London (AFP) – Jurgen Klopp admitted Liverpool rode their luck as Sadio Mane escaped a second yellow card before Mohamed Salah struck his 37th goal of the season to grind out a 2-1 win at Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Luka Milivojevic drove relegation threatened Palace into a 13th minute lead from the penalty spot.
Mane levelled four minutes after the break, but, having already been booked for diving, was later given a huge let off by referee Kevin Friend when he deliberately handled the ball just outside his own penalty area.
Klopp quickly replaced the Senegalese and Liverpool took advantage when despite having one of the quieter games of an incredible debut season at the club, Salah proved the match winner.
While Klopp insisted he believed Mane’s first yellow was unfair, even the German was surprised a second booking wasn’t forthcoming when he handled just after the hour mark.
“For Sadio it was not a perfect day and he made the wrong decision to put his hand on the ball,” said Klopp.
“I thought that was it, ‘Au Revoir, see you later’, but then it became even more strange.
“In that moment we are lucky, but in my opinion it would have been his first (deserved) yellow card of the game.”
Victory edges Liverpool ever closer to sealing a place in the top four and a return to the Champions League next season.
However, they will need a much-improved performance if they are to progress to the semi-finals of this season’s Champions League when they host runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City in the first leg of their quarter-final on Wednesday.
“The dirty three points are very often the most important,” added Klopp, who lamented his side’s lack of preparation for the lunchtime kick-off with various members of his squad only returning to training on Thursday after their international duties.
“Nobody should be worried about our mood. Our boys are really on fire.”
– Liverpool bailed out by Benteke –
It is Liverpool’s defensive deficiencies that will most concern Klopp ahead of facing free-scoring City as they were also bailed out by two huge misses from Christian Benteke.
A third straight home defeat for Palace leaves Roy Hodgson’s men still perilously placed just above the relegation zone.
However, the former England manager was magnanimous in his evaluation of whether Mane should have seen red.
“I’m not going to sit here saying the only reason we came away with another defeat is because the referee didn’t send one of their players off,” said Hodgson.
Palace had made the perfect start when Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius was also fortunate to avoid a red card when he brought down Wilfried Zaha and Milivojevic converted from the penalty spot.
Mane was then booked for his theatrical fall after the slightest of contact from James McArthur and his luck was out again when he did finally get the ball in the net only to be flagged offside.
Liverpool levelled four minutes into the second-half when James Milner’s drilled cross was turned home at the near post by Mane.
Benteke passed up two huge chances to quickly restore Palace’s lead as the former Liverpool striker sent an attempted lob well wide with just Karius to beat and then shot over the bar after Van Dijk had been caught in possession by Andros Townsend.
Palace conceded late against Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United in their previous two home games, and again failed to hold out against one of the top four.
Salah showed the poise Benteke didn’t possess when he controlled Andy Robertson’s low cross before firing home with his less favoured right foot.