to rethink his use of the young star, who was repeatedly dominated by Zaha throughout the match – creating a range of clear cut chances for the home side.
In fact, the opening goal came care of a Zaha run in behind following a Benteke flick on as Loris Karius collected the flying winger to allow Milivojevic the chance to slam home the opener from the penalty spot.
Alexander-Arnold is a vital member of the Reds’ attack, but his clear penchant for being exploited by speed – which has clearly been noted by opposition managers – has dealt Klopp a big headache.
His attacking value is clear, but simultaneously he has proved the Achilles heel in an otherwise reinvigorated Liverpool defence – now marshalled expertly by Virgil van Dijk.
Klopp has a decision on his hands, although perhaps a timely one, with Clyne returning to the matchday squad against Palace for the first time this season.
It was a lucky escape for the Reds, but with a pair of crucial Champions League quarter final clashes against Manchester City looming, the German manager can’t afford glaring defensive holes against English football’s most potent attack.
There were more problems for the Reds – and for England – as Adam Lallana limped off after just five minutes against Palace.
The midfielder’s cameo off the bench was the shortest of any Premier League player this season, with a stretcher called for but not utilised in his exit. A hamstring complaint leaves his World Cup hanging in the balance and Liverpool without an important midfield cog.
Salah saved the Reds – and Alexander-Arnold’s- blushes against Palace, but against City they mightn’t be so lucky.
Klopp must figure out how to patch up his right back problem – although with Clyne now fit, it appears there may be just one available option.
And unfortunately for young up and comer Alexander-Arnold, it could leave him watching from the sidelines.